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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Daddy Stories, and Daddy Bears...

I have had many people ask me in person and through emails about how to help children grieve and understand death.  This post is intended to give you a glimpse into my experience with small children grieving.  In the following weeks there will be posts with helpful tips and books for those of you on this path.  These memories are from 8-10 years keep that in mind.  We are no longer in such a heart wrenching cycle.

On the darkest days...and there were a lot of them, it was hard for me to think of anything except the fact that Jake was dead.  Everything I did for my kids was hard and painful.  I felt like I was trying to run through mud that came up to my chest.  I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t live, I couldn’t die.  I felt like I was nothing and was a worthless mother.  My kids didn’t deserve this life that had be forced upon them.  They deserved happiness, a life running around on a cattle ranch in the shadow of their loving father.  They deserved a mother that could go to the grocery store and buy food for her family, and then actually make a dinner for them.  They deserved to feel like nothing bad would ever happen to them, like all the other kids around them.  Their innocence was shattered and ripped away.  They were left with over whelming feelings of fear and anxiety that everyone they knew would die and they would be left alone.  They played games constantly about people dying.  They wanted to know who would take care of them if I died, if Grandma and Grandpa died, if all their aunts and uncles died too.  What if they were the only one alive left in our family.  Who would take care of them then?  They buried every toy they played with and told me all the horrific ways these poor toys met their death.  I was thankful that I had read a grief book* on children that explained that it was very normal for them to play these games and act out scenarios about death.  It made it so I didn’t stop them from playing the games, understanding it was a normal part of their grief.  That didn’t make it any easier for me to deal with!  Every time they played the games I pictured my perfect husband being crushed between metal and his dead body in the ground.  How could this be my life?  I was too young to be a widow.  When I thought of widows I thought of 80 year old women in a quilting guild.  The kids cried every day for their daddy.  And when I say cried everyday, I mean sobbing, tears down their cheeks, uncontrollable crying every single day for 600+ days.  I cried everyday too. 

I was worried that they would forget their dad so we started some traditions the day he died that would stay with us through out their lives.  When we pray we always say, "Please bless that daddy will watch over us."  I would tell “daddy stories” to them constantly.  Daddy stories are fun stories of when he was alive, memories the kids had that I wanted them to hold on to and also stories from his childhood.  I remember when it was around the 4 or 5 year anniversary Jordy saying to me as we were driving to one of Jake's memory day dinners..."Shouldn't we be learning about Daddy right now?".  That is the perfect way of describing how I was raising them.  Jordy was 18 months old so any memory he has of his dad...he has to learn.  

They loved the story of our families last cattle drive while Jake was alive.  My family had come down with horses and 4-wheelers to help us drive our cows from the ranch up onto the mountain where our summer range was.  It was a 3 day long event usually, lasting all day on a horse.  My Grandpa Martineau was on his young, headstrong, misbehaving horse “Harley”.  The horse was difficult to ride and very stubborn.  My Grandpa was in his late 70’s at the time...with a heart of a 20 year old.  Age wouldn’t stop him from anything he wanted to do.  Well Harley was becoming a bigger problem as the minutes went by.  Jake noticed my Grandpa struggling and also knew there was no way grandpa would ask for help.  Jake rode his tired-out horse up to Grandpa and asked if he wouldn't mind trading him for a while to give his horse a break from running up and down the mountain keeping all the cows and calfs together.  My Grandpa jumped off that horse and was glad to “help” Jake out.  Jake jumped on Harley in all his sexy cowboy glory and “threw the spurs to him”.  Harley jumped and bolted into at the new rider and tried to throw Jake several times.  Jake rode Harley like a true rodeo champion and ran that horse nearly to death.  They went up and down the mountain through every brush, briar and tree he could find.  Jake was sexiest on a horse and it still thrills me to think of him that way. (I left that part out when I told the kids of course)  When Harley had nothing left in him Jake offered to switch horses back with my Grandpa.  Exhausted, Harley was very well behaved after that experience.  

This is my Grandpa Martineau, my Dad, and Jake on our last cow drive!
It's also one of my favorite pictures of them!

I remember my sister Lyndsee, coming over one evening and when it was time to put the kids to bed she offered to do it for me.  It had been over a year since Jake had died.  I was downstairs in the kitchen.  After several minutes she came down from tucking Josh in and started crying, “I don’t know how you can go through that every night.  That just about killed me.” Every night we put Josh to bed he would ask for daddy stories.  He slept in his "Daddy shirt" and hugged his "Daddy Bear"**. Then he would say his prayers begging with Heavenly Father to let Jesus come back to earth so his daddy could be alive again.  Then he would cry and cry. As you would leave the room he would say, “Good night, I love you, I'll see you in the morning.” over and over and over.  It usually averaged 30 times or more to soothe his separation anxiety. Every night it was the same routine for over 2 years.  It was heart breaking every time. 

Josh would make up songs about when Daddy would come back to life.  Or just about the fact that his daddy was dead and he missed him so much.  He had the same separation anxiety when he would talk to me on the phone or when I would drop him off at school.  It was the routine of Bye, Love ya, over and over.  I would say it back and he would say it again.  It was exhausting and heart breaking, but he had to do it...just incase it was the last time he saw me.  He knew.  At four years old he knew that people leave the house and never come back.  They have accidents and die.  They get buried in the ground and all you have left of them is a faint memory, and a daddy bear.

It took us nearly two years to get into a children's grief center.  The Sharing Place offered a place of peace, relief, and the security of knowing we were not alone on this path of loss.  We stayed there for 6 years.  We love them to this day. I will post more on this and the lessons that we learned from The Sharing Place that helped us understand death, and helped me learn how to better help my children grieve.  There are very specific things you can do that will well as things you should avoid.  Look for these posts soon!
*What Children Need When They Grieve by Julia Wilcox Rathkey
**His daddy bear was the best gift given to me after Jake died.  It's a bear with a clear plastic pocket on the tummy that you can put a picture of your loved one in. We were given 5 so we each could have our own.  It's ten years later and all my boys still treasure them!

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