My 5 year old in his Sunday best getting ready for a party, dashed off and ran back with a picture of my father and I from 13 years ago. “That’s you when you were smaller”. Yes, true in every sense. He looked at my father who was smiling and relaxed with his arm around me, “You don’t have a Daddy any more do you?” Off he went to his party. I could have said something wise and sensitive, but I was in shock. “Oh, wow” was all that came out.
3 years on and the most acute pain has gone. The fragmented replays of the last 24hours of his life have faded and along with the slight obsession with looking out of my window and thinking about him under the ground, under his tree, wondering if he’s cold. Those thoughts have had their edges rubbed off and have mostly been supplanted with a sense of longing. When I see mothers in the park with grandparents pushing the swing. When I see a father and daughter out for lunch together. When I see a man with silver hair wearing M&S cords and sweater I still feel winded and let my mind, just for 0.001th of a second think ‘that’s him’.
I do have a Daddy, I absolutely do. He can’t push you on the swing, watch you be a nativity Shepherd or enjoy a roast with us. I never got to make that drug addled, elated call “it’s a girl!” But my goodness did I have a Daddy. Every time we dance in the kitchen with the volume up loud – I have a Daddy. Every time you ask me to “push the boosters” and I drive just that bit faster to thrill you – I have a Daddy. When I ask you last thing at night if you are happy, really happy? – I have a Daddy.
I have tried to be as honest with the facts and my emotions as I could when my eldest asks, says “Papa died, you miss him”; as I wrote about in ‘Children and bearevement – AKA I bloody miss my father’ What a crying shame to be aware of death from such a young age. His dreams should only be of stones and bouncy castles and climbing. I gave the shortest most honest answer I could – he died, he’s in heaven. “Why did he die?” “Because he was very very old <not true> and the doctors couldn’t save him <true>”. I don’t want to take his innocence. Dream big, my small friend. Dream as high and wide as you can stretch your arms. You can be anything you want and we will all be here forever. Aren’t those the dreams a small boy should be allowed?
My mother only recently lost her own father. The 5 year old saw Mummy with wet eyes again. I answered honestly that his Great Grandfather was very very old and died in his sleep. Then he asked my Mother more “what happens when you die?” Oh. She decided to elaborate a little further “when you die you don’t need your body anymore so you leave your body behind and your soul goes up to heaven.” Oh no. No no no no no. Do I want my little 5 year old tree climbing, stick collector to know about what happens to the body after death? No. I very much do not.
“Ha ha when your Daddy died he left his pants, socks and shoes behind!” he said to me one morning.
Having festered on it, there is no appropriate response to that. The actual agony of handing a plastic bag of clothes to a Funeral Director to clothe your loved one for the grave, deliberating about whether they ‘need’ shoes is something I never want my babies to go through. But they may.
Let them be innocent, joyful and curious. We can be honest in our emotions, but gentle in the honesty of our answers.
My father had a very philosophical view on life. When the big C seeped into his life I remember him saying to me “You live to plant the seeds of the next generation. We water them and watch them grow. My job is done.” We were very lucky that things happened in their natural order. We are supposed to lose our parents first, those are the rules. No-one should have to endure the excruciating devastation of losing a partner, or worst of all a child.
So I’ll keep answering the questions as honestly as I can “yes, he died.” “Yes I miss him very much”. And I’ll keep watering my seeds.