Our kids were 5 and 2 when Seth unexpectedly passed away. The day he died all I could think about was how terrible it was that they weren’t given the gift of growing up with their Dad. They wouldn’t get to know his kind heart, amazing sense of humor, and determination to work hard and always stay positive. He wouldn’t get to be there to cheer them on, wipe their tears away, and give them hugs and love.
I thought that because they were so young when he died, they would never really feel like they knew him. I worried they would not have any real memories of their own. Only the stories others told them, which would someday feel like fuzzy memories or even dreams.
I knew I needed to ensure that our kids would always know him and feel he was there with them. We would talk about Seth every day. And we talked about that fact that he died and couldn’t be with us anymore. And they would ask a lot of questions. Matter of fact questions wanting simple straightforward answers. And we would share lots of memories.
The first year after Seth died, I was worried the kids weren’t grieving enough, or even at all. They would see me crying and would comfort me and dry my tears. I’d get big hugs from the kids, and my son would bring me a picture of Seth and say, “let’s look at Daddy and remember how much we love him.”
They didn’t cry for days, or sob for hours, as I would during those acute months of grief. They were so young, I’m not sure their minds could comprehend how much life had really changed and they weren’t sure what to do or think. I didn’t want to push it with them but wanted them to know it was ok to cry, and ok to talk about how much we love and miss him.
I remember one night my 5-year-old son was in the bath and asked, “mommy, how did daddy die? What actually happened?” I was shocked and didn’t know what to say. He was five. How do you explain a pulmonary embolism to a kid that young? So, I explained simply what happened and he said, “yeah, that’s what I thought” and moved on to talk about other things. While it shattered my heart into pieces that a little kid should be thinking about something like that, I felt a little relieved that he wanted to know and that he was processing what happened. He was facing his grief.
While my daughter was only two and a half when he died, she would talk about Seth all the time. Whether it was pointing to the empty front passenger seat in the car while on a road trip and saying, ‘”That’s daddy’s chair” or kissing his wedding ring that I would wear around my neck, and saying, “I love you Daddy.” Or if I wasn’t wearing it, saying, “Mommy, where is your heart?” Or she would point to the last store they went to as we drove by and would say, “Daddy took me there for a lollipop!” She knew he was gone, but still felt the love for him. She was facing her grief.
I would also see glimmers of their grief when we would be attending events with lots of families. Surrounded by dads. Hugging their kids, walking around with them in their arms or on top of their shoulders. While these would be hard views for me to see, I realized how hard it was on the kids, too. Especially when they would look up at me with sad eyes and say, “mommy, can we just go home?” And we would pack up and leave and all sit in the car silently on the way home. Feeling the deep void in our hearts.
Now, two and a half years later, they are grieving differently. They talk about memories often and find the signs he is here with us. And will say, “look at that beautiful sunset daddy sent us.” Or ask me to turn up one of Seth’s favorite songs when it comes on the radio. And we sing our hearts out and feel like he’s right there with us. They continue lift me up, dry my tears, and remind me how much he loves us and that we will all be together again.
I love it when out of the blue one of them will tell me a memory they have with their Dad. A bright vivid memory, that is now well over two and a half years old, yet they talk about it like it happened yesterday. Or they will tell me about something they did with him that I wasn’t there for, or that I didn’t know about, and I stop and think, ‘wow, they do have memories etched into their brains.’ Memories that are truly theirs that they haven’t forgotten and haven’t been told about. Memories I need to continue to talk about with them. And I’m reminded that while their time with him was too short, it was so full of life and love. And that they have their own true memories that are their own.
I do find that more often now one of the kids will curl up in my lap and say, “I miss Daddy. I wish he was here.” And I will say, “I sure do too, sweetie.” And then we will share a funny or sweet story or watch a video on my phone of them together, and we will laugh and smile, and sometimes cry together. And then a few minutes later, they will bounce back and run off and play, as young kids will do.
I am constantly reminded that they are grieving, in their own unique way, and on their own timeframe, as we all are. We all grieve differently. I don’t know that there is a right or wrong way for any of us to grieve. And they are letting it show more with each passing year. And I know their grief will continue to evolve, and they will process this loss with every new milestone and experience they have yet to come.
I’m trying to do my best to continue to let them know I’m here for them. That I love them. That their Daddy loves them and always will. And that he misses them as much as they miss him. And that I’ll always be there to listen, and hug them, and dry their tears, just as they continue to do for me.