It’s just 16 months since my husband and the father of my two children died of cancer. We cared for him at home and he died peacefully at home with us at his side. After his death, I held many rituals for him. I’ve never really been much of a ritual person previously, but something in me was moved to do these rituals. I will write more about these in future posts, but today I want to write about my daughter’s dream (with her permission).
Since my husband died, when I see people I haven’t seen for a while, they ask me the routine “How are you?”. I cringe a little, not really knowing what to say – is this just the usual routine question or do they really want to know how I am, or are they curious about how I am in my grieving process? I usually answer with some vague reply unless I think they really want to know. Then they quickly follow this with “How are the children?”. Before their dad died, I don’t remember being asked so often how my kids are. My perception is that wanting to know how they are coping with the loss of their father is the question that’s really on their minds when they ask me how the kids are. Each time, I generally respond, “They’re good. They’re busy with their friends and school”. It’s hard to answer the question because from the outside, it almost seems like nothing has happened. They seem happy and fully immersed in their daily lives. They don’t cry like I do when they hear a song or have a memory. They don’t even mention him that often, whereas I talk about him frequently. Sometimes, I feel the urge to explain to people that my kids’ grieving process is different to mine. “I think the grieving process is a bit different for kids” I say. “They seem to live more in the present than I do. They have immersed themselves in their friendships and in daily life. I’m sure there is grief in there. Perhaps it’s more something they will process as they become adults and reach the milestones that he won’t be present for.”
My nephews lost their dad to cancer around the same age as my two. I recently asked my 20 year old nephew, who was ten when his dad died, how it is for him now. He said that he can feel the grief sitting inside him and that one day, he will probably need to face it and feel it. He remembers just immersing himself into his friendships and play in the weeks leading up to and following his dad’s death. He doesn’t remember really feeling sad. He doesn’t remember much about it at all, he said.
In our little household of three, I often feel a sense of solitude or aloneness in my grieving. I pay close attention to my children’s emotional well-being, and support them through issues they have with friendships or school. And sometimes, their emotional reactions to situations that they are experiencing seem much larger than warranted. And I wonder if this is one way of processing their grief, one way to release tears that haven’t been shed for their father.
And then this morning, I just happened to ask my daughter as she was eating her breakfast if she remembered any of her dreams. “Oh!” she said, “I walked into the bedroom looking for you and Papa was sitting on the bed reading. He looked up and smiled at me. You were at your desk typing as though everything was normal. I got such a shock. It was a happy shock feeling. I walked over to him and touched his hand to check if he was real. He looked at me and smiled.”
Tears well up in my eyes as I listen. There is the contraction of grief and sadness in me. And at the same time, there is the expansion of relief. So she is processing the loss of her father. She may not be doing it consciously even, but on some level, somewhere inside of her, she is going through the grieving process, just as I am.
Grief has its own process and my children’s grieving journey is their own. I have done the rituals I felt moved to do and they have fully participated in those rituals. They have seen me cry. They hear me talk about their dad and tell the stories of his life. And I know losing their dad is part of their journey and one they will process and integrate in their own way and in their own time.