These Widow's Shoes


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Spring boards and surf boards

On Sunday afternoon we met up with Lizzie, Liam and the boys down at the creek. As soon as Saskia saw Liam, the first thing she said was ‘My Daddy’s in heaven’ – she’s saying this a LOT at the moment as you may have gathered! Funny though, that she should do this again having greeted him the exact same way a week ago. The need to talk about where her own Daddy is when she meets her friends’ Daddies seems really strong at the moment.

Or even just the mention of Daddies, will set her off, telling whoever’s listening all about her own. Just yesterday, she was telling her friend Emmeline all about how he was poorly and so he had to go to heaven. She got a bit confused at one stage saying it was because he was old, but overall she’s very keen and confident about talking about him, which I’m really proud of.

Having said that, ‘my Daddy’s in heaven’ can be a bit of a conversation killer, especially with adults who are tongue-tied by cultural taboos and anxiety about what’s ok to say and what’s not.  And even if you are quite at ease talking about it, it’s not always appropriate in that moment. I sense both Liam and I were searching around for the next thing to say on Sunday after Saskia’s challenging opening gambit! As it was, I think one of the boys joined us and turned the conversations to pumpkins, or boats maybe, but not wanting to ignore Saskia’s comment, what would have been the right thing to say if we had carried on the conversation? I’ve been thinking about it since and realised that the thing to do isn’t to be stumped by the subject of death, but to steer the talk towards Ben’s life instead, encourage her to talk about what she knows: his name; who his parents, sister, friends were; Pickle, his cat; his love of the sea and surfing…

I do already try to do this whenever opportunities arise. Ben’s things around the house are ideal starting points for me to tell Saskia about things he liked, his character and his experiences in life. In our bathroom there’s a picture of a surfer, and an old surf board that Ben’s school buddy and surfing mentor, Dave, gave to him. Quite a few times Saskia has asked me about them and it’s been a lovely opportunity to talk about how Ben loved surfing, took me surfing, and latterly fantasised about living his surfing ambitions vicariously through her. To be honest, I was never a fan of the photo or the surfboard as additions to our bathroom decor, and put up with them under sufferance. But now they’re there to stay – partly because of the way they bring Ben into the room and generate memories for me, and stories about her Daddy for Saskia, but mostly because Saskia thinks the super buff surfer ripping up the waves is actually Ben, and I couldn’t possibly disillusion her! image

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Fascinating little brain

I didn’t realise until I asked some friends to write down conversations they’d heard Saskia having with their children, quite the extent to which Saskia associates other Daddies being at work with her Daddy being in heaven.

It is really fascinating to see her mind piecing things together. Liv remembers a conversation between Saskia and Bertie at her house last spring. One of the children asked where I was and Liv told them I was at work. There were a couple of exchanges between Sas and Bertie before she said, ‘My Daddy used to go to work, in heaven’. Then as Liv recalls, they went back to the more  pressing business of pretending to spit yoghurt at each other and shouting POO!

Also in the spring, Lizzie remembers Sas and Elliot playing ‘house’  – Saskia was sweeping up and Elliot announced he was off to work (internal groan at these hopelessly stereotyped play choices!). Lizzie overheard Sas musing to herself ‘Maybe that’s where my Daddy’s gone. No, he’s gone to heaven.’

At this time she was obviously getting quite mixed up between her Daddy being gone, and other Daddies being out at work. But by late summer, she’d figured out that they definitely weren’t the same thing, to the extent that she was very emphatic with both Emmeline and Jack, as I wrote in the last post, saying ‘Your Daddy has gone to work, my Daddy has gone to heaven.’

At this point I think I should explain our use of the word ‘heaven’. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you might remember the post where I explained my extensive deliberations about how to talk to Sas about what had happened to Daddy. I’m not a believer in heaven myself, so seriously baulked at the idea of using the word. However,  at that time I didn’t feel comfortable about just saying ‘he’s dead’, and also needed something to say to the glaring question of ‘where is he?’. To me it’s a convenient catch all word that I use to mean the ‘after-life’ (or the what happens after life, which I shall in time tell her is something nobody really knows about for sure, though people have lots of ideas…and here are the best ones…).

