One night in late October, W woke up in the middle of the night and wanted to talk about something she had dreamed about. After we had chatted and W was tucked up in bed once again, I saw that I had had lots of missed calls on my phone. I called my Mum and discovered to my utter sadness and shock that my Aunt, who I was close to, had died suddenly two hours before….
My Mum and I stayed on the phone for hours, not really knowing what to say to each other, but just wanting to talk about our shock, our family, and how my Aunt’s young adult daughters would cope without her.
It all seemed so surreal and I cannot imagine the trauma that my cousins would have gone through that night. My heart broke for them and for the rest of my family who all now had to come to terms with the void that was left in her place.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. Instead, I stayed up, trying to make sense of what had happened and trying to figure out how to tell W that her Aunt had gone.
…In the morning, when I had composed myself a little, W and I talked about Aunty T and what had happened. It was the first time W had experienced the death of a family member and I don’t think she knew what to make of it. I was determined not to cry when I told W, but sadly I did. I told myself that it was ok for W to see my emotions sometimes, especially so that she could see that sadness is a normal reaction to such an event.
That morning, W and I went straight to my parent’s house (my partner had to work and my stepchildren were away with their other Mum, so couldn’t come with us), where W did very well coping with seeing lots and lots of family members at once. She did not see too much distress as people were very careful to not talk a great deal about the upsetting stuff in front of W, but she did understand that we were all very, very sad about what had happened. Although our extended family had all been brought together again by such an awful event, it was still good for W to have the chance to meet so many members of her family at once.
A few days later, it was time to go home. There was nothing more for us to do at my parent’s house and we needed to get back home to try to find our new ‘normal’ before the funeral could take place (which would be some time in the future due to investigations that were needed beforehand).
I had no idea how W would react to all of this… at first she seemed ok and quite matter-of-fact about it, but as time went on, she started to realise the permanence of death, that she would never see Aunty T again. I won’t go into details here of how W was affected specifically because, although this blog is anonymous, the details of how W’s grief affected her over the coming months are very personal to her.
The truth is that W struggled. We took it slowly, reading books about grief and loss and talking about it whenever W needed to (Winston’s Wish have excellent resources for children experiencing this). It was awful to see the pain and distress that she was going through, especially as I knew very much what that felt like for me too. I made sure to mention Aunty T in passing sometimes, just to show that it was ok to talk about her (and it still is – I still talk about her a lot when something we do reminds me of her).
A few months later, W is doing better. She is still obviously grieving and feeling the loss, but the anxiety isn’t a daily struggle for her any longer. I have been careful to not push her too hard to talk, but to just be open to talking whenever the subject comes up. W still chooses to read the books on grief from time to time and we will do this for as long as she needs to.
I do not know what the next few years will bring in terms of our grief; whether we will get back to normal, remembering Aunt T fondly without all the pain that comes along with the memories, or if we will forever feel this empty place in our lives that she used to fill. All I know is that I have to do what is best for my children to help them through it, but I still can’t comprehend that I will never see my lovely Aunt again. However, somehow we have to find a way to move through life without her. And that, I think, will be very, very hard for all of us.