Children & Grief

On the 29th March, my husbands granny, my children’s great-grandmother passed away. She had not been well for a while, after a series of strokes and was no longer living the life she loved, so there was an element of relief in her passing, but the impact on my children has been profound!

Grief is different for everyone.

While she was not my granny, I’d always had a special relationship with her, from the time I  met my husband, 18 years ago, she’d become like my granny too. And that was such an incredible blessing to me, as my own grandparents had passed away many years before. 

We got the call late on the 29th, informing us she’d passed away. My husband and I were already in bed when we received the call but we landed up getting out of bed and coming downstairs to drink a cup of coffee and talk. It had only been his birthday the week before and his granny had given him one of the last paintings she’d created. At the time, he’d said to her, not knowing he’d never see her again, that the next time they saw each other, he’d bring a sharpie so she could sign the painting. This was the first thing he said after hearing the news of her passing, that she’d never gotten to sing the painting.

Telling our children…

We told the girls the following morning that Ouma Marie had passed away. It was fascinating to see how they both processed the news differently. Hannah, who is very open with her emotions, cried and was very sad. Ava, who is very secretive about her feelings, shrugged and said something about how Ouma was old and when it’s your time, it’s your time.

It was only in the hours and days that followed that we got to truly see our children’s grief and it has not been an easy time. 

Interestingly, the passing of their Ouma Grootjie has had the same impact on both of them, they’ve just chosen to express it in very different ways. For both of them, it’s as if the passing of Ouma Marie has flung open the door of their adoption grief. In the weeks following her passing, both my girls have expressed profound grief and fear that their birth mothers will pass on without them getting a chance to know them.

Expressions of grief

Hannah has cried openly, at the funeral, from the time the pallbearers carried the coffin into the church, she has cried. Music especially brings her to tears, she has asked about her birth mother and asked for her birth mother many times in the weeks following Ouma Marie’s passing. I think this is to be expected. It’s her first big loss to death. She has expressed fears about my mother, her granny, passing away and she’s terrified of my husband or I dying.

Ava’s expression of grief has been far more complex. It’s not her first loss, our nanny, her beloved Loveness, her second Mommy, died unexpectedly when she was 3 years old. But this time around, she seems to have the maturity to express what she’s feeling far better than she did before and it all leads back to her fear that her birth mother will die before she knows her.

The day after Ouma Marie died, she refused to go with us to be with my husbands family. In the end, I stayed at home with her and my husband and Hannah went to spend time with the family. Ava had a lot of questions, which I did my best to answer. We were sitting together, eating dinner when she suddenly flung her hands over her face and started sobbing. She eventually managed to explain to me that she was terrified her birth mother would die before she had a chance to meet her and that if she never met her, she’d ever know who she really was.

It broke my heart.

The funeral

That was another experience altogether. Hannah literally cried from the start to the finish of the funeral. Ava, on the other hand, tried to act all nonchalant. She refused to sit near us, scooching to the end of the church pew and shrugging her shoulders at me every time I made eye contact with her. It was only when she saw her daddy crying when the coffin was carried out that she literally collapsed in tears but still refused to be comforted. After the funeral, she put her handful of petals on the coffin and then set about collecting all the petals that had fallen on the ground. She was devastated, when they closed to hearse doors and refused her one last chance to say goodbye to our beloved Ouma.

In the week after the funeral, Ava created a collage, cutting up the spare funeral flyers, with photos of her Ouma and using all the extra rose petals she had collected.

It’s been a tough few weeks. And another reminder to me, to us, that although our children seem fine, there is a deep hurt in their hearts 

It’s not been easy, Hannah cries for her birth mother and Ava has expressed her deep need and her desire to know her birth mother in order to know herself repeatedly. I can’t wait for the time when we can give her this. When we can give them both this. When they can answer all their questions about their identity. 

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