(Child) Grief doesn’t go away…

It is so important to remember that grief doesn’t go away. Adult grief doesn’t; child grief doesn’t. And children don’t ‘just forget’…

drawing by Anna Jarvis showing Alex and Olivia with a family picture and a toy coffin

I passionately believe that the hole in your heart doesn’t get any smaller, but the trick is to make the world around it bigger, so that it doesn’t swallow you whole… (See “Mummy, my heart is too small…” )

But some days it still does…

Martin was an avid collector of diecast model police cars – some of which he bought to sell on – which means I have been left with a huuuuuuge collection. Some of which I am definitely going to keep, but a lot are going on ebay. As I was listing some of the more precious ones yesterday, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with grief, sadness and guilt. I burst into tears. Livvy came over and cuddled me, whispering reassuring words like ‘but Mummy, it’s okay’, ‘there are so many’, ‘Daddy wouldn’t mind’ and ‘he would want them to be with someone who loves and appreciates them and displays them, not for them to sit in the loft.’ Alex agreed, and came over for cuddles too.

But once I had stopped crying, Alex started (he was three when his daddy died; he’s 15 now). Big, sad, painful tears full of memories of the day his daddy died, and the grief for fading other ones. “Mum, it’s like a ghost. I mean I think I can remember him, but I don’t know if those are my own memories or memories I have been told about or have seen in photographs. And I can’t remember what he sounds like. I don’t think I would even recognise his voice if I heard it.” I reassured him that I was absolutely 100% sure that he would. “I think even Livvy would recognise his voice,” I said (she was only 11 months when her daddy died), and held him tight. He opened his mouth to speak again, but then he hesitated.

He looked at me, dipped his gaze, and whispered “I don’t know if I should say this Mum…” I replied: “If in doubt, say it out loud, and then we can look at it and deal with it.” He took a little while longer, while I sat in his sadness, gently touching his arm, waiting for him to speak. Finally he said “Mum, I miss him so much, but I think you miss him more because you have known him longer.” Wow. Instantly I said: “Alex, I think it’s the other way round – I miss him lots, but I think YOU miss him more BECAUSE you didn’t know him for very long…”

And so we talked. Talked about all the big things and the little things. The “Could he have been saved?”, the “If I had been older”, the “It’s not that I don’t like Dad (my second husband)”, and so much more. Feel emotionally drained, but I am so, so grateful to have my baby’s trust. I have always been open and honest with my kids, from day one. And I am so glad they continue to trust me with their thoughts, feelings, emotions, worries and fears. I have always encouraged open conversations, and have never hidden anything from them. “You know you can ask me anything, no matter how awkward or embarrassing, and I will always give you an honest answer” was my mantra, and still is, and they do. And I am so grateful.

Life’s not easy, but it is still beautiful and precious and wonderful and difficult and emotional and everything else in between. I reminded Alex that it is okay to feel sad, but that it’s also okay to feel happy.

In the words of Dr Geoff Warburton in his talk ‘The Adventure of Grief’ at TEDxBrighton: “We honour the dead more by choosing to live well.”


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  • Jackie says:

    Honesty is so important on both sides. Our youngest was just 6 when Dave died &was the least affected at the time. We talk about him a lot but she often says she can’t remember him & can’t remember a time with him in here life. A few days ago one of Dave’s best friends just dropped dead he was only 43 & was 1 of 2 constance men in our children’s life. Rosie hasn’t stopped crying since she heard about Russell & although it’s not nice to see I think it is doing her good as she never really grieved for her Dad.

  • Hi Jackie, I am so sorry to hear life is tough for you and Rosie just now. It really is so upsetting to see them so distraught, but I agree that it’s good when it comes out. I am still waiting for Livvy’s moment… I know she is grieving differently to us, as she doesn’t remember her daddy at all, but I don’t for a second think that that makes it somehow ‘easier’. 🙁 Sending huge hugs. xx

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