How do you talk to your kids about death and loss? As much as death is a natural part of life, this emotional subject is a tricky one to navigate, especially when kids are involved.
Trying to grapple with the grief of losing someone, explaining about death to kids and all the while remembering that loved one to keep their legacy alive is a tough act to juggle. Sherlin Giri, our That Mama of two kids, who lost her husband in a car accident in 2012 tells us about her ongoing struggle with the experience.
I am sitting on my bed, in the throes of depression, staring at myself in the mirror, wondering how it had all come to this: me, a widow, raising two young children on my own. There is a dagger permanently embedded in my chest, the cold steel tearing me apart with every breath I take.
My daughter walks into the room, we talk for a bit and then I ask her, ‘You seem alright, even though we don’t have Daddy. How is that?’ Her face shines and there is a clarity and confidence in her voice beyond her nine years, ‘When Daddy was alive I was always happy. I want to continue being happy because I know that’s what Daddy would want for us now, too, Mummy.’ At this point, all I can do is hug my child tight, as the tears pour freely down my cheeks. For a while, I forget the blade in my heart and feel instead, the warmth of pride and love for my big girl. We will make it, I think to myself.
When my husband died in an accident four years ago, it was I who broke the news to my kids, then 7 and 4. There was my own grief to handle but more importantly, there was my children’s – and for a long time, I was worried about how they would cope. Thus began our journey on the long road towards healing together.
My children have always been verbally expressive and tend to speak openly about how they feel, without fear of saying the wrong thing. They also ask a lot of questions about life after death, all of which I try my best to answer. I don’t fib. Coming from a Catholic background, there is talk about the afterlife, a place where Daddy went and from where he was watching us still, taking care of us spiritually. But this ideology is open to debate as well. Two years ago, when I sat and spoke to my daughter in my bedroom, she firmly believed about what her dad had wanted. More recently, she has developed the opinion that he has moved on to other afterlife duties, but constantly keeps a watch on us. My son, on the other hand, responds more emotionally. He used to cry for his dad but now, as long as he has his Mummy, granny, aunts and uncle, he is quite alright. My children speak freely about their loss and as the years roll by, have developed an unsentimental opinion of death.
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We speak of their father constantly, especially of the good memories, but I don’t martyr him either. Sometimes, the children recall events in the past that were not so pleasant and I sit with them and talk through those memories. They understand that their father was a human like any other and as humans, we make mistakes. No one is perfect. Which is why we do our best, try not to be too hard on others and learn to forgive ourselves. We are not going to be around forever after all.
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I can’t declare myself an expert on the subject matter of loss and explaining it to children just because of what we’ve been through. All I can say is that it’s not always about getting it right at the get-go. Grief is a process that takes a lot of time to overcome, if ever. The best we can do, be it for adult or child, is to be there for one another and especially, to be lovingly engaged – like the day I sobbed into my daughter’s little shoulders for the solace she unconditionally provided for her grieving mother.