A story of grief by a man and a boy

comforting comments

I’ve been storing this one up for some time because I just can’t phrase it right. My fingers haven’t been able to type the words because my brain has failed to formulate them. I’m not even sure if I can express what I’m trying to say right now.

I desperately try not to generalise on this blog. I write in the third person then change it back to the first to ensure that I don’t position myself as an expert or a know-it-all. But I think I’ve discovered something universal in how people discuss a toddler who has befallen tragedy.

The point I think I’m trying to make is that people who care want to make people they care about feel better when they feel bad.

My two-year-old son could probably have articulated that sentiment better than I have, but as this post is about him I’m going to park my concerns over the language I use.

“He won’t remember.”

“They are too young to understand at that age.”

“He’ll be fine.”

“Imagine how bad it would be if he were ten.”

I’ve said all of the above myself. But here’s the thing. My son has changed. He can’t let me out of his sight. He panics when I nip to the loo. He worries when I go for a shower. He has regressed back to the clingy child who I thought I missed when he learned to walk, but who now devastates me with each fretful squeeze.

And I know that he knows what’s happened.


Because he used to love the sound of sirens and now he cries and says, “I’m scared of the nee-nors, Daddy.”

Because when we wait at the bus stop and a cars passes by one mile over the speed limit he gets upset and shouts, “Slow down!”

Because he’s pensive when he shouldn’t even know how that feels.

So I’ll generalise for once and say we should give kids the credit they deserve. I’m convinced that we’re only comforting ourselves if we say that they don’t understand what’s going on.

32 comments on “comforting comments

  1. Lucie
    February 7, 2013

    Oh Ben you’re so right! Kids understand EVERYTHING. But they’re also stronger than we think sometimes xxx

  2. Leo Searle-Hawkins
    February 7, 2013

    I’m sure you are right Ben. Although I can only imagine what it must be like for you and your son, I do know from my own experience of childhood trauma how much an infant absorbs from the world around them.

    On my journey through the mysteries of mind I’ve found that simply being with difficult memories with a kind, silent presence can work miracles. I’ve noticed that any attempt to fix, change, get rid of, understand and especially to judge as wrong those memories, only makes them stronger. As Carl Jung said, “What we resist persists”.

    with kindness,


  3. 1000kmstowindermere
    February 7, 2013

    I’ve “liked” this – not because I like what you’ve written – it’s horrible and heartbreaking and my son is 6 and it makes me cry just to think of anything like this happening to him. I liked it because it’s so well written and needs to be said.

  4. Raymond Whitey
    February 7, 2013

    He sounds like a normal two year old to me. Having been a single male parent, I have seen this not only in my own children, but also in others. Up to around two years old, a child knows no fear. Then they start to learn that some things in life are bad. So start to cling to the parent. My son loved nee-nors. Then one day was very scared of them. Two years later he once again loved them? By then he had learned through attending nursery, that other adults were kind to him and Daddy would be back to collect him. My six year old grandson likes to let me know that I will die before him because I am older. Yet he doesnt really understand why yet. We have no idea where this came from either.

  5. Joanna
    February 7, 2013

    I’ve been following your blog for some time and I kinda knew there would be a post that I would hit deep! You write beautifully Ben. As the reader I have a real sense of the emotion behind your words. There’s a lyrical flow to your writing that connects with your audience…
    I’m no expert on the subject of loss, I’m not even a parent but from my own experience in childhood and then the recent years spent re-training as a psychotherapist working with young people, I would wholeheartedly agree that young children do know what’s going on. Ok, not in the same way as older children or adults do simply because of brain development but it’s there nonetheless because their sense of normal is disrupted.
    There’s lots of reading if you wanted to look in to child development and what I will say is, again from personal and professional experience, it is less about the traumatic event and more about how the child is related to afterwards. Your writing would suggest your doing a bloody amazing job of relating to your son’s loss and he’ll know that too in his own young world. Be kind to yourself…

  6. Lucille
    February 7, 2013

    You’re right, he does know….somewhere deep inside him there’s an emptiness that he can’t verbalise fully. He’ll always miss that vital female prescence in his life and so will you.

