Monday, 21 February 2011

We are sorry for your loss

I find this phrase quite curious. I haven't lost Kevin, in fact i know exactly where he is. I regularly lose things, my keys, my phone, the remote control, but not Kevin! Adults tend to find "nice" ways to talk about death. In my efforts to make sure that i help our little menace through this ordeal i have been very direct in the words that i use. From Christmas onwards i told him that his Daddy was not going to get better. It was only the day before Kevin died that i even talked about death, and i used the word "die". I didn't want there to be any confusion about it. Interestingly, these adult phrases that we use have caused some confusion. My neighbour told me that when she told her son that Kevin had "passed away" he thought he had feinted, we also had a card from a child saying "sorry your dad passed out!"

Another thing i took great effort to talk Dennis through, was what the funeral was about and what would happen. Here, I made two mistakes. I told him in the run up to it, that there would be alot of people round as we would have to "bury daddy." In fact we cremated him, but he had used these words with me in a conversation the week before. When i talked about this, he said "Why do i have to do it?" and when i reflected on this i think he thought i meant that he and i would have to physically dig the grave and put him in it. Children take things very literally. I then explained to him the whole process, i would go to a funeral director, tell them what was to be done, and they would do everything for us, we just had to turn up to a service, like when we go to church with Grandma.

I also did a very bad job of explaining cremation. This was mainly because i had an audience, as we were in the car, so i tried to make it sound nice and that "daddy would come back in a smaller pot than the box he went in", later that evening he asked me "Why do they have to shrink daddy? i don't want them to". So again, i found explaining the whole thing lead to peace of mind for him.

Another thing that struck me was his unquestioning/ questioning sense of what happens when you die. To Dennis, there were no question about the spirit, this was a statement, "he has gone to heaven", his preoccupation was much more to do with the body. The week before the funeral he asked if he could see him. I have to say, i didn't really have any wish to see the body (i had said my goodbyes in the hospice), but again, this is not one you can delegate, so i took him. I asked him if he wanted me to pick him up so he could see, he was very definite in his response, "no, can we go now." The questions came later ... "So is that all of daddy? Have they left him all in there?" "Why was he holding a flower?"

All the children i have spoken to, take a very pragmatic view on death. I haven't spoken to many, but some of his class have asked me. They are matter of fact about it, it is sad, its not nice, but what time does it happen? How do you feel? Why are you telling people something sad? They don't understand the ritual and "niceness" that adults create.

I find their responses very refreshing, they don't offer condolences, sympathy or feel sorry for my loss, they just ask questions, and offer the occasional strange solution (one offered to build Dennis a lego dad).

I also understand the ritual around it too, it is a necessary rite of passage for the family to help them to adjust to life without someone. Organising the funeral was purposeful for me, now that we are getting back to "ordinary life" it is more difficult. One day i did say to Dennis that things would return to normal now and he said "but its not normal, daddy is dead!" How right he is, this is not normal, but it is as normal as it is going to get.


  1. Oh bless him, he's right of course, but I imagine that there will a new 'normal'? I find sugar-coating things doesn't help anyone, adults could learn a lot from children.

  2. ive always spoken directly to my children ive witnessed so much damage in my work when kids havent been told the truth youre going to make many mistakes just dont beat yourself up over it as its a big adjustment for you all and im really glad i got to meet kevin albiet briefly to understand what you have lost, the shared humour and friendship that was obvious x x x