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  • Writer's picturethesepreciouslittlepeople

Parenting After Loss - the Power of Collective Wisdom

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

I've written before about talking to my living children about their sister who died before they were born (here), and the kind of language we have found useful to use within our family (here). Esme being our first child meant that we were able to take the pressure off a little to get it right immediately - we had time and space to process things ourselves and get our heads around how we wanted to explain things to them as they grew up - but there have still been difficult conversations that have taken my breath away somewhat. In our family the topic seems to come up sporadically and unpredictably, and for someone who isn't great at responding to tricky questions on the spot I've found that challenging at times. As with so many aspects of parenting (!) I've felt like I've been muddling through to an extent, but I feel fortunate that we very quickly established a firm foundation of wanting to talk openly and honestly about what happened to Esme and that has always been what we have fallen back on.

This was thanks in large part to what we managed to find on the internet and accessed from Sands in the immediate aftermath of Esme dying; we were able to share this with our families so that they had some guidance to call upon when breaking the news to their young children (we had three nephews, a niece and a cousin of various ages who all needed informing). Since then, many more resources have become available that are so useful for families to draw upon for information - there are more on the Support Links page of this site, but I've listed some of the more helpful and accessible ones below:



Speaking to Child Bereavement UK, Rebecca Gascoigne, 21, and aged just 5 years old when her mother died, explained in a blog post why she thinks it’s important to be open and honest with bereaved children:


"Because I was so young, the death of our mum was a topic not to be discussed and everyone thought I couldn't understand what was going on. There was no way I could process this, and that was difficult for me; I didn't understand the emotional side of grief, but I knew my life had changed. I felt different, as though no one else had experienced this and no one else was going through it. The fact that no one would talk to me about it, created this sense that I should feel guilty; I thought what I was feeling must be wrong and that I shouldn’t be feeling this way...


"In my experience, there is no use in hiding things or depriving children of experiences. Even if they’re little, children still have a level of understanding, and these things stay with you until adulthood and can have a lasting impact on your life. All of this could be made easier if parents were upfront and open with children. Don’t sugarcoat things because bereavement is horrible, there is no getting around that. Saying fake things doesn’t help... The real key for parents of bereaved children is supporting one other and being open and honest."


I've found it so helpful to come across families in similar positions to us over the years too, to call on their experiences and to share ideas about how to broach things and support our children to develop their understanding and/or to process any difficult feelings that come up. In previous blog posts I've shared stories from families who have been in the position of explaining to their children about their baby sibling, cousin or family friend dying (see links at the bottom of this article), as well as finding ways to honour their memory together, and I'm so glad I have come across some more since then. Hayley Manning writes so eloquently about her son Benjamin and the questions he has asked about his sister Luna following her death, as well as how they have tried to help develop his understanding of what happened to her and the impact she has had on their family. I especially resonated with how Hayley talks about wanting to emphasise that "Luna’s short life also has happiness attached to it, not just sadness, anger, frustration... Luna has taught us how to live life, how to love and look after each other. She has knitted our family more closely together and for that I am eternally grateful." Something I try to do with my own living children is share memories of the happy times we were fortunate enough to share with Esme during my pregnancy - the cravings I had, how magical it was to feel her moving inside, how beautiful she was. This can lead very naturally on to conversations about the lovely memories I have of being pregnant with them as well - it helps me recall that there were some even amongst the terror and anxiety! - and how similar they looked to each other when they were first born.

I hesitate to say that my living children grieve for Esme, because I've only ever heard them say that they "miss" their sister, and that they wish she was here with us. I've often wondered if it's more that they are simply repeating things we have shared with them about our feelings around her death, but I do think there is something very special about sibling bonds - and of course the power of imagination - that means even though they never 'knew' her, they are perfectly capable of starting to wonder about what could have been just as we adults do.

We are big fans of Disney movies in our household, and some never fail to make tears spring to my eyes because of their poignance. I've written before (here) about how many have themes of grief or loss feature prominently, so it's entirely predictable that they manage to pull at my heart strings perhaps more than for some people, but I've often been pleasantly surprised at how sensitively and honestly many of them have handled some really sad and difficult topics, especially the more recent offerings.

In Lilo & Stitch the two sisters are orphans struggling to cope on their own, and they talk about the concept of 'ohana' - meaning family - "which means no-one gets left behind - or forgotten." In the Frozen films we see the two sisters Elsa and Anna processing the grief they feel over the death of their parents very differently, and, spoiler alert, how they confront issues facing their community, as well their own personal pain, and come together to support each other. The line from Gramma Tala in Moana is one that I find incredibly moving (not just because it's spoken on her deathbed):


“There is no where you could go that I won’t be with you.”

Her grandmother instilled a powerful sense of self-belief in Moana as she grew up, and appears in spirit form to support Moana in her time of need - demonstrating that our loved ones can remain a source of inspiration and motivation for us even after they have died (even if only in a more spiritual sense in real life as opposed to the visual representations you often see in these films). This is how I've tried to explain things in These Precious Little People and it's what I've always said to my living children too - that even if someone has died, we can continue to love them, they can still be with us in our thoughts, we can talk about our memories of them and keep them part of our family.


I've included some links to further reading from my blog below, along with links to articles published in Still Standing, the online magazine for all who are grieving child loss and infertility, and some podcast/YouTube episodes you can tune into on this topic:











- https://smoothstonescoaching.com/podcast - Episode 26: Grief Through A Child's Eyes and Episode 40: Helping Your Kids Through The Tough Stuff (and with the latter there is a free PDF created for this episode, click here).



- Our Little Sparrows YouTube channel: Episodes 29 and 30 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6_c3FR07zg and https://youtu.be/RP_slsMQAYU)





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