  7. Kate
    February 7, 2013

    I am sure you are right there Ben. The experiences we have in the first year or two are the most important ones even if we later “forget” them.

    Also I know from personal experience that people always try to say something to “minimise” the issue or mitigate the loss, such as “at least your brother didn’t have children” or “better your daughter is deaf rather than blind”. Its only natural to come out with things like this. As you say, we do it ourselves. Its just one of the ways people try to share their concern, and it is well meant. Optimism helps us get through the day.

    Keep blogging – and thank you – you are connecting to so many people.

    • Christopher Gowers
      February 7, 2013

      Ben, keep up your accounts. You are doing many people, including me, a lot of good. I wish I had had your courage to write when I was in a very similar situation to you, when I lost my wife suddenly, just like that. I was instantly labelled as a widower but our two children were not labelled as “motherless” and everyone, including me, overlooked that. I was too traumatised to respond to the children’s needs and as they were older than your son everyone assumed they were OK, although emotionally they had effectively lost both parents. Jackson is very lucky to have you as a parent , and you are right: he feels his loss as much as you do, and he is now solely dependent on you. Help for me did not arrive until many years later, when it was too late to help my children.


  8. Bill Wright
    February 7, 2013

    Thank you for writing about your two your old son, it has touched a nerve with me. This is the first time I have spoken about us to outsiders, since it happened.

    My two year old son lost his twin sister very suddenly without prior warning to a brain tumour last month.

    I understand what you say, when you say that we try to rationalise the shitty cards we were dealt, by trying to find some best case scenario in the awful, sometimes surreal scenario we find ourselves in the middle of.

    For us it is, that she was never ill, it happened very quickly, she didn’t suffer and did not have to go through months of treatment and go through a long, slow painful demise. If she had gone through a long slow painful demise, no doubt we would have found comfort from the fact that she did wake up from brain surgery and we were able to have more precious time with her. It is human to attempt find the positives in bleak times, I think it is how we survive.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t want to comfort you by saying that your son probably won’t remember any of it. I really, really want him to remember his Mummy and if that means remembering the visceral pain of it all and sight of seeing his Daddy grieve then that is fine. It makes her real to him. I am sure that by talking about her every day with him like you are doing, will enable those memories to survive. They might even become memories of memories in 20 years time, but they are still locked in. This is what I have left of my favourite Granddad who died 34 years ago when I was 3.

    Like your son, Ed has changed, post Anni, dying as has his older 5 year old sister, Bella. The alchemy of our family unit has irrevocably altered and we are all trying to make sense of it and find our new places. Anni loved her cuddles with Daddy, where as Ed was more of a Mummy’s Boy. Anni would always wake and end in bed with us in the middle of the night, we knew it was a bad habit and Gina Ford et al, would dismay at our indulgence of Anni, but now more than ever I don’t regret having her in our bed every night.

    Ed now needs lots and lots of Daddy cuddles (which I love) and ends up in our bed at 1am every night just like Anni used to. He always slept right through before Anni died. Anni was always the chatterbox, Ed more silent. Now he’s never quiet.

    I know he will never forget this period of his life, I hope he doesn’t. I want Anni with him every day of his life and for him to feel that she has always been there, from day zero.

    Thank you for providing this blog. I am certain that you provide comfort to a lot of your readers.


    • Caley berry
      February 7, 2013

      Bill I am so so sorry for your loss xx

      • Bill Wright
        February 7, 2013

        Thank you Caley

  9. lottiesc
    February 7, 2013

    Ben you are so right! My youngest son (now 10) was just about to turn two when his father was torn from our side and of course he remembers this time of his life. There are memories which are “learned” from the stories we tell and there are memories which are etched in everyones – even the little ones – heart! I also agree with you that I do not wish my children to forget this period of their lives as with all the hardship, pain, stress and sometimes total dispare we go through with our grief, there are also beautiful things coming out of them. I would for sure say that my boys have a wonderful insight into “real life” and value and deal with things different than their friends. The day Gary died, I swore never to lie to my children and that is sometimes hard but has proven to be the right thing for me and us, i.e. my children always get clear, straight answers to their questions no matter how deep or hard they are for me to answer. My eldest went in to a very angry period of life when he was just about to turn 7 years (2½ years after Garys passing) and quizzed me in 100% detail about Gary’s death, the care, why he had not been allowed to see Gary at the funeral parlour (my decision), the funeral itself, the cremation and so he questioned everything I and the doctors had done and it was hell to respond straight but definitely the right thing – no illusions made up. You’re going through such a tough period now and I hope that your blogging gives you some outlet for where you are! Big hugs of strenght and do carry on! Lottie

