My father-in-law recently died.
His diagnosis 4 years ago had hit me like a punch to the stomach. At that moment my mind jumped immediately to the end of his life and inside I panicked.
My very happy childhood had been peppered with the illnesses and deaths of family members and family friends. Our home was filled with pets whose life spans had varied in length. Each passing left me in despair. Everyone handles grief in their own way and my overwhelming instinct is to run away from it.
My experience as a nurse working with children in acute and chronic situations did not help my ability to cope with loss. I remember with a heavy heart each and every little one who never went home.
Our instinct as parents is to protect our babies. I clearly recall leaving the hospital with my firstborn and feeling apologetic to her as we stepped out into the September sunshine; outside of the safe cocoon of the hospital room into the noise, confusion and smog of the city. I couldn’t put her in a bubble, but I wanted to.
I had avoided pets in our home despite my children requesting time and again. I used the excuse that we didn’t have time for a pet. In truth, I would love a pet and all the benefits that pet ownership brings but I couldn’t bear the loss. I also couldn’t bear to see my girls suffer a loss.
The night I got the news that their grandfather had died I dreaded the sunrise. I knew that as long as they were asleep my children were safe and protected still. In their sleep they were unscathed by grief and their world was unchanged. But as the sun rose I knew I could protect them no longer. I realised that I could not change what had happened. I could no longer pretend that death was something in the future; something they didn’t need to worry about. Death is part of life. My role was not to shield and deflect; but rather to cushion and cradle and hold their hand through the journey.
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