A friend recently asked this question and when asked I usually answer “they are good“. The real answer is a little more complicated because it changes from day to day. I don’t know how it really feels to lose a father so I can only tell you from the perspective of a mother watching them cope.
When their father was alive he was present in every sense of the word. He intently listened to them and was actively involved in their lives. He ultimately had a work-life balance which was admired by many. When he was diagnosed with Cancer we treated it like everything else in our lives – we were honest. The children came to chemotherapy, they visited him in intensive care and were active participants in the Cancer treatment.
Our eldest daughter continuously asked her father “are you going to die?” and so we made a promise to her that if the time came we would tell her. The questions stopped and she trusted us. On my birthday seventeen days before he passed away we decided it was time to tell the children that losing their father was a possibility. The next hour was the most emotionally charged, traumatic time of our lives. The children had three very personal and separate reactions to the news from hysterical crying to hugging and kissing their father to banging their head against the wall in disbelief. The children wanted to pray and our youngest said “PLEASE PLEASE don’t let my Daddy die”. This was the moment I began to understand that I will have to assist three different personalities cope with losing their father in three different ways.
That night I tossed and turned in bed and wondered if we had made a fatal mistake. I wished I could take away all of their pain. Ironically their father had the best sleep in a long time, he felt great relief and was at total peace. In speaking the truth he became free. The next seventeen days were full of joy, jokes, love and questions. The children openly asked their father everything from “are you scared?” to “what if mum remarries?”. All of their questions were answered with the same honestly we had always applied. He also penned a letter to myself and each child which is a treasure we cherish.
In essence grieving was shared openly before his death.
After John passed away I frantically made the children a special box filled with treasures and made a photo book of photos of each child with their dad and gave them the letter he had penned. What I hadn’t realised was that even though these material gifts are lovely – the greatest gift was their fathers bravery and courage to speak the truth and have honest REAL conversations with his children when it mattered the most.
He gave them unconditional and unwavering love, wisdom, support and the precious gift of his time.
Ultimately they had more of a father in the short time when he was here then some children have in an entire lifetime.
How are the children today?
They are resilient, joyful, grateful and happy children. They are learning to live each day without a father and there is not a day that goes by that he is not missed. The word ‘Dad’ is continuously used as we recall jokes, silliness and his tenderness. His memory remains alive and present in our lives.
Occasionally the kids say “can we have KFC in memory of Dad” or “can we have a potato chip sandwich in memory of Dad?”– I always know I am being conned and wish he was remembered for his love of vegetables but happily laugh and succumb to their request.
On his birthday after his death the three children made this in the sand.