Grieving with a Toddler

This is a hard post to write. You may have noticed that R and I haven't been on as many adventures recently. I've talked before on here about my father's illness. At the end of September my dad started having stomach aches. He went to the doctor who sent him to the hospital, and we found out that he had Pancreatic Cancer. After trying different types of chemo, different procedures, all kinds of different things, my dad decided to live his life for quality, rather than quantity. It was so hard seeing my rugby playing, double-black skiing, super active dad go from himself to not being able to walk in a month.
My dad was always very involved in R's life. My parents kept him 2 full days a week, and took him to and from school two other days. My dad took him to his first baseball, football, and basketball games. He bought him his first Tides hat. He talked about taking him skiing, even before he was born.  R's first zoo trip and train ride were with my dad. The thought of him not being around for the rest of his life is unfathomable.
We knew it was coming. So we tried to spend as much time as possible with my dad. We had him record this book, which is lovely and gut wrenching and heartbreaking all at the same time. It's as much a comfort for me as I hope it is for R later in life. 

What do I tell R once he starts to miss him? I guess I tell him the stories, I show him how he looks exactly like him, I tell him all the hopes that my dad had for him. I take him to the places that my dad liked to go, and we visit the places my dad wanted to go, but never made it to. I play him his favorite songs, and imitate his bad dancing skills. 
Another way that we have decided to remember my dad is to participate in the Pancreatic Cancer walk at the oceanfront annually. This year is it on April 22. We knew that my grandma died of this cancer, but didn't know it was genetic. Now that we know the symptoms, we now think that my great-grandmother and great-uncle died of the same thing. It's scary, and I'll have to get tested, but hopefully raising money will help find out more about it. Because it moves so fast and doesn't have symptoms before the fourth stage, there is only a 9% survival rate. If you'd like to learn more about the walk, to sign up for our team, or to donate, click here. Finding a positive source to throw our grief and focus into has been a huge help.
Along with the book above, here are a few resources for children who are grieving:

  • Video for kids: 
  • "The Invisible String" - A friend gave us this book. It's about how we are all connected, even if a loved one has passed on.
  • Article for parents: Saying Goodbye: Talking to Kids About Death
  • Display photos of your loved one, and talk about them regularly. If you go to the zoo, show them previous trips with grandpa. Don't be afraid to put them away to make your kid sad. 
  • Talk openly and honestly with your children. As a teacher, I know it's important for kids to understand. They don't understand phrases like "at peace", "laid to rest", or "didn't make it." Be honest. "Papa died, so he is no longer alive. The memories that we have will last forever though." 
  • Pass on mementoes. We saved my dad's watch for R. It used to belong to my great uncle and was passed down to my dad. 
  • Participate in events that you know they loved. We will teach R to ski, take him to baseball games, and have him wear an ODU jersey to feel closer to my dad. 
Nothing makes this easier. With a toddler it's even harder because they don't understand. R looks for my dad. He has been fussy because his whole schedule has been thrown off from all of the changes. And yet, he laughs and smiles, and forces us to do the same. Slowly we will start to put the pieces together. My friends and family have been such a huge support to us. I'll even say that this blog has helped me. It's forced me to get out and try new places. All I can hope for is that R grows up knowing that love that his grandpa had for my mom, for me, Neil and mostly for him. 

“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”

― Anne Lamott