Jane’s experience, unexpected death

When I was four years old my father died suddenly in tragic circumstances. At the age of four I didn’t really know how his death would impact me, one day he was alive and the next he was gone. However as I’ve grown older I feel that there is a void in me that can never be replaced. There have been times in my life that are filled with overwhelming sadness, such as when I got married and when my children were born. There have been times when I have felt really angry that he has gone, and have often wondered how different my life may be if he was still alive today.
I have always known that my father wasn’t a ‘perfect’ dad, or a hands on dad at the best of times, but he always worked hard and felt it was a ‘mans job’ to provide for his family.
I had always known that my mother was given money to provide for me and my siblings until we reached 18, however I was shocked when at 18 I received a solicitors letter stating that my father had insurance which gave me a £5000 lump sum, and a monthly sum until I married.
I take comfort in knowing that even though he wasn’t perfect and wasn’t always there for me emotionally, he stood by his own principles and provided for us years after his death”.  (Jane, mum of two children)
Unfortunately stories like Jane’s are all too familiar, and sadly in these situations there are so many things to consider, finances, emotional stability, how do you tell a child their father has died? How can you ensure you’re supporting them in the best possible way when you too are grieving? Children of all different ages should be dealt with differently and sensitively depending on their stage of development. So let’s look at Jane when she was four years old and her father died tragically. What was the best way of helping her through this?

  • If you think about a child of this age, they will have a very limited understanding of death, quite black and white thinking in many ways. If something is actually active it’s alive, even toys can be used imaginatively and a child may feel that if it moves in some way it’s alive!
  • If you then think about the above and relate it to a family member who has passed away, the child may seem quite matter of fact about it. They may even think somewhere in their minds that the person will come back to life at some point as a toy might do. They may seem detached from the death, but this does not mean that you should protect them by ignoring it or not explaining things to your child. You may just need to keep talking about it and going over the same ground time and time again.
  • You may find that children of this age may just blurt things out unexpectedly such as, “my dad in a horrible car crash and my mum cries a lot about it”. These are the opportunities where you can gently encourage the child to talk about their feelings, rather than see them as talking inappropriately. Ask them how they feel about it. They are saying these things for a reason.
  • It’s crucial that if the person that dies is a primary caregiver to the child, the child is constantly reminded that they are going to be safe, and that there are a lot of people around them to take care of them, and look after them.
  • Children of this age may ask questions that seem strange about the person who has passed away, such as, ‘what are they doing now?’, ‘how do they get food and drink where they are now?’ and ‘will they ever be able to come ad play with me again even for a little bit?’ Although these questions are difficult to answer, and may be answered in a way that reflects your beliefs, the most important thing is that these are given a response for the child and not ignored, as it’s the way they are trying to make sense of it all.

These are just a few points in relation to a young child dealing with loss, but the key aspect of all of this is to not hide everything from the child. They will know, it’s ok to cry and be upset in front of your child, as they will see you also come out of the other side.

“Please note that this blog post was provided by Healthy Minds and although based on real people, different names have been used, where requested, by those sharing their stories.”

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