New Not Being Morbid member, and co-host of Conversations on Death and Dying: A workshop for Parents and Guardians Amy Hurst, talks about why she got involved in the project and why it means so much to her…
I have spoken to several friends about the upcoming Conversations on Death and Dying Workshop, and each time have been faced with puzzled questions as to why it’s something I’ve decided to get involved with. The topics of death and dying can be challenging enough for us as adults; surely we want to protect our children from having to think about them? With this in mind I thought it might be useful to share where my own personal interest has come from.
I am a mother of three boys; Arthur who is three, Osian who is coming up to a year, and Archie who would be five this coming December. We lost Archie when I was 20 weeks pregnant, after facing decisions no parents should ever have to make. Giving birth to a child who has already died is almost indescribable. Birth should be about the celebration of a new life, not the death of a life that has not yet begun. There is so much I could say about this experience and the impact it had on me, and perhaps I will in another post, but to keep on topic, I would like to share how losing Archie has impacted on my approach to discussing death and dying with my living children.
Obviously Arthur and Osian did not know their brother, but that is not to say he is not an integral part of our little family. If anything, Archie has shaped our family and made my partner and I the parents we are today. That is something worth celebrating and as such, we try to ensure Archie is remembered wherever possible. His birthday each December is the start of our family Christmas, and we put our tree up on that date each year. I also bake a cake as I do for everyone else’s birthday, and we aim to visit Clevedon Pier, which is a place where we have chosen to remember Archie, and have a plaque there in his name. We do not shy away from mentioning Archie’s name and have many things around our house to remember him. This of course means that we are faced with questions from Arthur, and thinking how best to answer them has presented us with some challenges.
Being three, there is only so much he is able to understand and we try to tackle any questions he has in an honest, but age appropriate manner. He knows that he has a brother who died before he was born, and that his name was Archie. He knows the tree in our garden is his brother’s; that when we visit the pier it is to remember him; the memory box that sits on our sideboard is his; and that when we attend the wonderful memorial services hosted by Bristol SANDS it is to remember him. Like all children, Arthur is very inquisitive and I’m sure the questions he asks will become more difficult to answer in time, but for now, he seems to have a simple, beautiful acceptance that there is a very important member of our family that he will never get to meet, but who will always play a very significant role in our family life.
I’m aware that my family’s circumstances are different to most and you may still be wondering why I think this workshop is so valuable? I can’t imagine there are any parents out there who haven’t had a question at some point about death and existence? My favourite from Arthur came one morning over breakfast when he asked ‘am I awake?’ He of course decided my answer of ‘yes of course you are, now eat your toast‘ wasn’t good enough and so followed it up with ‘but Mummy, what does it really mean to be awake?’ The ex-philosophy student in me revelled in the possibility of a pre-8am existential discussion!
Whether it’s something as simple as coming across a dead insect in the garden, overhearing a story on the news or being faced with a personal bereavement, we cant hide away from the fact that death is something our children will and should be faced with; it is after all an integral part of life. Beginning to understand our own mortality is a key part of human development and its only natural that children display curiosity around this. The important thing for us as parents is how we handle questions when they come up. The responses we give and the conversations we have will help shape our children’s views. How we handle things can really make a difference.
I am really looking forward to sharing experiences with others at the workshop. There is no right way to handle the challenging conversations and questions that our children like to throw our way; but by sharing with others, hopefully we can at least feel prepared and have some resources to call upon when the time comes.