Written by: Shani Fowler
When we hook up with our partners the last thing we think about is dying. We are so busy planning ahead, having children and getting on with our lives. Our vows may include “til death do us part” but how often do we really think of it? So when the unthinkable happens and our partner dies, it is incredibly hard to deal with, especially if there are young children involved. There are some steps that can help to deal with such a sad situation.
You are allowed to grieve
Remember you are grieving. Most professionals agree that there are no rules to grieving and everyone does it in their own way, but being widowed at a young age with young children means having to stay strong for the children. This is compounded with the difficulty of trying to explain what death is. These times can be very testing and all consuming.
Don’t be hard on yourself, take it in steps. It used to be believed it was better to shield children from the death of a parent but todays professionals now consider it important to speak with children and be as honest as you can with them. If religion forms part of your culture you can be honest and beliefs still be held; your religion can be a great comfort to you all alongside the facts.
It is easy to want to sugar coat death for children, making it easier for them and maybe think of telling a child their parent has ‘gone to sleep’. This can be confusing to a child and may have the undesired effect of a child fearing going to sleep in case the same happens to them. Try and be as straight forward as possible using language they understand, at the same time being prepared to answer and encourage many of the questions they will undoubtedly have.
The really young
With really young children it is more advisable to let them have information in pieces as they go on. The really young have little understanding of death but you can feed more information as time passes and they gather more of a grasp as to what death is, still being as honest as possible.
It isn’t weak to show feelings
You may have to be strong but that doesn’t mean you can’t show your feelings. If you show yours, children will feel more at ease to show theirs. It’s good to be able to express how we feel however old we are, keeping it all bottled up won’t do anyone any good.
Don’t suddenly stop talking about their mum or dad who has passed away. Make sure you talk about them and the things you did together. How much fun you had and how happy and proud the child made their parent.
Allowing children to be part of the funeral process is widely encouraged whereas in years gone by it wasn’t. Children can contribute to the ceremony, personalising it and help make a celebration of their parent’s life. They need to feel involved with the preparations as they make their own tribute in their unique way.
Create a memory box together with photos and memorabilia you can either keep out or refer to whenever the children want. Personal effects can transport you back to a happy time and can make you feel ever-connected. You can put lists in there such as their parent’s favourite book, song, poem; anything that helps you remember who they were and what they liked.
Whether the parent’s death was expected or sudden, there is bound to be a lot of shock, grief and a sense of injustice to it all. Getting over a death takes time, especially when the young are suddenly bereft of a parent. Grieving together, talking and answering difficult questions as well as keeping the memory alive is vitally important. Don’t be afraid to let out feelings and allow others to do the same to help with the healing process. No one can replace the lost parent but you have go on together and be there for each other, guiding the children as you know your partner would have wanted.