From Day 1 of our journey through this, I was direct and honest with Josh about what had happened to Kate, and about what death means.
Mam got sick. The Doctors and Nurses had tried everything they could to make her well but they couldn’t make her better and her body couldn’t be fixed so she couldn’t stay alive. She died and that means she can’t be here with us anymore.
Of course I wasn’t as blunt as that, but I wanted to be sure he knew what happened without being graphic or inflicting anymore trauma on my little monkey. A big worry for me was the funeral and how that would affect Josh. A couple of weeks prior to Kate’s collapse, we had spent a lot of time learning about seeds and where food comes from – planting herbs and veg – and I didn’t want to risk Josh making the (perfectly logical to a 3 year old) jump to thinking that we were ‘planting’ his Mam and she would grow back!
I thought long and hard about what was best; he and I went alone to see Kate and say our own goodbyes prior to the removal, and I decided I’d take him to the mass, but not the burial. So after the mass, one of my sisters took Josh away for that portion of the experience.
We use Kate’s grave as a remembrance garden, because that’s not where she is, but it is a nice and colourful (thanks to my Mother In Law), bright space where we visit not just to remember Kate, but to see the tributes and bits and bobs other people leave there to remember her too. We also chose to donate Kate’s organs and that is something of a salve to know that our loss and pain postponed some other families experiencing similar to us.
Josh will tell you himself, that she lives in him and in the memories we all share of her, and as long as we remember her she will always be close to us.
So what would my advice be for anyone else unfortunate to find themselves in a similar situation? It sounds like a glib cliché, but its one I find to be very true – kids are resilient! They cope a lot better than us adults at times and more often than not when they do get most upset, it is when we are at our own lowest ebb. They are all too often little emotional mirrors and sometimes when we are at our lowest it is our feelings that they shine back at us.
But the key to ensuring they cope is openness, honesty and consistency. Be as open and honest as possible with your kids when discussing their loss, explain it as best you can and in terms they will understand.
Be there for your child when they want to talk, and encourage them to talk about it without forcing it.
Help them understand the pain comes from missing someone you love, someone you shared love, life and memories with!
Be sure to share those happy, weird stories. If something jogs a memory for either of ye, share it! Focus on and share those happy memories at the times the grief strikes hard, remember the person you lost and not the pain their loss caused.
Be mindful of the fact that, while you have so many happy stories to share, that in grief your past can look a lot brighter than your future. That it is the past! You can’t live there no matter how golden the memory, painful as it is for you and for your children, life does go on.
Don’t allow their grief to become an excuse for bad behaviour or to be a get out of jail free card for your child! Yes they will act out, support them in this but use it to teach your kid a healthy coping strategy, something other than lashing out and being angry at the world, yes it hurts and it’s horrible, but being horrible to the world won’t make it any better.
Always try and be consistent in how you react. You are going to be a ball of unpredictable emotions too, but if you can give your child a sense of consistency, it will go a long way towards helping them cope with the upheaval that both of you will experience.
That said, every situation and every child is different. There is no right or wrong in how you cope with a situation as long as you remember to be open, honest and supportive of your child’s grief.
Hopefully this vein of advice will never be needed by anyone who reads this piece, but if it ever is.
I hope it helps! Remember its advice, not a rulebook. Don’t be afraid to hold your hands up and say I’m stuck or seek help!
**Bryan recommends the following resources if you or your family have been affected by bereavement:
Rainbows Ireland Website
Barnardos Ireland Website
[Read Part 1 of Bryan’s story HERE]