Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Time For Everything and Everything in Its' Time

You’re catching me in the act of stealing. I’m stealing this idea from a fellow widow, blogger, and all around good gal (thank you, Supa Freshwidow) who recently posted an article about a parent covering up the details of the death of the other parent.(

Did I just say that right?

Anyway, it started some interesting dialogue about what should and should not be disclosed to young children about the death of a parent.

For me, my kids were REALLY young when my husband died. Like…borderline babies. Actually, one of them was a baby. So for me to tell them every little detail of what happened really didn’t seem appropriate. I told them that their dad hurt his head (he had a stroke after being involved in an accident) and died.

At the time, that explanation seemed sufficient enough.

But even with that explanation, I had to be veeeery careful. Most of you recognize what a delicate balance this is. I didn’t want them to think that every time they bump their heads on the playground that they might die. I didn’t want to get in a fender-bender and have them panic and think they aren’t going to make it. And I didn’t want to make them afraid of life.

Now, by being a little general, I’m not lying to my kids. I’m not telling them that he decided to go live in the country like their pet hamster or anything. I’m using what I like to call “age appropriate honesty.” I tell them what I think their little brains can handle.

And then I leave it up to them to ask the next question.

For years, my explanations have been enough. For my oldest, she seemed satisfied that things happen. I’ve had that child in enough preventative therapy over the years that she’s probably able to counsel my own therapist. For my youngest, she seems to have a connection with her dad that constantly astounds me since she was only 18 months old when he died.

I run into problems with my son.

My son, my beautiful middle child, has the most amazing mind. I know this because it’s not mine. It’s all his dad. He is freaky smart (not me), a math whiz (really not me), and needs a good explanation as to how things happen and why (a little me). We’ll just be riding in the car and he’ll calmly ask, “So, was there a lot of blood on the road when Daddy had his accident?”

Yeah…where’s my drive-thru daiquiri stand when I need it?

I kind of know the way his mind works and that he’s not asking because he’s upset. He’s not asking because he’s scared. He’s asking because his little brain needs some details and he wants to put some pieces to a puzzle together that he lost the lid for and doesn’t quite know how the final outcome is supposed to look.

Now, these questions always catch me off-guard. And my daughters seem happy enough to not know the answer. But, for him, I answer them as calmly and truthfully as I think a 6 year old boy can handle. I don’t go into a lot of detail, but I recognize the fact that this is important to him. I don’t lie. I don’t skirt the issue. And some day…in his own time...that puzzle will come together.

I can recognize the fact that my daughters, for the time being, seem okay with the status-quo. I’m waiting and I think I'm as prepared as I can be for that dam to break, but so far we seem to be doing okay.

But my son…he needs to work through this.

We have all dealt with loss and how that’s affected our kids in different ways. Some kids were there for the death of a parent…whether it was sudden or slow. Some kids weren’t and will always be searching for the mental image of those final moments. And all of our kids will forever wonder how this could have happened…just as we ask ourselves that question every day.

For those of you with teenagers who struggle together with the questions of why and how…I can’t imagine what you go through. My heart especially goes out to those dads who lost their spouses when their daughters were entering the teen years. Those years are a mystery to everyone and to throw something like this in the mix…well…I wish you were getting paid time and a half.

For my friends who are dealing with their children who are adults but will always be their babies…again…I can’t imagine what you’re going through. To try and figure out how to go on and still be a safe harbor for your kids to come home to…that’s a whole other beast.

The bottom line is that there is NO good way (or good time) to lose a parent. Who that parent was and what could have been will always be a piece of the puzzle that’s missing. And it’s up to us to figure out, behind any question, what our kids are really asking. What their needs are at the time. What we can say to not frighten, but also not sugarcoat the realities of life and death while our kids slowly digest the answer.

And let them know that, whatever happens, we will always be their honest answer.

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© Catherine Tidd 2010


  1. It sounds like your son is like me in his desire to know details...A therapist once told me that was a coping mechanism. The more details you know, the more in control you feel of things. And of course, that's been one of the hardest things about dealing with my late boyfriend's death--it was sudden, I wasn't prepared, I wasn't there when it happened, got all the details secondhand...Your son is only 6, but I get where he's coming from...Wish I could offer some advice, but I can offer an "I hear you, and I'm here for you!"