In the meantime, since I wrote that post, I have found myself able to use the ‘d’ word after all (though ‘he’s died’/’he died’ rather than ‘he’s dead’ – softer, isn’t it?). Several times, quite a while ago now, Sas would ask where Daddy had gone, and I might say he was in heaven, but I’d also say ‘he died’. Numerous times the conversation would stop there and Sas would move happily onto another topic. But quite recently she wanted to know more, and she asked why he’d died. I explained that he’d been very poorly, and his body wasn’t able to get better, and so he died. Again, as always, she accepted this answer and just carried on playing.

Since then if we’ve talked about people dying (like Ben’s Nan whose burial service Saskia and I went to about a month ago), I’ve tried to emphasise that people only usually die when they get very old, as I don’t want her to worry that someone she knows is going to die just because they’re ill. So far though I haven’t seen any evidence that she’s thinking that anyway.

Right, will leave it there. Am on a roll and loads more to come. But shorter better for you too I’m sure. We’ve all got Sunday night telly to watch!

 

 

 


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Eavesdropping

Disobeying all the right advice about blogging, I haven’t written for ages, but have instead hoarded bagfuls of stuff to write one day when I got round to it. Could this finally be the big blaaah? We’ll see. Where to start?

Well this post is to be about Saskia, my conversations with her about Ben and death, as well as the conversations that my friends and I have overheard her having with her little buddies about the same thing.

Anyone who has watched a child go through the first years of life will attest to how utterly lovely and endearing it is when somewhere between two and three they start having their first proper conversations with their friends. They have all sorts of serious little chats, very earnestly debating this or that.

From time to time, the conversation has been about Daddies. Last month Saskia and her friend Jack were sat in the back of the car chatting…

Jack: My Daddy’s at work.
Saskia: Daddies don’t go to work! They go to heaven.
Jack: My Daddy DOES go to work.
Me: That’s right. Jack’s Daddy works in Canterbury. He’s a manager.

And so I wittered on, commandeering their conversation in my parenty way.

Not long after that we were round at Marylka’s, who overheard Sas say to Emmeline, ‘Where’s your Daddy?’ Emmeline, ‘He’s at work.’ Saskia, ‘Your Daddy goes to work, mine goes to heaven.’

It’s that matter of fact way she says things…like that’s just the way it is. That, plus the funny way her and her friends make confident pronouncements as though they are the absolute authority on a subject that they’ve only just learnt for themselves about 3 seconds previously. On any other subject it’s all just funny. With this it’s tragic and funny – she makes me smile, even though what she’s actually saying is sad beyond her imagining.

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Lately Sas has learned that DADS = FUN. Mums are alright, but Dads do really good stuff like charge around pretending to be monsters, and hilAAAARIOUS pantomime style goofing around at the swings. So now I get ‘Mum, be funny like Adam and Dan’ when we go to the park and I either have to feel totally inadequate or like an utter prat. We’re so lucky to have such brilliant Dad friends who always make sure she gets swung around in the air and held upside down by her ankles just as much as their own eager urchins.

However, as I’ve noticed how much she revels in this interaction, I’ve also been watching closely for signs of resentment, or sadness, that her own Daddy isn’t here. After all, with anything else, be it food, toys, a manky old stick or a bit of fluff, if anyone else has got something that she hasn’t, she’s in a wild fury of hot tears at the injustice of it. But so far, this injustice, she seems to be taking very calmly. Last week, Sas and I were at the pub with Lizzie and Janine and their children, enjoying a cheeky Friday afternoon couple of pints. A little later, Lizzie’s husband Liam joined us after finishing work. As he walked in he kneeled down to hug his two boys, and then Saskia came up to him and announced, ‘My Daddy’s in heaven.’ No drama, just that. And Liam accepted her pronouncement with an easygoing ‘That’s right’ and a smile, and carried on with the everyday chat about what the day had held for us all. The things she says are all the more poignant and moving for the unremarkable way that she says them – because it’s just normal for her I guess. I’m sure  it touched Liam – later that evening I noticed he had an extra big hug for Sas when we bumped into him at the chippie.

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Well this is isn’t all the blaaah, but in the spirit of little and often I will post this now and promise the rest soon. Maybe more little people conversations, definitely more about the conversations I’ve had with her. Thanks for reading.