This week, 16th November – 22nd November 2017, is Children’s Grief Awareness week here in the UK.
I procrastinated for a while about writing this post as the emotions are still incredibly raw. But I pushed that to the side and decided to share our story in the hopes that it may help bring some peace and understanding to other families in similar circumstances. So here goes.
5 years ago we lost my Daddy, the girls grandad, to a terminal illness. He died on my 25th birthday, which I rarely share as it’s a pain I bury deep.
Even though the girls were very young, his loss has affected them greatly, particularly Big Bean, who suffers from anxiety and night terrors. I don’t think this was the only trigger,school being one, but it was the by far the biggest.
We lived with my parents at the time, and we brought Daddy home to be with his family in his final days. He passed away in the night. I think the hardest part for the children was waking up in the morning and seeing an empty bed.
How difficult for young children to understand.
“We said goodnight to him and gave him cuddles, then in the morning he was gone and we’ll never see him again”
Death is difficult enough for adults to process, I don’t think we can even begin to comprehend how difficult it must be for children.
This was when we were faced with our first hurdle, what do we tell them.
I had had time to think about this and discussed it at length with many adults.
The worst advice I received was to say he had gone to sleep forever!?! What? No way was I telling my toddler daughter that Grandad had gone to sleep and wasn’t waking up! She was a difficult sleeper anyway so this would have made things ten times worse.
We decided to just be honest. Yes life sucks and you want to shield your kids from all the shit bits like dying. But I can’t lie to my children. I feel lying to them just causes more damage long term.
I explained that grandad was very poorly, and all the doctors tried their hardest to make him better. But some hurts never go away no matter how hard people try.
I wanted to give them hope too. I said that he had gone to live in heaven, and even though we couldn’t see him, visit him, or hear him, he is always watching, listening and looking out for you.
Later that night I took them outside and told them to find the shiniest star in the sky.
“That’s grandad.” I told them. He’s a star now and he’s always shining just for you.
The name has stuck and since that day they have referred to him as Grandad Star.
I have never cried in front of them. Not for any particular reason. Although if I think about it, it’s because I want them to see me happy, living life. Life goes on.
We didn’t take them to the funeral, they were just too young. Although my nieces and nephews, who were a bit older went. It helped give them closure, a chance to say goodbye.
We often visit the cemetary, where his ashes are buried. I have never explained that part, we just refer to it as Grandad’s garden, where we can go to talk to him, or leave flowers and notes. Although, now they are older, and watch TV/read more books I think they are slowly realising what a cemetary is.
Sometimes they will cry and say they miss him, clutching his photographs tight. I think they grieve for the relationship they never got to have.
This is probably the worst part of grief for children. They often ask if grandad would be proud, or what he’d think of certain things.
These two books have helped lots, they are lovely, we often read them when the girls are feeling sad.
We all share stories and memories with the girls. I don’t want them to forget him. It also helps them to understand what he was like, what made him laugh, why he was so loved.
He was a huge music fan. A trait which has definitely been passed down to Big Bean. We talked about his favourite bands. She will often pop on a Beatles or Rolling Stones album, rocking away in the living room.
But she suffers with terrible anxiety. I cannot 100% say it was caused by the trauma of losing Daddy, as it wasn’t diagnosed until she was at school. But I feel the symptoms have been there since the event.
She is terrified of sleeping alone. Even at nearly 8 she cannot settle herself to sleep. She wakes every night at around 1.30am. Sometimes she is sobbing from a night terror, other times she is still asleep in the throes of one. She has seperation anxiety and hates being away from known adults. She struggles to deal with new situations, and will become angry very quickly. Often when we whittle it down she will say “I miss Grandad”.
Whether she actually is feeling the anxiety of missing him, or knows that missing him makes people feel sad, and thinks ‘I feel sad right now so that must be why’, I’m not so sure.
But what I am sure of is that even though she was little, his death has had a profound affect on her.
I sometimes think that children suffering from grief and loss are overlooked. People think they’re too young to understand.
Oh the childism in modern society and how it bugs me!
Why can’t people understand that children have the same big feelings as adults. They just struggle to deal with them. That’s where they need our help.
No child should ever feel like their feelings aren’t as valid as an adults. Children are human too.
My husband once said to me on a particularly dark day that grief is like a whirlpool. Some days you’re quietly floating in the calm waters on the edge, other days you’re sucked into the violent stormy middle.
Grief is always there. Everyone carries it with them. But adults understand how to carry it better than children which is why it is so important to raise awareness and talk about it.
I hope that sharing our story has helped someone, or just shed light on the subject. Children’s mental health is massively underfunded in the UK, and we need to keep talking so we can improve the wellbeing of the future generations.
If you need more information head over to the children’s grief awareness website (here) they have some fab resources and can put you in touch with grief and loss counselors.
Talking helps a lot.
Cuddles help more.