    Oh and I agree with you on Supa Freshwidow, she is made of awesome! As, I must say, are you! :)

  2. melleclimb--

    I will admit that, recently, I was thrown off by my son's questions. Until a friend pointed out to me that he has an "engineer's" mind and he's just trying to picture it. After that, it didn't disturb me, but made me realize that we all think and cope in different ways.

    Thanks for taking the journey with me.

  3. I've written a few posts about how my daughter is learning how the body works -- we have a few books about blood, muscles, bones, the digestive system, and other topics of fascination -- it's very age-appropriate. And she extends that interest to death: can I see pictures of how (a friend) died? Did Daddy's body split in half? Can we play with the dead birdie? I think of it as science, but yes, it freaked me out a little at first.

    They should have a playdate and we can serve a whole roast chicken and work some things out. I'm not EVEN kidding.



  4. It is hard when you have kids with really different temperaments and/or ages to customize it all. The grief-stricken surviving parent as a data manager. Tough roles...

    The girls were 17 and 14 as their dad was dying. At one moment when he was REALLY out of control with his illness I wanted to shield them - he was hallucinating and many other things that I will not mention out of respect for him and this open venue. When I tried to manage it for them, they got angry with me. They wanted the real truth. And so we all walked through the grim stuff - though as timing would have it, when the darkest hours rolled through, they were asleep.

    I know that they have manifested some stress reactions from what they witnessed. But I think that you do not have to go back but 1-2 generations and all of our ancestors did this. Our DNA somehow can deal with these matters, be just have forgotten how.

    All I can say is that the less immediate you are, the less honest you are - your kids can tell that you are not transparent. And if we want them to be strong and compassionate, then these hard circumstances can be a part of this journey. It is the family that they were born into and the path that they were destined to be on.

    My dad died when I was 12 and the heart attack that killed him eventually led me to being certified in first aid and CPR, for instance.

    It seems like being a parent is about loving, trusting and letting go.

  5. My kids are now 25, 22 and 19, their dad died 10 years ago. We have had many wonderful things happen in our lives that their dad was not a part of. There have been passing driving test, getting that first car, two sweet sixteens, graduations, getting accepted into college, great report cards. And all the while my heart breaks with each new and wonderful thing they achieve. I am so happy and proud of my kids, but with each new goal I think their father should see this. My daughters had their first dance at their parties with their brother. Its like a knife throught the heart. I feel it and I know they feel it too. But I always tell them that their dad would be so proud of them, or that he is looking down on them. That also makes them think when they are hanging out with a boyfriend or girlfriend!
    Over the years I have explained how their dad died, because like you explained when they are little there is only so much you can tell them that won't scare them.
    I think we all do the best we can, there are no guidelines, no rule book, no widows handbook and in chaper 3 we are supposted to be doing this or that. I think if we do whats in our hearts and explain to our kids that we are doing the best thats all we really can do.
    Margaret V

  6. I lost my husband of 22 years (HS Sweetheart) in May 2014. We have a son 22yrs and daughter that is 17. We didn't get the chance to say goodbye, he was killed in a Semi accident. I kissed him goodbye at 4:30am and he was gone within the hour.

    I had to face Mother's Day 2 days after his funeral, our daughter's Birthday 4 weeks after his death, and our son's Birthday within 3 months. Survived our Anniversary, Hunting Season, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and now Valentine's Day.

    I tried to keep from the kids what exactly killed their Daddy, but my son actually made it to the scene and traffic kept my daughter and myself away. I have shared with my son the cause of death, but our daughter hasn't asked for specifics and for that I am relieved.

    I'm alot like your son. I want to know what happened, why it happened, etc. It has taken 9 months of almost weekly sessions with a Therapist to now actually smile, enjoy things in life and I can totallly relate with your Retail Therapy. I just bought the car. LOL

    Thank you for your Blog, I searched the internet countless hours and came across your Blog be accident just the other day. I can't relate to the younger children and their grief but I do find alot of what you write about is very close to mine own experiences with this "New Life".

    I've been reading from the April 2010 up and am about to finish May 2010. Finding alot of comfort and some giggles in your writtings and appreciate you putting your feelings out there.