Observations of Childlike Grief

I’ve been writing this over a number of weeks.  It may make no sense.  If nothing else, maybe someone else in the same boat will find it and know that, no you’re not alone, and no, I don’t have any answers either…

It was three weeks between saying goodbye and the visit to the chapel of rest.  Three weeks of utter surreal reality.

The small people were playing in the garden that Friday morning.  They’d drawn a lot of pictures for Nana to put up in the hospital and we’d prayed for God to be with Nana and the surgeons.  I didn’t try and explain the odds on the operations success.  We were blowing bubbles and then I spoke with the husband on the phone.  They asked me who it was, and once they knew it was Daddy they wanted to know how Nana was.  You can’t wrap death up in all the euphemisms when talking to small children, they have no idea what they mean.  It just had to be straight out, Nana’s died.  Thirty minutes I sat with the eldest on my knee in floods of tears.  Even Kamikaze was quiet.  Some people have tried to suggest they are too young to understand.  I don’t agree.

I spent the rest of the morning talking about the circulatory system and studying pictures of hearts.  Sometimes, especially when dealing with medical professionals, I’m grateful for science A levels, this was one of those times when they really were no help at all.

And so we re-entered the world of choked up prayers, where the small people ask to pray for Grandad, us, anyone else who is feeling sad, and getting the words out is so so hard.  It would have been so easy to say, let’s not pray aloud tonight, but instead they saw God meet with us through the tears.  Thanking Him that He was with us, that none of what lay ahead we would have to deal with on our own.  Being able to say to them that we didn’t have to face it on our own, that we had a God with us that cared about everything we were feeling.  To be honest, I think it’s times like that that they see what faith really is.  It’s easy to take them to Church and sing praises when life is going well, it’s something else entirely to take them down to Church two days later and praise a God who could have, but didn’t, turn everything around.

That first night no one really slept.  If I did dose off it was to come round to a child crying out, sometimes awake, sometimes not.  Sleep gradually improved again but in it’s place left a reaction to anyone trying to leave.  Fuddle’s Keeper can get almost hysterical if either me or the husband gets more than a few metres away.  She seems settled at school at least. And six/seven weeks on we’re getting better, but it could well be a long, emotionally exhausting road ahead.

Nothing really prepares you for the first time you step into a home with a person missing and to some extent you can rationalise away seeing only half of a couple in other places.  Children don’t have that filter though and the first time Grandad came to our house I had Fuddle’s Keeper hiding under the small table in the living room.  We were trying to have lunch and she was emphatically blunt.  She would come out when Grandad had gone.  Heart breaking, I could only hope Grandad hadn’t heard her whisper and go back to the table with a smile to say she was having a nap and would have some lunch later.  After lunch him and the husband were off to the hospital to get the death certificate, they didn’t need anything extra to deal with that day.

I’ve regularly had conversations about not wanting to go somewhere, that’s just part of preschoolers, but when it comes to grief it might be what they’re saying, but it’s not what they’re meaning.  I don’t want to go to the funeral actually meant I don’t want Nana to have died.  Explaining to a three year old that you only get one opportunity to go to the chapel of rest or funeral is really quite hard.  They don’t really get the whole one off opportunity thinking, their life is much more about repeated patterns, like swimming every Friday, germ factory every Monday.  The eldest came out recently with such a heartfelt classic, “I don’t want to go to any more funerals”, and all I could do was agree with him really.

Leaving the wake my parents car pulled out onto a busy road.  We couldn’t immediately follow and very quickly couldn’t see their car any more.  Fuddle’s Keeper screamed from then until we caught up with them ten minutes later.  A child’s grief and fears are real.  And there was absolutely nothing I could do, pulling over and trying to console her meant they were further away, keeping going meant listening to the meltdown.  It breaks something inside of you that you have to shelve for dealing with later, because right now they need you to be normal.  Your own grief has to take a complete back seat until later.

We’d agreed that the husband would stay with his Dad and I’d get the small people home for tea, bath and bedtime in the familiarity of home.  The older two were both at school the following day.  I don’t know how I got them in to bed.  I don’t really know how we got home to be honest, because when you’ve kept it together for everyone else all weekend you have to crash (figuratively, not literally the car!) at some point.  I did at one point contemplate pulling over to the side of the road.  They did not cope with the husband not being there.  At all.  And I mean at all, I actually got as far as holding the phone ready to ring someone to help.  Thankfully he “agreed” not to go away with work, who weren’t really expecting him anyway, the following day.  I could not have done another two nights like that!

And we’ve bobbed along really since then.  Questions coming out every so often.  Fuddle’s Keeper is starting to say odd things rather than just scream about me not being within arms reach.  The eldest still has the Lego banner we made in place of flowers and will sit with the photobook I made them.  He actually took the banner to bed with him one night shortly after the funeral.

And some days it all rears up stark and in your face.  Seemingly out of nowhere.  Like on Saturday, a simple trip to the library and the eldest drew a detailed picture of a coffin at the colouring table.  What do I do with that?

Someone recently said to me that it takes an adult about three years to work through the whole of the process of grief.  To reach that stage of the new normal being just, well, normal.  I’m beginning to think that adult shouldn’t be included in that sentence.  Children don’t just bounce through it, they need a lot of time too.


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