“The Story of the heart that was too small for all the people I love…” or “How to help young children, or anyone for that matter, come to terms with their grief.”

As you know, I was widowed in April 2009, when my 34-year old husband Martin had a fatal heart attack. As far as we knew, he was fit and healthy; he’d had no previous symptoms, and there was no family history. This came out of nowhere. I was also 34.

Our son Alex was three, and our daughter Olivia only 11 months old at the time. It was up to me to explain to Alex why daddy could never come back.

But today, I want to share a special moment I had with Alex, several years after his father’s death. He must’ve been about 8 or 9, and we were already living with my new partner (now second husband) John and his children in our new home. Everyone gets on really well, and both my children call John ‘Dad’ – Martin is, and always will be, ‘Daddy’.

One day Alex got very upset, and when I sat down and spoke to him, it turned out that he was frightened to laugh and have fun and show affection to others, because he didn’t want people to think that he was happy because his Daddy died.

I thought for a little while; then I had an idea.

We sat down and drew a heart.

The outline of a heart.

I asked him how much of his heart was filled with sadness about Daddy dying. He coloured it in black.

Heart with two thirds black filled in

“That’s a big space,” I said.
Then I asked him to write down all the names of all the people he loved and was friends with, using a different colour for each one.

heart outline with black and lots of names underneath

“Now, using all the different colours, give everyone a space in your heart.”
He looked at me and went “But there isn’t really much space left…

And I can’t take any of the black away, because it would be like I stopped being sad.

And I think Daddy would be angry that I am happy because he’s dead.

And I don’t want to lose any of the memories I have of him.”

He started to cry.

So we thought about what we could do.

“Well, if we can’t make the black any smaller, how about we make your heart bigger?” I asked.

He looked at me. “But how?”

So we drew a bigger heart around the little heart…

outline of a heart with black plus lots of names underneath, and an outline of a bigger heart around it

…and all of a sudden we had space for all the people we love – WITHOUT taking away any of the sadness about his Daddy dying.

Colourful heart filled with all the people we love

This really helped us.

In my opinion, the hole a loved one leaves in your heart when they die never gets any smaller… But you CAN make the world around it bigger…

Love and hugs to you all.

Elke xx

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