When I was a child I remember my first experience of death was a goldfish. I didn’t really understand the concept, it didn’t seem real, one minute it was there, the next it wasn’t. I hadn’t grasped that the fish was no longer breathing or living and I think we just got a new one.
It wasn’t until I was older and my grandad passed away that I realised that had meant he was gone, forever. I remember laying awake for hours trying to comprehend where he was and how long forever would take. I’m still not sure I understood, but I accepted it eventually. With regards to the rest of my grandparents I’ve been very fortunate, even those that became grandparents through marriage had all met my children and my grandma, who was married to my grandad only passed away a couple of years ago.
My daughters are 8 and 11, sadly their experience has been very different. When my youngest was 3 weeks old and my eldest 2 & 1/2 years, their nan passed away unexpectedly. My eldest saw her every day and was as close as could be. We didn’t understand what had happened and I couldn’t imagine how she would. We talked of heaven, stars, and how much we would miss her, but the nights she would wake up asking how many sleeps til Nanan would be back was heartbreaking. A few weeks later her husband, my daughters called him “Umpsy” was diagnosed with cancer. We were supported massively by the local hospice who spent time with my eldest daughter talking to her, as he sadly passed away several months later.
Over the next few years my grandparents passed away, but it wasn’t until April 2015 when my mum passed away from cancer, that my children began to struggle. She was only 54 and had only been sick for 6 weeks. All the old excuses we had tried were no longer working and we had to be honest. There is plenty of support and advice out there, and so we chose to sit down with our girls and explain that my mum had cancer and would probably pass away. Of course they were upset and both dealt with it differently, but there were no hidden whispered conversations and we were as open as we could be with them at their age. Sadly that was not to be the end. My grandma, who shared a birthday with my eldest daughter then passed away and in September 2016, my best friend, lost her battle with depression and took her own life. Then the girls really were unsure of death. She was my age, she had mental health problems and now I could see that the girls had issues with bereavement, death and the meaning of life.
Again we had to be honest. As parents we thought this was the best option, I’m not here to say you should do the same, every parent does the best for their child so choose your own path. We now have endless open conversations regarding illness, death, but more importantly health, wellbeing, mindset, resilience and honesty. Both can ask me anything, and they do. They cry, they get angry, they laugh and they get worried. Sometimes they handle these emotions in a way that is healthy, other times they can’t, guess what, they are just like us.
I don’t understand why people suffer with cancer and mental health illnesses, so I wouldn’t expect my children too. But they now know I don’t have the answers either so they aren’t expecting to “find something out” in the future.
Death has sadly plagued our early life, but I do have incredibly amazing and resilient children who are growing up to be young adults raring to face the world and all it can throw at them. I’m proud of them for how far they have come.