A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Go and try to find some information on toddler grief that will make you feel better about the death of your infant child’s mummy. And let me know when you do.
When a toddler’s mother dies suddenly and you become their only living parent, you start to believe that everything that upsets them or makes them cross is because of their loss. People will tell you they are just being toddlers, “they all behave like that”, but it simply isn’t true.
I know my son. I know what’s a tantrum and what isn’t. No-one knows that better than me anymore. He can’t articulate how he feels yet. In fact he’ll never be able to tell me how he felt at the time of her death because he won’t remember. This means the professionals can’t help much. They just tell me he’ll be okay because he won’t recall his loss.
Try really hard to imagine how this feels. Better still, if you’re reading this and going through the same thing then let me know.
To me it feels like Desreen has been robbed. To me it feels like my son is (and always will have been) too young to appreciate that he had the most loving, caring and adoring mother on Earth.
Charities like Winston’s Wish have helped. They’ve suggested ways to keep Desreen’s memory alive for my son. But all of that’s for the future. For now I have to make myself feel like I’m doing my wife justice by using my parental intuition to ‘do the right thing’.
Again, this is just my experience, but it’s now two months since my wife died and I have a child who loves me and is showing signs of happiness and laughter every day. So I have to believe I’m doing something right.
This post is for any poor bugger like me who wakes in the middle of the night and frantically scours the internet for advice on how to care for a bereaved toddler.
Tantrums or anger possibly caused by being two; possibly caused by the fact his mummy doesn’t come home anymore:
I take him out of the situation or room and hold him close. I ask him what’s wrong. We look out the window, we both try to calm down and I wipe his tears away. I don’t tell him off because I think about how I’d feel if someone tried to tell me I wasn’t allowed to express my grief right now. Sometimes he’s upset because he wants one of my friends to go home; sometimes because he wants one to come over. Whatever the cause I give him a cuddle rather than a telling-off.
I’ve left every single photo of Desreen up on the wall. I invite him to kiss her picture on my phone before we go to bed. I’ve no interest in him not mentioning her name or asking where she’s gone to to spare my feelings. I couldn’t feel any worse anyway.
I tell him where she’s gone. I tell him the truth. I say she’s gone away and can’t ever come back (because he doesn’t know what ‘death’ or ‘killed’ are yet). In fact he doesn’t know what ‘ever’ or ‘never’ are yet either but I feel a consistent narrative will be important to maintain over the years. I tell him that she didn’t want to go. I tell him that she would never have left him out of choice because she loved him more than anyone or anything in the world. I tell him that I’m going to look after him now and that I know how because Mummy taught me. I tell everyone who cares for him to use the same words as me so he doesn’t get confused. I ban the words ‘gone to a better place’ because he might want to go there or, perhaps worse, think she chose that mysterious place over him.
And for now we pray, but we don’t talk about mummy being in heaven, because he doesn’t know the geographical difference between paradise and the park.
Let’s hope intuition serves me well.