Bereavement: coping with grief after the death of a parent
Telling Carys about her father's death was incredibly difficult,
but not because I'd really thought of the significance for her entire life.
It was a difficult thing to do because of the emotion involved,
but I think at the time it was just
"How do we find the words to explain what's happened
and how do we do it without completely falling apart?"
I had advice from the Child Bereavement Charity right at that very early stage.
I'd been put in touch with them by the hospital,
which was absolutely brilliant.
When we're thinking about explaining death to a child,
for a parent we need to remember
that it's natural for them to want to protect their child.
They need to be honest
because on the whole children do need to know the truth.
I just told her basically that we'd had to take Papa to hospital
because he'd breathed in some poison
and that unfortunately he'd breathed in so much poison
that his body had stopped working
and the doctors hadn't been able to fix him
and so he had died,
and that meant that he wouldn't be coming home again.
She told me what was wrong with Papa and why he did it now,
because when I was younger I wouldn't really understand.
And she tells me that he did love us
and that he did it because he had an illness.
She didn't at that point show very much emotion or interest at all.
Children aren't like adults in terms of how they are
when they have some bad and difficult news to manage.
They quite often take it on board, they feel upset,
but they move off the painful part of it quite quickly.
Children don't stay with very painful news for long.
It's not that they don't feel it, they do,
but they need to get on and do something else.
And lots of parents and lots of adults misinterpret that.
They think that the child wasn't upset.
Usually I asked, "Why didn't Papa tell us what he was doing?"
and "Why did he never say goodbye?"
Children learn about grieving from watching us, from watching adults.
That's how they learn.
I didn't try to stop myself from crying
because I think I felt it was important that she saw me showing emotion
and that she could see that it hurt me and it upset me
and it was difficult for me as well.
With something like suicide there's a lot of anger associated with it
because somebody has chosen to go off and leave you
and it doesn't feel very nice.
It makes me feel quite sad
and sometimes it makes me feel quite angry with Papa for what he did,
that he didn't tell us what he was going to do,
he didn't let us even try to stop it.
Most children worry a lot about feeling angry.
They can feel very angry for no apparent reason.
It's a natural reaction to someone you care about
not being there any more, dying.
I understand how that now he's not coming back... ever.
When you talk to a child about death or dying,
it's really important to use the words "dead", "dying", "death".
Even quite little children learn
that "dead" means that you're not there any more.
Be very specific, very honest and very real.
I think it's very important to tell children the truth.
In some ways it feels quite scary
and that you actually might be causing more pain and more hurt,
but actually it's quite a protective thing to do
because it helps them to feel safe,
it helps them to feel that they can trust you.
Children revisit grief at different stages and ages.
You have to keep answering often the same questions,
and as a parent that sometimes can feel frustrating
and feel as though you're constantly going back over things,
but if you think about it it's the way that they deal with everything.
Children ask questions to make sense of the world around them.
My mum got me loads of books to explain death
and she got me loads of books that I could write about my papa in, personal,
and that helped me quite a lot
because I could get my thoughts out and not worry about them any more.
With any grief, with a child,
there are lots and lots of different feelings that children will have.
They can feel very anxious. Anxiety is a big part of grief.
Your whole world's changed.
That can make a child behave in a very agitated way,
maybe not want to be left at all.
Children can feel very worried
that if one person's died in the family someone else could die.
When I was younger I was worried that Mum would die as well
and that I wouldn't have anybody to look after me any more.
Reassure them that they are safe, that they are loved,
that they will be looked after
and that other people aren't going to leave as well.
Grieving is about remembering, it's not about forgetting,
so we need to help children remember.
(Carys) I remember that he was funny.
When I did things that weren't really funny,
he still laughed anyway.
As a child you do not expect
that you're going to have to live your life without your mum or dad.
They're the one person that normally loves you warts and all.
You expect them to be there for you as you grow up.
He used to walk with me to nursery
before he went to work.
After work sometimes I'd spend time with him,
but it's just that I wanted to spend more time with him.
Being a single parent is quite a lonely thing
and in that kind of situation it's also scary for you as an adult.
Just because you're grown up doesn't mean that things aren't scary.
So to have that support, to know that it's there at the end of a phone,
that you can ring up and ask for advice
is so reassuring and helpful.