My Ex-wife died today need help to explain to children.

(61 Posts)
zombieslovebrains Fri 15-Mar-13 21:37:52

Long story short and not trying to drip feed.
Got married and had 2 children DS 15 and DD11.
Due to ex's mental health problems which became apparant after DD was born she had to be sectioned for long periods of time. After spending a couple years in hospitals, she started to get better but had met someone else and decided she wanted a divorce.
So for the last 10 years the kids have lived with me. Even through the divorce we got on well, after the divorce there wasn't any major problems we always managed to work around each other so the kids could see her, we did have a few moments but they didn't last more than a week.
Fast forward to this week. Massive heart attack mid-week, never regained consiousness, died today she was only 41.
Kids don't know yet will be telling them tomorrow, not trying to sound like its all about me, it's my birthday tomorrow so it will be forever linked to their mum's death.
Still feel numb.

Hassled Fri 15-Mar-13 23:05:47

My mother died when I was a teenager - very different circumstances but the thing that I sort of feel bitter about was that subsequently she was barely mentioned. It was like it hadn't happened, that she hadn't happened. So please - talk about her. What she was like, what she liked, your memories, her opinion on X, Y and Z, how she would have reacted to a news story, that sort of thing. Keep giving life to the memories they have, if you see what I mean.

I'm sorry - you have a lot to deal with. I second Winston's Wish - see if you can get them some bereavement counselling in due course.

cjel Fri 15-Mar-13 23:19:27

I hope you get the support you need at this awful time. Don't be surprised by their reaction I think they may be very cross they weren't at least told she was ill as soon as you knew.

zombieslovebrains Fri 15-Mar-13 23:33:59

Thanks for all your posts.
Looking at the posts and seeing that a lot of people have said I should have told them straight away about their mum, maybe in time and with hindsight I should've done that, but I'm trying to do what I think is best and whatever decision I make I know its going to come back and bite me in the ass.

cjel Fri 15-Mar-13 23:40:33

I think you are right that whatever you did or didn't do at some point in their gief DCs will say you should've done it differently. I also think that as long as you talk and listen and get outside support you will get through it. Hope you are OK?

zombieslovebrains Fri 15-Mar-13 23:52:55

exexpat--sorry for your loss, children shouldn't lose parents at a young age, when it comes to the funeral and seeing her I will let them make their own decisions and respect them

zombieslovebrains Sat 16-Mar-13 00:03:15

pansyflimflam--thanks for your post, my chat (in my head) to the kids sounded so clinical compared to your advice, what you have said about it being peaceful is the best way to go I think. I am not thinking straight.

Mumoftwodaughters Sat 16-Mar-13 00:03:31

My condolences. My advice is to get some good sleep now. There has been mention of telling the children this evening, but clearly you needed time to digest everything and get yourself together, then feel strong enough ready to tell the children. Honesty is the best policy, take special note of the advice to reassure them that she did not suffer. Suggested words bearing in mind your 11yrDD: her body was tired and worn out and has died, and her soul has gone to heaven (if you find this a reasonable explanation). The angels will be guarding over her and she is in a safe place now .... depending on their reactions, explore later in the day when the news has had a chance to sink in whether they might want to see her. Without seeing the body it is sometimes more difficult for children to come to terms with the death. I hope this helps.

zombieslovebrains Sat 16-Mar-13 00:08:23

I'm off to bed, seriously not looking forward to tomorrow.

chipmonkey Sat 16-Mar-13 00:12:17

zombie, I am so very sorry. I only have experience of my boys losing their baby sister which although devastating for them, wouldn't have the same impact as losing a parent. Also they were allowed into the hospital once we knew dd wouldn't live.

The only thing I will say, is that when dh and I knew that there was no hope of saving dd, our instinct was to protect the boys and keep them out of the hospital. But both the ward sister and the bereavement social worker said that it was actually better if the boys did see dd so ill, as otherwise they would have gone to school that morning with their sister alive, and then just be told that she had died. So my Mum brought them in to say their goodbyes. The older two do feel that it was beneficial, although obviously very, very hard.

