Parenting Young Children Through Loss
Written By: Melanie M.
When my father passed suddenly, my two daughters were just 2 years and 3 months old. The first overwhelming thing for me was to get on an airplane and fly across the country with my baby while my husband stayed back with our toddler. I enrolled the toddler in a daycare program literally overnight so my husband could continue working full-time. Then, I quickly gathered the things I would need for me and the baby to travel. Securing everything for my daughters preoccupied me so that I wasn’t fully hit with sadness until I arrived back at my family’s home. It was extra tough juggling a new baby amidst a household of mourners, but looking back now, I can see that those initial months of grieving turned out to be some of the most solid bonding months with my youngest.
Breastfeeding didn’t go well with my first-born so with my youngest I was determined to make it work. When my dad passed, I completely threw feeding schedules and nursing expectations out the window. Nothing was more important to me now than spending quality time with my new baby. When all around me people were reeling from the shortness and sadness that life could bring, I had the most wonderful reminder of the joy and blessings that accompany it too. So amidst visiting funeral venues and scattering my dad’s ashes at sea, I fed my baby when she (or I) needed to be close. She was my shield. When I needed to get out of a conversation with a visitor, I went and nursed my baby. When I needed to pray or feel close to the happy, fun-loving father that I knew, I went and nursed my baby and life felt happy again. I would have had a much harder time those first weeks, if I did not have that sweet baby with me- something I plan to thank her for in the future when I tell her all about her grandpa.
When I returned home after the initial California visit, I was thrust back into my life as a stay-at-home mom. Kids needed to be taken care of, and there was no time to spend the day crying in bed. During these following weeks, I gave myself plenty of parenting free passes. I took the days very slow at first. We stayed close to home so that if I burst into tears, I wouldn’t have to deal with onlookers. I realized very quickly that having quiet time to myself was a new priority. At least once a week (and often every few days), I left my husband with the girls while I went for a hike or took my sketchbook to a park. This headspace helped me to mourn in my own way. Honestly, I only cried twice after my dad passed. I’m not a big crier and my family knows that about me. But quiet time in nature was my way of processing. And little by little, I was starting to heal. I could talk about things my dad did that made me laugh, and the events of his passing stopped completely dominating my every thought.
A milestone moment happened about 6 months later when my older daughter asked about her grandpa. I had been waiting to see how and when this would come up in her little mind, and how I would break it to her that grandpa had passed away. But I very calmly told her that Grandpa was in heaven with God now, and we won’t be seeing him anymore. She looked sad but accepted the news. I think that moment was the close of my chapter of grieving. It’s a beautiful thing to me that my little girl helped me grieve at the beginning of it all, and my big girl helped me move on past grief and towards living again.