Children’s Grief

Charlie is 5 & a half. Life is all about school, Star Wars, eating sweets and playing silly games. But sadly, grief is now part of his life.
My Mom passed away at the end of April, 9 months after being diagnosed with cancer. She has left a huge gaping hole slap bang in the middle of all our lives. I have struggled to come to terms with her passing away. I still don’t feel it’s real and that this cannot have happened in such a short space of time. But I’m an adult. I know that this can happen out of the blue and unfortunately this is part of life. But how on earth does a child deal with it and process it through their innocent little heads?

Charlie had been the absolute apple of my Mom’s eye. He was the first Grandchild and after she herself had two daughters the thought of a little boy was just perfect.

She saw him pretty much every single day from when he was born.  When I returned to work when he was 1, she then looked after him Monday to Friday. If I had a week off work and didn’t go round to see her she would often say how much she missed him. She would take him to all baby groups that I’d attended on maternity leave – how wonderful is that? He really was the light of her life and he felt the same. He would often make things at school for Granny or want to show her things he’s done and learnt at nursery and school. After nursery he would always ask to go to Granny’s. They were inseparable. A wonderful close bond.

Sadly when Mom was diagnosed (even more cruelly, just 3 weeks after giving birth to my twin daughters) the kids were the first thought that went through our minds. Where on earth do you start with a then 4 & a half year old who thinks the worst thing that can happen in the world is running out of ice cream?

The fantastic people at Macmillan sent me a booklet on how to explain cancer to a child. I never got round to having that conversation with him. I struggled to accept cancer myself and somehow felt if I didn’t talk about it – it couldn’t be real. 
He knew that Granny was ‘ill’. She had problems with her knees after being diagnosed so she was struggling to get about. That’s what he was associating with Granny being ill – that she couldn’t get up and play with him.

However when she died, we realised we couldn’t beat around the bush with telling Charlie. It was a horrible thing to ever ever have to do and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone – but, we told him the truth. My Dad & I sat down and had to tell Charlie as blunt and harsh as it sounds, that Granny had died. Not that she has fallen asleep, or gone to a better place; she had died. I didn’t want him to read into softer phrases and think that she may wake up or where was this better place and could we go. Dealing with our own crushing grief having to do this pushes home how evil cancer truly is.

Charlie didn’t say much. And hasn’t really said much.

He sometimes slips out in conversation that he misses her and when certain things come on the TV or a book they read together he will mention her. But I don’t know. Is this normal? He spent so much time with her yet seems to have just taken it on the chin. I think that me being on maternity leave and him knowing Granny couldn’t play had altered his everyday life and somehow had helped him accept it. 

As a parent you want to shield and protect your children from the harsh reality of the world. I was 9 when my grandad passed away. I have to admit I wasn’t really close to them but I remember feeling incredibly sad that because my Dad was so upset. 

Will he ever open up about the whole experience or is he still too young really to understand the whole impact of it all? The fact she won’t be there at his birthday parties, she won’t be there every Christmas, when he goes to big school she won’t be there to wave him off, nor will he ever get to drive her down to get her shopping when he learns to drive which they always joked about. 
For me these are the things that break my heart. Knowing the future is empty without her – but for Charlie I doubt he can foresee next week let alone the next decade of him life. 
Has anyone got any experience of bereavement in children? I just want to know he’s going to be ok.  
B x




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