I would think that as your dc's couldn't see their Mum, really the sooner you tell them, the better. She is their Mum and they have a right to know. Be as truthful as possible about the circumstances of her death. When it comes to funeral arrangements, consult them about how involved they want to be. For us, my sons knew they wouldn't be able to cope with standing up and talking in church, other children might want to do that. Take your cue from them.

And do talk about their Mum, talk about the good times and good memories.

Again, I am so very sorry for your loss. xx

Mumoftwodaughters Sat 16-Mar-13 00:17:51

You will cope better if you get some sleep. If you have anything to help you get to sleep more quickly tonight that might help. If you are religious in any way or even if you aren't, you might want to consider asking a church representative to visit you. It is their role to befriend and support you. Sleep well.

Flojobunny Sat 16-Mar-13 00:24:31

I think you've done the right thing OP, given yourself time to take it in a little bit and let them have a good nights sleep. Their lives are about to change forever, a few more hours of peace is a good thing I think and tomorrow you will have had time yourself and got your family around for support.
It must be very difficult for you too OP.
I am so sorry for your loss. Come back and talk if it helps x

pansyflimflam Sat 16-Mar-13 07:26:35

I wanted you to know I am thinking of you all this morning. Please be kind to yourself, you are doing and have done the best you can in really extraordinary circumstances. God Bless you all x

tribpot Sat 16-Mar-13 07:53:16

Very sorry for your loss, OP, and for your children's loss in particular. You and your ex worked well together to provide the best environment for your dc and that will stand you in good stead now.

This will be a terrible day. You just have to get through it.

I'm not sure anyone upthread has mentioned Winston's Wish - it's worth a look.

Another vote for Winstons Wish. They are amazing. My husband died when my son was two days before his fifth birthday and I always find that time of year difficult. Sending you hugs (((()))) x

Thumbwitch Sat 16-Mar-13 09:58:08

Very sad to hear of your loss, and your children's loss, zombies.

I think that it was probably right that they didn't see their mum in ICU; it's not a pleasant thing to see your mum with tubes and ventilators coming out of her, and if she was unresponsive and "not her", then it might have traumatised them more. It's a hard call; but do let them see her in the funeral parlour if they want to, they can say good bye there. It's unlikely she would have heard them while she was in ICU anyway from what you've said.

I assume you've told them by now? How are they taking it? I second Winston's Wish - there is a section of that site where children/teens can talk to each other, without adult interference - that might be helpful for them.

Also see if their school(s) have a school counsellor - they might benefit from having a chat, and the school(s) will need to be informed anyway.

cjel Sat 16-Mar-13 11:32:18

Thinking of you this morning.x

zombie, I am thinking of you all today and I am hoping that you have been able to have that difficult conversation with your children.

All we can ever do as parents is the best we can, so look forward and to what you can do to make living without their mum more bearable for them.
And yes, do not NOT mention her - your children are old enough to remember her for the rest of their lives, she was a real presence in their lives - troubled or not.

Much strength for today, the coming weeks and the future x.

StoicButStressed Sat 16-Mar-13 22:42:40

Zombie WISH had seen this yesterday as may have been of more use, but will post now anyway as - assuming you have told them today - there is still lots yet to do and which may help them. Will try to be succinct, but can't not start by offering the hugest of condolences and sympathy, not just for your DC's but also for you as you are unquestionably in for a very rocky road.

My Mother died 4 weeks ago tomorrow; aside from my own feelings as losing her, also had (still have, obv) DC's who lost their really beloved Nanny to try and take care of (mean in psychological sense; bereavement sense; as well as all other obvious ways). So here is my best advice:

1: With a DS of 15 and DD of 11, they will both likely react very differently - not just as point told, but also subsequently. Agree with ALL who have pointed you to Winston's Wishes and if you haven't been able to go to their site today, PLEASE do asap tomm or get a trusted family member or friend to do it for you so that you DO have benefit of WW guidance.

2: Here are the relevant CRUSE pages (have literally just cut/pasted them from mail to school, so apols if not in 'right' order).

www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk/CYPPerspective.html - General advice for schools when a pupil is bereaved.

www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk/SchoolsRefusal.html - School refusal

www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk/CYPAdolescent.html - for your 15 year old.

