Saturday, 8 January 2011

In the Words of Philip Larkin...

"They fuck you up your mum and dad." This is one of my favourite poems by Philip Larkin.

I really want to make sure that whatever else i do, i help our son through this awful situation, but like anyone who is dreading something I have been putting off the dreaded conversation. I asked someone from Grove House (our local cancer centre) to come and talk to us about how we make this as easy for him as possible. I have heard so many stories where children get forgotten, as if their feelings don't count. I don't want our son to have to face this alone and without support.

I dread him turning round to me one day and saying "its all your fault!" although i expect that will happen anyway, even if i do my damned best to do "all the right things". I found our meeting with Grove House strangely positive, if anything can be positive out of this (although i firmly believe that grief can be a very positive as well as a negative experience).

It seems that our instinctive inclusion of him into the process is the right thing to do. What does strike me is that grieving is a very individual process, and should be dealt with that way - individually, as well as collectively. It may seem strange to be talking about grief, when Kevin isn't dead yet, he is definitely very alive and all the changes to the house are proof of that! This is what Kubler-Ross calls "anticipatory grief", preparing yourself for the inevitable loss.
Over the years we have been very honest with our son about Kevin's illness, this was always to help him understand the constant change process that cancer brings. Without trying, we have been carrying on with this process, helping him to prepare for the loss he is going to feel so greatly.

People are very keen to tell you how you should deal with such things. I have a friend who is a psychologist and he told me i should cry in front of our son, show him its okay to get upset, but talking to Grove House, stopped my anxiety that i can't cry in front of him. I express my sadness, but don't show tears, this is my individual way of dealing with it. Thats okay as long as he knows how i express sadness. He does - i bake alot, and work alot. I know he knows this he has observed me and commented on it, he even told the neighbours!

In his own way he is also processing it. Walking back from school one day, not long before christmas, he was clutching a toy he calls Moo-Moo (its a cuddly toy cow). He said to me "Mummy, Moo-Moo's daddy died, but it was okay his Mummy was still alive to look after him, it would have been much worse if his Mummy had died too." Regretfully, at the time i was so shocked that i didn't make any response. This sentence spoke volumes to me. In it he told me he loved both his parents, didn't want to lose them, but needed to know that he would be safe and looked after. This is what children do with death, they want to know that their life will carry on pretty much the same as before. He keeps asking to see his friends, go swimming, do normal things, and as much as i can, i am keeping those little things going, that make life safe for him.

We have never discussed Kevin dying with him, he can't wait for anything, like any child his age, he endlessly asks when something is going to happen ( he asked how many days to Christmas from November!), so its not right to tell him yet, but instinctively he is preparing himself, with out help. Alot of his imaginative games have death and hospitals in them, its his way of making sense of it. At first i found this really alarming and wanted to stop him doing it, but once i got over my adult response, i recognised the importance of it.

Heart wenchingly, though, he is not yet ready to accept death. Kevin has cleared out various bits of the house, including all his pattern books for work. Our son asked where they had gone, and i told him "Daddy has stopped working, now." He looked at me and said "But he will need them, when he gets better!" Again, i didn't answer, this time, because i didn't want to. I don't want to lie to him, but i don't yet feel it is right to tell him, exactly what is going to happen. By not answering, i my mind, this was the best response i could give. Kevin and I are further down our grieving journey and acceptance of the end, than he is, he needs to get there at his own pace (as much as time and illness will allow).

Kevin and i have also discussed that when he has gone, his workshop will be for our son, his "making room". He is so like his father, and loved playing in there while his daddy worked, its seems the best thing to do. They are both creative and like to make things, he can carry on playing in "his" workshop and doing what he liked to do with his daddy.

And for those who have never read it, here is the poem...

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.
(by Philip Larkin)

Well, we have a kid, one of us is getting out (not trying to) and the other is desparately trying not to be too soppy-stern!


  1. Hi

    I found your blog via twitter. My son is 6 in March (and I have a 4.5 yo daughter) and I just can't comprehend them not having Daddy there for them very soon. I am so sorry. You are doing amazingly well and yes, as parents, we all stuff up along the way. All we can do is our best, accept we are going to make mistakes and hope to put them right without too much damage to our kids.

    Kids are amazingly adaptable. I'm sure you and he will come through this with love and dignity. I wish you all the best for the time ahead.

  2. All power to you Caroline!

  3. If life were cut and dried, we would all have the answers and no-one would be ducked up. :-) For sure, we are all different, as far as I know, with the only replicas being identical twins and the like. So on our individual paths in life all we can do is our best.

    I say this as a person who is not a parent and actually doesn't really have the right to comment because of this.

    One thing I absolutely know is that both you and Kevin are doing your absolute best in the most difficult of circumstances with grace. Your undeniable natural gift with language to communicate the difficulties you face and overcome every day is absolutely engaging and so please please don't stop.

    On a lighter note - I have never come across this poem. But think it's fab - thank you for educating me along the way :-)