Telling The Children
On the evening of Wednesday April 8th 1998 I put my children to bed knowing that the funeral directors were downstairs putting their father into a body bag. I had to read to both of them in a state of shock, trying not to break down and give away the fact that something was wrong. I sat beside them, my hair matted with Charlie’s blood and bile, and I told them fairy stories.
And then they slept.
But I could not.
I wish I could tell you that it’s not so bad, that telling your children that their father is dead is a relatively painless process, because they are young and they don’t really understand the full implications of what has been said.
But I can’t.
Telling your children that their father has died is the hardest thing that you will ever have to do.
I will never forget lying awake in the early hours of the morning, waiting for Rosie, my four-year-old daughter, to wake up. I knew that what I said to her had to be phrased in such a way that it didn’t upset her too much, but at the same time it had to be the truth. She didn’t react as I thought she would, instead she ran out of the room and woke each person in the house in turn, with a cheery,
‘My daddy’s dead.’
Of course you could put off the awful moment. You could tell your children that their daddy has gone away on business for a while, to give yourself a chance to prepare.
Don’t do it.
Be truthful to your children from the outset. Tell them everything. Tell them how he died, where he died, what he died from.
And if you think that you can’t do it, that you can’t cope with the strain of telling them such upsetting news when you yourself feel suicidal with grief, think only of them and not of yourself.
It took Rosie a while to fully comprehend that her daddy was never coming home. Her sister Alice was only 19 months old and so she never really questioned his absence. To her ‘Daddy gone to London’ and ‘Daddy’s dead’, amounted to the same thing – he wasn’t there. Small children have little understanding of the concept of death, they think that daddy is just away, and that he will walk through the door one day and everything will be all right again. In that respect they will demand enormous patience. You will have to explain to them over and over again. You will have to try to make them understand what is beyond their comprehension. And all the time you will feel like screaming. All the time you will feel like walking out of the house and leaving your children because you can’t bear to shoulder their grief and their endless questions and demands for attention when you yourself are being torn apart.
But you can’t walk out. You have to bear it. You have to support your children and give them love and understanding even when you feel empty and lonely and insane with your own grief.
And if you can bear it, if you can be honest and open right from the start, then at least you will have a chance.
At least you will have a chance to make your children happy again.
If you need help or advice concerning your child, you can contact
Cruse Bereavement Care on 0870167 1677 or access their website via crusebereavementcare.org.uk
Winston’s Wish and Daisy’s Dream are charitable organisations aimed specifically at providing bereavement support for children and young people. Their programmes are designed to bring young people together so that they might find mutual support and friendship and I can think of no better way to help a child.
winstonswish.org.uk or telephone their family line on 0845 2030405