3: Won't waste your time/space here by recounting all my experiences/learnings from past cpl months (my Mumma was terminally ill so knew she was going before she did then die), will just try and bullet most useful:

- Vis initial reactions, 15 year son will almost certainly be profoundly angry (see CRUSE thing above); 11 year old daughter will almost certainly just be be bereft (how big a part in their lives was their Mother, as that too will have an effect on impact on all?).

- Strongly advise you do NOT lie to them (other than the - even if not true - that she died pain-free, as THAT is something they will go over and over in their heads and be beyond upset by). Re ALL else, there is no other safe/healthy option in L/Term but to just be very honest with them. Ergo, if you have 'fudged' stuff today, would really suggest correct it tomorrow and in context of you were simply trying to do the 'right' thing in innately wanting to protect them, but realise that they do need to know the truth.

- Re not seeing her before died - even if wired up to machines and distressing - you can't undo this now (& I KNOW how hard it is to have to make quick decisions when in such utter shock - if search my posts, will become clearer but without taking up space here); but they should have had the choice and been told (am so NOT criticising you here, just passing on all I do now - sadly - know).

- Honesty - however painful - is the ONLY 'right' thing you can do. So if you think you fucked up by NOT telling them, then simply explain that fact, along with the shock you were in and the 'advice' from the hospital you got at time.

- Best options NOW are to allow them to have as much a part as possible in both 'choosing' her funeral and taking part in it if they want to (& do NOT let anyone of 'older' generation 'persuade you differently); and equally, let them not it they don't want to. [look at my profile as only pics on there are those pertaining to my Mumma's funeral - to & for the AWESOME MN'ers who helped me so much - and the really personal/'her' things we did for her funeral that helped my DS's HUGELY.

- I wouldn't suggest a 'delayed' 'celebrating' birthday from today to tomorrow, as they will not be in place to celebrate anything (& may, esp DS, be in a very angry place anyway). Would suggest that you 'frame' it differently at some subsequent point, IE "don't think of my birthday next year as sad; it's still my birthday but will also be the day we look back at Mum and remember her as she would want you to". Can combine that thought/framing with help from Winstons Wishes who should be able to help them not just now, but with summer camp weeks solely for people (think sometimes people 'forget' DCs are people too IYKWIM?) in their position - and those WILL be the ONLY other people they can relate to. Is combo of fun stuff; talking about lost parent stuff; remembering that parent (by Memory Box, communal balloon's up to sky; letter written 'to' that lost parent).

Also be aware that they may not want to talk to you about how feeling (for variety of reasons) so PLEASE don't take that personally but DO have a standby list of people you know and trust, and who they know and care for and trust. VITALLY, they will (ESP 11year old) - even if not expressing it - be scared may lose you now that mortality has walloped them in face. Without being uber overt about it, try to weave into conversations that they don't need to be - IE in explaining how desperately sad and unusual it is that their Mummy has died so young; by booking a holiday for ages away (IE stuff that simply per se tells them YOU WILL be around, but without shoving blunt conversations about that in when they may not be up to dealing with it, but simultaneously WILL need to be reassured that you are not 'going to go too".

Just realised how long this is. Apols, but having both just lost MY Mum (though obviously older than them so very different) AND having to deal with DC's grief (albeit for a grandmother rather than their Mother), am very acutely aware of all/both sets of feelings and issues.

Wish you all so much love and strength and would be doing you a massive disservice if said you won't need both. Un-MN'y hugs Zombie xxx

StoicButStressed Sat 16-Mar-13 23:01:14

Sorry, was typing at speed.

Re: 'Best options NOW are to allow them to have as much a part as possible in both 'choosing' her funeral and taking part in it if they want to (& do NOT let anyone of 'older' generation 'persuade you differently); and equally, let them not it they don't want to.' Last bit was 'IF' they don't want to, not 'is'.

Mumoftwodaughters Sat 16-Mar-13 23:26:12

Thinking of you today but only just managed to get to PC. I hope you have managed to have the conversation with your children. It's OK for you to cry too. Children understand tears. They won't be surprised if you can't be as strong as you may have wanted to be. Be easy on yourself. Accept all offers of help at this time.

