Category Archives: Children

Suspended Grief – A Personal Reflection on Childhood Loss

I sat in front of my laptop and watched the reams of videos flash past my eyes…..a friend, stood in a bucket soaked to the skin complaining as water soaked through to his underwear….another friend clung onto her dog so she wasn’t the only one to get wet…my daughter…shrieking in delight whilst her dad tipped up the bucket wearing a look that can only be described as pure glee.  The ice bucket challenge 🙂 It was all very funny….so why were there tears streaming down my face?

Motor neurones is a horrible disease, it can start in different areas of the body from person to person but the end result is always the same….loss of control over your body, loss of dignity, loss of life.  With my granddad it started in his throat and for a while my older brother and I bought the story that he had a sore throat and that’s why he couldn’t talk.  He moved in with us and we carried on like normal, we just accepted that granddad now wrote notes instead of speaking and eventually had a machine not dissimilar to the old “speak and spell” I had as a kid to communicate with.  It was around that time that the memory hails from….the one that makes me sob like a baby despite the fact that is happened almost thirty years ago.

It was Christmas day and I’d been told off, a none too rare occurrence given the fact that I could be a bit of a brat! I think I’d been ungrateful about a present I’d had or something like that and my dad had had enough and snapped at me.  My granddad was in the room sitting quietly in his armchair watching the events unfold when I decided to storm out of the room with the as much drama I could muster!  But, as I reached the door he reached out his hand and held gently onto my arm.  I stared back at him with annoyance because he’d interrupted me mid flounce!  It’s the look in his eyes though that I’ve never forgotten….you see, he couldn’t let go of me to grab his note pad or “speak and spell” because he knew I’d storm out…but he had something to say and it couldn’t have been any clearer if he’d managed to shout it out!  He seemed to say, “Stop this…it’s silly, you’re being silly and life is too short.  It’s Christmas after all”.  I didn’t hear him,….I wrenched my hand away and stormed out anyway.  I don’t know why this memory fills me with guilt and sadness to this day, but it does.

I don’t want you to think I didn’t like the fact that he lived with us though because even in the midst of this horrific illness he was a funny and a loving man.  I’ll never forget a conversation he had with my younger cousin….(I can’t remember what it was about) I remember he was writing notes on a pad to her and she was writing back.  Then a glint of mischief shone in his eyes as he wrote “Laura, why are you writing to me?  I can’t speak….I’M NOT DEAF!!”  We all laughed…my parents still have the notepad 🙂

I was sheltered from a lot of pain towards the end, it’s only now that I’m an adult I understand the true devastation the disease wrought on my granddad and the truly heroic way my parents cared for him no matter how difficult things became.

So now I come to the title of this blog.  Having felt a rush of sorrow on numerous occasions over the past few weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps my grief over the loss of my granddad was suspended.  I’m left wondering if as a child the anguish of losing someone so cherished was simply not something I could process.  So I shed a few tears and went about the rest of my life not knowing that I had set aside my sadness to revisit later on when I could fully understand not only what I had lost but how I had lost it……

I am genuinely at a loss to understand why someone lost to me thirty years ago is in my thoughts daily…why my eyes burn when I talk about him….why I’m crying now unless he had been placed in an envelope marked “to be opened at a later date”.   And if this is the case then I’m not sure if that means we should be trying to encourage children to grieve if they seem unmoved by a loss or we should simply trust their system to know when it’s time even if it comes at them out of left field when it is?

Kubler-Ross talks about the five stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Which makes sense to me when talking about adult grief…but from my own experience I guess I would have to posit the idea that maybe children of a certain age undergoing a certain kind of loss skip the initial stages and go straight to Depression and then Acceptance.  Then later in life they revisit those two stages to finish the job…?  I don’t know how this impacts, or even if it impacts on how we work with adult grief over a loss in childhood, but I thought I’d share my thoughts.

I don’t know the answer but I do know something feels unfinished so I’m going to reflect on that for now….I’ll let you know if I reach any conclusions 🙂