Earlier this year I had the unenviable duty of standing in a relatives room in hospital while my children were told their mum had tragically passed away. It was entirely unexpected and came only a night after she had been admitted to hospital with a sudden illness.
As I glanced around the hospital relatives room at each of my children to quickly gauge their reactions and to judge which of them was in the most immediate need I saw my eldest son turn grey with shock and physically shrink in front of me, my youngest daughter let out a scream of despair unlike anything I had ever heard and the other two were shaking their heads as if to say ‘No this isn’t happening’.
It was without a doubt one of the most painful tragic moments in our families experience and it occurred to me in that brief few seconds while I was glancing round at my children that there was nothing I could do to make things better. As a parent your natural instinct is to protect your children but with this situation I knew right away there would be nothing I could do or say to ease their pain and I was overtaken by just a complete feeling of absolute helplessness and uselessness. I reached out to each of the kids and gathered them up and tried to get my arms around all of them at once, I held on to them all while there was an outpouring of disbelief, screaming, crying and stunned silence. I have no idea how long we hugged for, probably just a few minutes, but I remember thinking please God make their hurting stop, please God make this go away.
In that first 24 hours after their mum passed away I can honestly say I felt totally lost for the first time in my life, not because she and I were close, in fact we had been divorced for several years and I have been remarried for some time, but the feeling of loss was an absolute abyss of not knowing what to do to console my children, like a loss of my most important parental ability to protect my kids. As a family we have had other tragedies and there have been other deaths but this was just horrendous in a way that just doesn’t compare, it is not right that a mum should die while her children are still young, it shouldn’t happen that way.
At the funeral the children decided that they would all do a short reading in tribute to their mum. I was terrified for all of them. Having been in that position in the past I know how hard it is to keep it together trying to speak in front of everyone and now that my children were volunteering to do this I was so desperately worried for them. I told them before the funeral that if any of them struggled with the reading to give me a look and I would step up and take over for them but they all got up and they all spoke and with absolute dignity and courage they paid their tributes to their mum. I was humbled beyond words by their composure and instead of the kids falling apart I just fell apart instead. After the funeral the kids released helium balloons over the house as a symbolic way of letting their mum go, it was their idea and it was beautiful.
In the first few weeks after their mum passed away they grieved, they cried and thankfully they also laughed, they each individually had their moments of inconsolable pain and they continue to do so but they have also showed a level of strength that I am astounded by. I saw my eldest son transform in just a few short weeks from a teenager into a young man with an air of determination, responsibility and dignity that amazes me. I saw my daughters take on an assumed shared motherly role towards each other and their brothers and they have continued to help each other through the pain and in that first few weeks I had more sane, meaningful and fulfilling conversations with them than I have ever had with them throughout my life.
Their mum was extremely proud of all of the children for their individual achievements and the children have each told me that they aim to keep on going to keep making their mum proud.
As adults we often think we know best, we often think that our thoughts and our feelings and our ways are somehow more sensible and more mature than our children’s. I used to think a bit like this but after this experience I can honestly say my children are amazing.
For support with bereavement please visit:
Cruse Bereavement Care – Cruse Bereavement Care is there to support you after the death of someone close.
Child Bereavement UK – Child Bereavement UK supports families when a child is facing bereavement.
Samaritans – Talk to Samaritans anytime you like, in your own way and off the record.