  10. Helen Trussler
    February 7, 2013

    Im sure I read an article by the husband of Rachel Nickell, the young woman who was stabbed to death in front of her 2 year old son and hes now a young man and im almost positive he remembers everything. I may be wrong, worth looking in to.
    My daughter was 5 when her stepfather died and 10 years on she can recall every emotion she felt. Its very sad for them because they often get overlooked as people think children are resilient and cope better, they probably feel just as bewildered and overwhelmed as any adult, they just show it differently.

  11. Chris
    February 7, 2013

    Our parents are like gods to us when we are small. We depend on them for everything and we learn about love and life from them. Our parents seem different to all other grownups in a huge and fundamental way. Your son understands that his mother has gone, and he is naturally terrified that if you leave his sight he may never see you again.
    My youngest (nearly 2 when her mother died) was exactly the same, she would not let me leave the room for weeks and weeks. But eventually she did learn to trust life again, thanks in part to the patient and loving support of a great friend and neighbour. I think you have to allow him to be clingy, give him lots and lots of hugs and love, help him to feel secure, and he will work through it in his own time.
    All the best to you both

  12. 2wishupon
    February 7, 2013

    They do understand everything that happens but I try and convince myself that they don’t to make things easier for me. Very selfish I know!
    Since losing their baby Brother and Daddy last February my children are so clingy too. Every ambulance that goes by they ask is that the one that took their Brother away. Everyone who now falls ill they ask will they go to heaven. I worry day in day out that they will be confused and upset for ever. Every time they cry I think its because they miss their Daddy. Every tantrum is because of what happened. Its not but I will always put everything down to the tragic events of last year.
    However, I truly believe that your Son will be ok. He obviously has a loving Daddy who is there for him. I always say to my friends and family now “I cant believe they dont have Daddy anymore and that nobody will ever love them like Paul did.” Their response is always very simple “Thats true but they have a mummy who loves them twice as much.” Take care Ben x

  13. Michelle
    February 7, 2013

    I’ve found it the hardest with my youngest daughter & it mad me so mad when people said exactly what you have experienced I know they mean well but they do know what’s going and as they get older they understand more & more & it’s then that you need to be ready with all the cuddles

    • Michelle
      February 7, 2013

      Funny this I’ve just been up to tidy her room & she has hung her daddy’s star up on her mirror I made it for her just after he died as normal stars only come out at night & that was when she looked for the brightest star which for her was her dad it’s not been out for about four years now, see they do remember & your little boy will never forget his mummy either

  14. Louisa
    February 7, 2013

    I totally agree! We are three years down the line now and I constantly get told ‘Children are so resilient’, ‘he won’t have any memory of what happened’, ‘he seems totally fine now’ – blah blah blah – he was 4 when his daddy died and he told me the other day he thinks about him every day – he may be a child but he’s a human being and feels loss just like a ‘grown up’ does – doesn’t that stand to reason!!?? Your son will gain strength just as you will but it will shape him, again, as it will/has you. In my humble opinion the little silver lining is that our little people will inevitably grow up as sensitive and intuitive adults with compassion abounding.

  15. Paul R
    February 7, 2013

    Before I experienced my own significant loss I probably generalized to friends and relatives who had a loss. Now, the only thing I can really state is that everyone experiences loss differently, including children. There is no statement that can make it better or make it hurt less. The only thing to do is listen and provide the support that you feel is right at that time.

    • lesley
      February 7, 2013

      I couldnt agree more.

  16. Sharon latham
    February 7, 2013

    I’ve just read your story in a magazine, and I must say how sorry I am for you and your beautiful son Jackson. He’s a credit to you and your wife. They do say time is a healer, and I’m sure it will be. You have your family and son to get you thro this.

