missing Curly Grandad: doing grief together

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Some days it can feel like it has been a lifetime since my Dad died suddenly, other days it could have been yesterday. Grief is a funny thing.

My children have experienced close relatives dying – perhaps more than I thought they might when they were young. B & A were little when Dad died, and almost straight afterwards my Grandad – Dad’s Dad – also died. Before that we had also experienced the loss of other loved members of our extended family.

There is no instruction manual for grief. It is a complex bundle of emotions; sadness, emptiness, anger, confusion, numbness, fear, love, acceptance, hope, thankfulness… and of course family don’t experience these emotions in sync with each other, there is no ‘order’ to feel them in. It can hit in waves, it can leave you feeling guilty on days which feel ‘normal’. It is difficult to navigate for yourself, and difficult to walk alongside others. As a Mum all I could do was walk gently with determination, loving my husband and children as we each waded through different reactions and emotions. Praying for wisdom and strength to face it together, and to share our hope in Jesus with B & A.

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I am certain it was important that we were open with our children about their Curly Grandad (he was the Grandad with curly hair of course), ready to talk about what we all missed without him there. I think it is also important to be open to sharing how we have felt at different times or at different occasions – not always the easiest for super-introvert-me. But I am convinced that talking together openly has been important in walking through this together.

..’children can empathise with and show compassion for peers that have been bereaved. Children aged between five and ten often copy the coping mechanisms that they observe in bereaved adults and they may try to disguise their emotions in an attempt to protect the bereaved adult. The bereaved child can sometimes feel that they need permission to show their emotions and talk about their feelings.

The important thing is to let them do this. Avoid remarks such as, “Come on be a big brave girl for mummy” or “Big boys don’t cry”, such comments however well meant can make children feel they need to hide their feelings or that what they are feeling is wrong. This can cause complications as the bereaved child develops.’ (Cruse)

There were also a multitude of questions that my children had – and perhaps still do. Being as young as he was, A found it difficult to understand the finality of death and for a number of days was looking for Curly Grandad and asking where he was. Strangely T, even though she was born a number of years after Dad died, has gone through very similar stages with us and has also brought her questions about death and how it works. It’s not at all easy to answer questions that need factual detail when you yourself are struggling to come to terms with your loved one’s death. How I wish I could have found a reference book that had all the answers printed out for me at that time. How I wish we could have thought to talk about these topics at a time when we weren’t reeling!

 ..’it is important that the cause of death, the funeral and burial process and what happens to the deceased person’s body are explained in a factual and age appropriate manner to the bereaved child. Children will ask many questions and may want to know intricate details pertaining to the death and decomposition of the body. Again, it is vital that children have such details explained to them clearly so that they understand.’ (Cruse)

It was out of the experience of the first few weeks after Dad died that I began to write. As a Mum of my two very curious, needing detail children, I was looking for the right words, the right way to explain and open up the Bible with them. It was important to find ways to share our faith, our hope because of Jesus about life and death with them. So ‘My Curly Grandad’ was written, partly for them, partly an expression of my own grief and partly for Mums like me needing help finding words and a way in. In writing down their experiences and questions, and weaving Jesus’ good news throughout the story I pray that it spoke to them where they were. I pray now, as it is finally published, that it will speak into other family’s lives and hearts as they walk together in faith, love and grief.

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it’s not fair

One of our chickens died on Palm Sunday. Milky Way was friendly, came to see us whenever we went out in the garden. She let us stroke her, and didn’t even mind being picked up. The other chickens don’t seem to be concerned at all, but we miss her, T especially.

‘why did she have to die Mummy?’ ‘why did her body stop working properly?’ ‘why did she die?’ ‘why couldn’t we make her better?’ ‘it’s not fair’ ‘why did it have to be Milky Way, she’s the friendly one?’ ‘why did it happen?’ ‘it’s made me too sad’ ‘why can’t I stop crying?’ ‘why did she die now Mummy?’ ‘will I ever stop crying?’ ‘it’s not fair’ ‘why couldn’t you stop it?’ ‘why did she die?’…

The sobbing and questions have been intense, and for the first couple of days nearly relentless. All I could do was hold her and reassure her that sadness and crying are one of the normal human ways of reacting when a person or a pet dies. We talked together about how happy and content she had been in the last few days, how she had been safe and had everything she needed; how she had just peacefully rested, and had died while she was asleep. I reassured her over and over that she wouldn’t cry forever, she would probably also remember good happy memories of her playing with Milky Way that would make her smile while she remembered them and that would be okay too.

‘Why did God think it was the right time for her to die?’ ‘why did God think she needed a really long rest?’ ‘did God forget that she was my friendly chicken?’

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I agreed: ‘it doesn’t feel fair does it, but I know God loves everything he’s made. He knows and loves Milky Way and because he loves her he will have done what she needed the most, what is best even if that doesn’t feel fair to us.’

This week we are travelling to my Mum’s for my Granny’s funeral. She died peacefully before Easter. I am fully expecting some of the same questions, though at the moment it is a very matter of fact response. But we didn’t see Great Granny B everyday, it may well be that at the times when we all get together as extended family it will hit us hard when she is not there too.

I have put together a social story about the funeral. If it’s useful please download here. I am going to cut each strip out, and put the story in order with T which will give us a chance to read the story and talk about each part. We can then glue it onto coloured paper, hole punch and tie with a ribbon and she can bring it with her. We have also found pictures of the church online and looked at where it is, and what it will look like. I have the basic order of service and know which songs we are singing and who is doing which parts. My Mum has asked the children to draw a picture of Great Granny B to bring with them, which has made us talk about lovely memories of time together with her. And of course we have planned what they will all feel comfortable wearing.

As usual I will have a ‘bag of tricks’ with me. Plenty of fiddle toys, calming sensory toys, and some small play sets (I have two boxes of little toys & small sized books that are really only played with when we are away from the house. It really helps that they are ‘new’ when I bring them out!) a cuddly, and one of the really familiar favourites. Snacks and drinks can come along too.

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The lovely Great Granny B 1921 – 2017