My husband told me that when one of his boys was just 6y.o, they were walking hand in hand along a beach and the boy looked up at the father and said: “Dad, what would I ever do if you died?” Rob looked down and warmly and simply said: “Well, you’d be sad for a while, and then you would just get on with things.”
When I heard this story my own children were young, and I was touched by the simplicity, trust and beautiful lack of emotional tangle, and so I determined that if my children ever asked this question, I would say just that.
Some years later when my own son was maybe 12, we pulled up in the car in front of our house, and he said; “Mum, what would you ever do if I died?” The sirens that blew in my head from his nut allergy and previous brushes with death, as well as the realisation that he had asked this question backwards, were quelled by the mood of Rob’s story, and I found myself saying: “Well, I’d be sad for a while, and then I would get on with things.”
I turned to the back of the car and was met with his great grin, and then he said; “Bitch” and we both laughed out loud.
I told this story to a young, single mother who was having cancer treatment, and her biggest concern was for her small child if she were to die. Some years later I saw this woman, who was now cured, for something unrelated. She reminded me of the story and said that some time after, she knew things would be fine, because she was at a relatives house and her child was in the next room playing with their new puppy. The child piped up and said; “Hey, Mum! If you die I think I’ll live here because I love this puppy.”
Loss can be painful, but I have never met someone who has not lost something smaller in their past and got through it. A child grieving after the death of a parent, can be easily engaged by asking:
“I know it’s not the same, but have you ever lost someone or something you loved in the past? A grandparent? A beloved pet? Or had a friend move away, or change school? How did you get through it? What was the first thing you did? How did it go from so painful you couldn’t stand it, to just really sad? When you think about it now and just feel peacefully sad, how did you do that?”
“Most children use distraction at first, or they may even pretend that it hasn’t happened, that she just went down the street to the shops. This serves to protect them while the hurt is too painful. It works like an anaesthetic on an open wound. They do this until the wound is bearable. Until some healing has occurred.
Just like a broken leg, if you put a plaster on, it will heal. You don’t always need to pay attention. And like all wounds, it is best not to pick at it. Then, as families talk, and rituals happen, and stories are shared, the healing process can settle in. Paying attention to what helps, for this individual, and staying away from things that make the pain worse, as with all wounds, healing is promoted.
A Barefoot Therapist who knows this, and trusts this, will be a welcome comfort to a grieving soul.