  17. sophiewellstood
    February 7, 2013

    ‘Like’ is the wrong word to use here, but… Keep going. It’s all you can do.

  18. Karen
    February 7, 2013

    Ben, do not worry it will ease with time, when my daughters (4 years old) daddy (steve my husband) died (August 2012) she went through the same thing, if i was not in the room with her i had to tell her where i was going. At breakfast club before school she had to be peeled off me. I know she is older so i can explain things to her but it is the same feeling they have something is wrong, someone they loved has gone and they are scared the other person will go so they need to stay close.

    We have come out of this to a certain degree, however she is now angry at me, she actually kicked me this morning when i asked her to get dressed for school! naughty step for her and big cuddles as she is hurting but can’t express it…..

    Love Jackson, reasure him, give him some slack while keeping the rules still in place and he should make it to a well rounded man….

    That’s what i pray for my daughter and my 16 year old son!!

    Karen xx

  19. Judy
    February 7, 2013

    I was 25 when my dear sweet mother died. Though, of course, one cannot equate these two events, I felt like Jackson completely. I clung to those around me- wanting to know where everyone I loved was- wanting to know they were safe. I think it is a totally human reaction and Jackson should be recognized and credited with having those emotions and feelings. In the future it really doesn’t matter if he has real memories or memories of memories as one responder so wisely described it. He will thank you for keeping alive and honoring the dear sweet mother he lost so tragically. You are giving him a gift he may not always recognize, but will treasure.

  20. Fernanda Howsam
    February 7, 2013

    I couldn’t agree more.

  21. lesley
    February 7, 2013

    Words cannot describe how moved I am by all of these comments. When my brother died last year his son was 6 and his daughter 2. his son has lots of memories of daddy but his daughter doesnt. We talk about daddy lots and have photos but it is hard knowing my neice may only ever have learned memories. but that is better than no memories. She gets upset that there are more photos of daddy and her big brother than her and daddy. but I am so pleased we have all the photos we do.we make sure she knows how much daddy loved her and she has her special cuddly toy that daddy bought her which she takes every where.

  22. Cath Barnes
    February 7, 2013

    Ben I agree that our children no doubt are going through the same sort of grief process as us. My 3 year old and 8 year old are going through the same hurt , anger , frustration and god knows what other emotions as me . When we found out my husband was terminally ill at the age of 38 we prepared our 8 year old the best we could, but everyone said the little one wouldn’t understand that he would bounce back that he would be ok. Why did we listen how wrong we were. He is heartbroken at losing his daddy , just like your little boy and just like you and me. Our children share the same grief they have lost the same person. I hope you find the strength to cope with your feelings and your sons .

  23. EightySixThat
    February 8, 2013

    Very valid point. Thanks again for sharing. My heart hurts just thinking about what your son must feel.

  24. Vicky baruch
    February 9, 2013

    Ben you have put this so perfectly….this is exactly why we are so passionate about what we do at Grief Encounter. How on earth can a kid be fine when their Mummy or Daddy has died, the most special people in their little lives. We say just because you can’t see the pain , trust me their hearts are broken. If a child has broken their leg, they will get all the sympathy they need. You can’t see a childs broken heart but trust me they are suffering x

  25. orangemush
    February 10, 2013

    Im new to your story and blog but just wanted to say that your words are very touching and my heart breaks at your description of your son.
    You are right though i think a lot if the time we don’t give them credit because its easier on us.

  26. Jayne Cherrington-Cook
    February 12, 2013

    You are right Ben. Myself and my toddler were involved in a very nasty car crash last summer, just after he turned 2. He now hates going at any speed in the car and says ‘Mummy, don’t crash’. He’s been very clingy ever since that accident happened – and will not let me out of his sight for long, even if Daddy is around. All you can do is give them lots of love and hugs and kisses. No child has ever been spoiled by too much love. I still talk to him about the accident and how scared I was but how we’re OK now. I’m sure you are doing a blummin fantastic job in such a difficult time.

  27. taz3677
    May 14, 2014

    Wow i am so guilty of that. My friends little boy was just under two.

    Thanks for making me thimk differently. Wish i had better words for u all. Hugs

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