I totally expect the trolls to come out in full force for this post, I may even have a few of you, who normally whole-heartedly agree with me, on this occasion disagree. But that’s okay, because I am not here for everyone to agree with me all the time. I’m here to post honestly about my life warts and all.
As the title suggests, I am discussing death and how to deal with it when it comes to children. It’s one of those taboo subjects that people tend to avoid. A harsh reality that no one wants to have to face but at some point, we all need to. As parents, we hope and pray that we will never have to broach the subject with our children. Letting them learn all they need to from the films they watch, when their favourite character dies for instance. Nobody wants to deal with telling them a loved one has died, or even worse? Going to die.
This post is merely how I handled a horrific situation with my children. I’m not for one-minute stating this is the right way for everyone, or even anyone else. At the time it was the best way, I thought, to help my children cope with a huge loss in their lives.
Most of you are aware now, that my dad died in November last year - just twenty weeks ago – after being told his cancer had returned more aggressively than ever. He was first diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2016. After major operations and a long recovery – if you can call it that – he was home and looking forward to eventually being given the all clear. Dad spent those days trying to hide his worry from us all, but you could see it in his eyes. We all had the same underlying fear, that it hadn’t completely gone.
On March 22nd, 2017 we got THE. BEST. NEWS. EVER. His cancer was in remission. We were all so happy to hear those words. As soon as dad had been given the diagnosis, I made an extra effort to record lots more funny moments on my phone and took to writing down the things he told me I wanted to remember, so I could pass them on to the children when they were older. Especially for Chase, as the girls were older, and I knew they would always remember him.
Dad and Chase had a special little friendship together, with him being too young for school I used to take him, most days to share a cuppa with his grandad. These days were the best. They would get up to all sorts of silliness together, singing, laughing even tap dancing on the kitchen floor. One of my many favourite moments to look back on is a video of them both, asking Google to play videos of goats and sheep noises. Whatever takes your fancy ha ha!
While dad was in hospital after his first operation to remove half of his lung, I took Chase to see him. It was worth it to see the smiles on their faces when they gave each other, a very delicate, hug. The girls fussed over dad like two trained nurses bless them. All his grandchildren rallied around him making sure he was okay.
No sooner had we finished celebrating the good news of his remission, dad started going downhill again. Getting very breathless and looking worried again. I received a text on the morning of the 9th October that simply said, ‘Can you come sit with me a bit PSE getting frightened x’. I didn’t see that text for ten minutes. When I looked at my phone my heart dropped into my belly and I threw my shoes on and ran over the road to his bedroom. I found him sitting there wheezing, hardly able to talk to tell me what happened. To cut this part short I rang an ambulance, against his wishes I might add – he knew what was coming – they took him straight to James Cook hospital. Little did we know, that when he left there ten days later, he would be coming home to die.
My brothers and our families were all devastated. Dad took the news of his cancer’s aggressive return so well stating to my brothers and me, “Well, something’s gotta get you in the end!” After we had cried and clung to each other, he had his tea and started off carefully sprinkling a bit of salt on his food. He then laughed and tore the wrapper completely open and tipped all the salt on his dinner saying, “I don’t need to worry about not putting too much salt on my food now.” This was true bravery in my eyes. The doctors couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell us how long he had, just that it was aggressive. After dealing with all this myself, I knew I would have to break it to the children.
I decided, that because dad had shown such courage, I must do the same. I walked in and hugged all three children and explained to them very simply how grandad’s cancer had come back and this time he wouldn’t be cured and eventually, he would die. They looked at me and noticed I wasn’t crying, they asked if I was okay and I replied, “We have to make the most of the time he is here, because we don’t know how long he has.”
Olivia and Neve understood, they were older, but Chase was only three. He knew something was wrong and that grandad wasn’t very well. We spent what turned out to be, just two weeks and six days together. Filling the days with laughter, happiness and most of all love. It was the worst and best time of my life. I spent the days and nights with him sleeping next to him, holding his hand. Feeding him, nursing him, not leaving anything for the carers to do other than a few pots in the kitchen. I didn’t want to leave his side.
The children had all been coming over too, to keep him company. Neve and Lexi, my niece, were giving their grandad foot rubs, massaging cream into his feet. Olivia sat laughing and joking with him. David-Peter, my baby nephew, toddled around the living room, picking up all grandad’s ornaments and sharing his mince pies. With my brothers, sister in law and me sharing lots of ‘last suppers’ together with dad, it was safe to say he had a very loving farewell.
On his last day, Chase was with him all day cuddling up to him and holding his hand, dad laughed when he saw him which by that time was so nice to see. The last picture I have on my phone is of the two of them, cuddling. It’s a beautiful image. After we had said our goodbyes – a few times as he held on and put up an amazing heroic battle- he eventually slipped away in the early hours of November 8th.