I have told my children twice about grandparents deaths when they were younger, not to be compared with your situation in any way, but I have dealt with breaking news. I have DD 11yrs old & 13yrs old who I am bringing up on my own following divorce, so I can well empathise.

thornrose Sat 16-Mar-13 23:36:17

My dd's dad died 3 years ago, on Mothers Day, he was my x. I will never forget telling my dd her dad had died. It was a total shock, he died of an aneurysm
She screamed, I cried and we hugged and cried for hours. It was my loss and hers, she'd lost her dad I'd lost the father of my child. It was heartbreaking.
I chose for dd not to see her dad at the funeral and to attend the church service but not the graveside, but that's just my opinion.
My dd has been terrified something will happen to me ever since. She now knows categorically that parents can die. It's rocked her whole world, she no longer feels safe.

StoicButStressed Sun 17-Mar-13 00:19:37

Zombie - again in haste so apols any typos or anything that doesn't make sense but just trying whack it all down quickly so you have if any of it useful (& suspect it may be - ESP. the stuff re allowing DC's decide on funeral stuff).

This is site I - thank God - stumbled across and referenced above.

This is the short film - Beyond Goodbye - that then saw on there and which helped me suddenly realise that doing my Mumma's funeral in a more personal way, and with us - and critically, DC's - involved, would help them as we tried to get through all

Youngest DS (11) read 'Do not stand at my grave and weep'; middle DS(17) picked THE most beautiful poem himself - which was also along lines of looking forward/that that person is never truly gone to anyone who loved them - and read that. Youngest also stuck the butterflies on to his Nanny's Order of Service on morning of funeral with my niece. All had helium balloons with Nanny on (Mumma for me and my sister) which we released after service before crossed road to venue for after service which was LADEN with stuff Mumma/Nanny would have wanted, and where all DS's genuinely had a good time (mad though that sounds).

Eldest DS(21) played and sang this UTTERLY beautiful 'gift' to her at her funeral - I had service very discretely filmed by one of my cameraman in order that the boys, THEIR children, who they of course realised would never meet Nanny, could look back at Nanny's day - including the 'do' after which was much more upbeat - and also as day goes in a haze and I SO did not want them to 'regret' anything they couldn't remember, (ESP. as service was so bespoke via them & me/sis). Hence HAVE above - just BEAUTIFUL - recording of eldest playing which has proved invaluable in SO many ways. Was fortunate in that COULD have/did know professional cameraman with proper camera so he could be tucked right out of view at back of church but could zoom properly to ensure 'caught' all. Know others may not like idea of filming a funeral, but to us it made sense and am BEYOND glad we did it so PM if want details.

ALL of them had input into the fundraising page set up as HER final and VERY positive legacy to others we set up to to help others (as wouldn't/hasn't 'just' helped others, but has helped them ENORMOUSLY as every day they look at it, see how far it has got towards total, and read the lovely comments. They have been ESP helped/touched by the smaller and anonymous contributions (many of which I know are from awesome MN'ers, so suspect same will happen for them if you decide to do it) as it helps them see:

i) some good for others can come out of something so very shit for them;
ii) reminds them that 'good' exists - something very easily just 'lost' to DCs in that position.

Cannot over-emphasise enough how them being involved in funeral plans; having a 'voice' in all that; and the page above has helped them.

WISH could undo what has happened to your DCs - guessing esp. since all mine/my DS's still so fresh - but given no-one can do that; all can offer is the above and what I had to (so bloody quickly and when least equipped, as you prob are right now) to try and help them as much as possible. Hope even some of the above is of use x

StoicButStressed Sun 17-Mar-13 00:24:47

ThornRose That is just devastating. Am so so sorry for your and your DD's lossthanksthanksthanks

thornrose Sun 17-Mar-13 08:26:44

Zombie, I hope you are all ok. You have had some great advice, I have nothing else to add but best wishes.

QOD Sun 17-Mar-13 10:19:39

I hope everything has gone as well as it could have. You're in our thoughts

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