Last week we experienced loss in our family. My husband lost his father, my kids their Poppa. I lost my father in law.
It was a trying and emotionally wrecking week for us all, involving a lot of travel at very short notice. The kids were tired, we were tired. And, to add to it all, we were dealing with the grief that comes with such an immense loss. My father in law was an amazing man, not in the best health but healthy nonetheless, in his spirit and his happiness and attitude towards life.
Princess has a fair understanding of death – she has always been curious and empathetic to the feelings of others in a way that is beyond her seven years. BoyChild has an innocent and literal approach to most things. And BabyGirl lives in her own, three-year-old world.
Through the process of the week, from finding out about the death, to telling the kids, to deciding to drive through the night to get home, to seeing Grandparents and Aunties and Uncles that we hadn’t planned on seeing for some time, to the funeral itself, the kids came and went with their feelings and emotions.
Had it not been such a sad situation, it might have been interesting to observe how they dealt with things, in their own ways.
Princess was silly and over-hyped, from the moment I told her. I knew this was a defense mechanism and so watched her very closely, waiting for the inevitable crash.
BoyChild didn’t seem overly concerned or interested at all, until two or so hours before the funeral when the questions took on a more serious tone and he found comfort in cuddling his Grandad (my step dad).
And, the questions. Right off the bat I was certain I would answer them with confidence, honesty, and to the point. I knew the kids would ask some doozies, and I wasn’t wrong.
Why did he die? How did he die? What happened when he died? Did he know he was going to die? Has Poppa got a new family now? Does Nana need to find a new Poppa? How can I read a poem to Poppa at the funeral when he is dead and won’t be there? Did he die by zombies? Did he die by snakes? Is he in a new world? Is he a Dolphin now? Is Dad sad? Are you sad? Are you going to cry? What if I don’t want to cry? Do I have to say goodbye? Can I telephone him? How will he hear me? What will happen to Poppa now? What is cremation? Will he have a gravestone? Can I sprinkle his ashes?
What will happen now that Daddy doesn’t have a Daddy? When is Daddy going to die? When are you going to die? I don’t want you to die.
I don’t want to die.
I only hope that I was able to aid the kids enough in answering their questions that they are able to look back and think of their Poppa in the great light with which he deserves, and dwell on the good rather than the funeral and the sadness.
Princess did cry eventually – right at the very end of the funeral, as her Daddy carried her Poppa out, she finally gave in and let herself grieve. She sobbed and I held her and she whispered that she didn’t like this at all, and I said I didn’t like it either. And, once we were the last two people in the room, I asked her if she was ready to go outside. She stood up, wiped her eyes, smiled at me and ran from the room to chase her brother up a tree. Literally ten seconds later she was laughing and clowning around again.
The questions have slowed but they certainly haven’t stopped, and we will just keep on doing what we’ve been doing. Answering the questions as honestly as we can, and encouraging the kids to ask and talk about it as much as they need to.
I talk about parenting and the hardest parts – I would now add losing a loved one to that list. It was never going to be easy or fun, but as the kids get older I have realised that their grief requires a lot more energy than perhaps we feel like giving, but is also something that we, as parents, need to give them so as to ensure they learn the skills they will need as they grow and develop as individuals.
Rest well, Poppa – who is, apparently, a dolphin riding trains in the sky, alongside his pet unicorn.