I woke the children up to tell them at 6am that grandad had died during the night. We all broke down together and hugged. That day was a blur of gut wrenching agony and a huge release of emotions, as I felt everything from heartache to relief and then guilt for feeling relieved. I screamed, I cried and disappeared for a while inside myself to handle what was such a horrific time. My children were worried for me that day, but they saw their mum emerge the next day her almost usual self. I feel it’s important to let your children see you grieve, they learn from this that it’s okay to let your emotions out.
In the run up to the funeral, as most people do, we kept busy. We didn’t have any planning to do, dad had taken care of that part when he was diagnosed, telling us how he wanted us three (my brothers and me) to be okay and not have anything to fall out about. I decided, staying true to my thrifty roots, that the children should make grandad a tribute instead of buying the usual flowers. Not only would it be more personal, but it would help them cope with the whole process. We bought lots of bags of Liquorice Allsorts and glued them to letters, spelling out GRANDAD. It looked amazing when they had finished measuring a huge 6ft. I told them they were contributing to grandad’s ‘special day’ where we get to say goodbye for the last time.
This is the part where the toughest decision was made. We got the call to say dad’s body was at the chapel of rest and ready to be visited if we wished. All us adults decided we were going to go, of course we wanted to. I let the girls make their own minds up, telling them bluntly, they were going to see a body and not what they knew as grandad. As it happened, dad made a ‘good looking corpse’ like he used to joke he would. He was laid out beautifully, he looked so handsome. After seeing him in pain for so long, it was nice to see him finally look at peace. Armed with this knowledge Olivia and Neve decided they wanted to see him.
My husband pulled up outside the chapel of rest and we decided he would wait in the car with Chase and I would go in with the girls. What happened next was the strangest thing. Paul, my husband, told me, that while I had been in the room with the girls, Chase had a tantrum. Apparently, he had been shouting, “Why is grandad in that cold room?” We hadn’t mentioned that my dad was in there, let alone given away the temperature of the room. He cried and carried on all the way home saying he wanted to go and see grandad, I felt awful for him. He was always asking where grandad was too. I had shown him the empty bedroom of Grandad’s, where only days before there was a hospital bed and a room full of people. This didn’t help him understand what had happened to his best friend.
It was then I suggested to Paul, that we let Chase go and see my dad. His immediate response was “No way.” Even though I suggested it, I felt it was a bit too much too, but deep down I had a niggling feeling that it was the right thing to do. I was also aware of the time limit on the situation, it wasn’t something we had long to deliberate. The next time we nipped into town to drop the GRANDAD Liquorice Allsort tribute off at the funeral parlour, Chase did the same thing as we drove away. He carried on crying and screaming in a tantrum at home, he was very upset with himself.
I was getting that feeling again, telling me we should take him to see dad at the chapel of rest. After a long discussion with Paul, we decided to give it a go. I took Chase into town and told him that we were going to see grandad to say goodbye now he’s dead. I figured that speaking to him as matter of fact as possible was the best thing to do. I told him he would be in a wooden box laid down with his eyes shut. Chase was fine and seemed happy to go. We arrived at the funeral parlour and the lady came out to me and greeted me like normal. I told her what my plans were with Chase and she said, it was entirely up to me whether I thought he would be okay with it.
There are no rules when it comes to death. You have to make choices and decisions, quickly and hope they are for the best. I asked Chase again, are you sure you want to go and see grandad, he said yes, adamantly. Of course, he didn’t understand before he went in what he was agreeing to, I’m not for one minute suggesting he did, but I had to ask. With that the lady went and opened the door for us while I carried Chase into the room.
“Here’s Grandad look Chase.” I said. His eyes fixed on my dad, he said, “Can I wake him up now?” I explained that he wasn’t asleep and that he couldn’t wake up ever again. How I didn’t cry I don’t know, I found a strength I didn’t know I had. Chase seemed almost satisfied with my response and said, “Is that his dead box?” I let out a sigh of relief that he seemed so okay. “Yes son, that’s his dead box, it’s called a coffin. Say goodbye then and we’ll go and see daddy now, shall we?” And with that, he said bye to his grandad and we left.
Immediately afterwards, Chase seemed a lot more accepting of the situation and stopped asking where Grandad was all the time. It was like a missing piece of a jigsaw had been put into the hole. He hasn’t had any nightmares or shown any signs of being traumatised and I’m so pleased I made the right decision for him. I’m certainly not advocating all three- year olds should be taken to see a dead relative, as it’s a personal choice to be carefully made by an adult who knows the child the best.
The funeral was next, and all the grandchildren attended, except for David-Peter, being a baby, he didn’t understand. It seemed the right thing to do as we had all been through this together, we ended it together. Grandad’s special day went exactly how he planned it and we all said our goodbyes to our hero.
Death isn’t something to hide from children. It’s as much a part of life as birth. I have no regrets about that time whatsoever and I’m confident I made the right decisions with my children.