Every photo and social media app these days has a “memories” feature. I’ve mentioned these before, with their heady mix of amusing snapshots of life with a tiny Ethan, and Facebook posts announcing funeral details. Well, these two popped up on one of my apps this morning: a perfect encapsulation of what my life was like in the month following Mark’s death.
Death admin is a whole other topic, and I’m not going to talk about it this week. Suffice to say that this was one of 13 copies of the death certificate that I had to send off to various banks and mortgage companies and insurance companies and electricity providers and the milkman, in order to prove that my husband had, in fact, died, and I wasn’t just trying to get the name on the TV license changed to commit some kind of elaborate, BBC One-related, fraud.
The practical considerations were taking up a large part of my life at this point. The funeral had come and gone, but there was still a LOT to do, and all these companies had to speak to me.
But the other bit of my life – the thing that filled my every waking thought – was Ethan, and how to deal with this small boy who seemed so lost and confused in the middle of everything.
Consistency is impotant enough for a 2 year old in normal circumstance. Children thrive within boundaries – they need to know where they stand (in a loving way) and how far they can push things. When things are too vague or flakey, then they panic. A recently bereaved child needs consistency even more. Their world has turned upside down in ways they don’t fully understand, and they are searching for solid touch points.
I needed to be that touchpoint. That rock he could grab onto and know that it was never going to move. So I tried to keep as many things normal as possible, including sleeping arrangements. Ethan went through a ridiculously terrible time with sleep in the months and years after Mark died, and I made the decision to be firm. It would have been much easier to let him sleep in my bed with me, seeing as the issue was he was lonely. But I was terrified of blurring boundaries and confusing him. And, to be frank, I was looking (far) ahead to when I started dating again and I’d have to deal with getting him used to a new person at the same time as weaning him off sleeping in my bed. Which would have been an association nightmare.
So I stood firm. The picture above is from one of the only times I let him in my bed at around 2am, and that was because he had a terrible cold and was hardly sleeping at all.
I wish I had been kinder. To myself and to Ethan. Boundaries are all very well, but I don’t believe in the “making a rod for your own back” philosophy any more. There would have been nothing wrong with Ethan sleeping next to me, safe and warm and protected. Given the circumstances. And there would have been time for a re-set once we’d both gotten over the initial shock.
Hindsight is fab. I made the decision I felt was right at the time, for the right reasons. But while we’re spending the week thinking about how we can support children who are dealing with grief and loss, I think balancing boundaries with kindness is the best move. You can never give them enough cuddles, especially when you’re hugging them for two.
For more on Children’s Grief Awareness Week, head to http://www.griefencounter.org.uk