Monday, February 9, 2009

Children and Loss - Questions

After Shin passed away I told Josie and Toby and explained it to their friends as well. Their reactions were mostly silent and watching what other adults were doing. They didn't really cry. Toby was both a little clingy but also distracted and wanted to get back to playing with his friends. Josie was worried that I was sad and didn't want to dwell on it.

I've talked to the kids regularly about Shin and how they are feeling. Mostly I try to analyze the various comments they make from time to time. Here is a sample of some of the things they will say.

On the same day Shin died, Josie asked if I would marry again. She seemed to think it was a good idea. She didn't say so, but I think she was seeking to be a complete family again.

The next morning, Toby came into my room and said he wanted Aunt Jin to sleep in my bed where Shin slept. I told that's an interesting idea. But likewise, I see it as his way of trying to help fix our family.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had talked to Josie about burials and cremation and how she didn't like the idea of cremation. But after Shin died, I explained to her and her friend Ciara who was with her at the time that Shin had donated her body to research. I said that mommy hoped that with extra research, one day they might find a cure for cancer. I said they would take the body and then in six months cremate the body and give us back the ashes. I said it was a smart thing for her to do, and explained that the doctor we spoke to said it is rarely done in Singapore. Ciara asked why don't more people do it, I said I wasn't sure but that some people might not be comfortable with it. Josie said it doesn't matter what happens to your body after your dead and that when she dies she wants to donate her body to research as well.

Josie asked what we will do with the ashes. I said mommy suggested we spread the ashes in the ocean and that way when you want to go talk to her, you can go to the ocean and feel like she is there. Josie said she didn't want to do that and that she wanted to keep the ashes. I said we won't do anything until we all agree.

Josie has used crying for mommy a few times when she is being naughty. The other night she was delaying brushing her teeth at bed time. I was getting cross with her and she was whining and crying. She has behaved like this on various occasions in the past, but this time she cried she wants mommy. I think she is being clever and manipulative. Its a tricky one. My approach has been to not ease up on discipline. But its hard not just to break down and give her hugs. I try to give her extra comfort once she is in bed.

I saw Josie had written in an old writing practice book. Several pages had Shin written repeatedly. The next pages had Mommy written down the columns. This was followed by pages of "loves", then several pages of "Josie". All the words had a line crossed through them. I'm not sure why. It seems she didn't want anyone to see it. I told she did a good job and that Mommy would have liked it. I asked why she had crossed it out, and she said she was drawing the cross lines like in the book.

Josie was writing a list of people she wanted to invite to her birthday party. She listed a group of girls that she is friends with and then listed Toby, Nana, Daddy, Mommy, and Josie. Probably not a big deal, but I wasn't sure if it was a consious thing she did or if it was just a simple mistake.

There are various times the kids will make quick comments. Toby in the car the other day sudden blurted "I miss mommy". I was walking with Josie by a clothes store and she saw a mannequin in a sun dress and Josie said that looks like mommy.

Overall, I'm amazed at how well Josie and Toby are doing. I had imagined it being much harder. I suspect that their are difficult times to come, but the fact that they have dealt so well this far makes it much easier for me.


maggie said...

I think Shin would have been proud of you and the kids.
The road in front is going to be bumpy, best of luck

Anonymous said...

tony, really interesting update. i had to laugh out loud when you wrote that part about josie crying for her mommy. josie really is clever and "manipulative".

i'm really glad to hear that the kids are doing well, helping you to stay strong as well!

what will josie be doing for her birthday? will be curious. whatever she does, hope she has a grand time!

thanks again for the update.

writerinresidence said...

I think it's good that Josie is writing about/for/to her Mommy. I think that probably one of the things you can do is give them the opportunity of expressing themselves on paper - writing and drawing for Josie. Or just drawing for Toby. Or even looking through magazines for pictures that show what they're feeing. Kids (as well as adults) don't always know how to get things out. One thing you could do is suggest that if they're feeling sad or confused or angry or just plain missing Mommy, that they might want to write her a letter or draw a picture. Because wherever Mommy is, she'll see it anyway. I really and truly believe that. Always wishing you guys well.

writerinresidence said...

I forgot to say that I found it funny (funny haha not funny strange) that Toby at two was suggesting a bedmate for you. I find it funny (not funny strange) too that you told him it's an interesting idea. I hazard a guess that Shin would find this funny too...:)

Anonymous said...

It is good that you see the importance of discipline and not allow the children to get away with wrong-doings.
Do exercise great caution if if you do think of remarriage as this will affect the children. They need a genuinely caring mom indeed.

Anonymous said...

Tony, thank you so much for keeping us up to date. There are so many questions that I, for one, would like to ask but dare not. You have lots of trauma to go through and you don't need extra questions. I KNOW that Shin is proud of you and how you are handling the children and their questions. Keep up the good work. We are praying for you. Love,

Kathie said...

Dear Tony,

Well, children are natural manipulators. Aren't we all once? :) Whenever you don't understand Josie or Toby's behaviors, just try to think as you would as a kid given their circumstances. We all have a child in us, the part of us that would sometimes refuse to reason, throw tantrums, seek attention, fear the uncertainty, etc.

The best parenting style is authoritative stye, in that parents show firmness and constancy coupled with acceptance. Thought you have done well. Of course, the role of father and mother blend together can be tough. Do enlist Elsa and your mother ya.

We all have our own ways of letting go. Hence, Josie, Toby and you may choose to do it differently given your different feelings towards the same grief. You would want to respect Shin's wish to spread her ashes into the ocean. Yet, Josie may not be ready to let go completely as yet. It's nice that you include her in the decision making process. Be natural is probably the best way to cope. Thought Josie's idea may not be bad. Well, if you decided to keep the ashes, you can still spread the ashes when all feel ready. However, once done, the loss is registered immediately.

I remember I 'pretended' to my classmates that my mum was still alive for a whole semester after her demise and talked about her as usual. The time will come, need not rush. I thought they are coping the best they know how.


Emily said...

Hi Tony,

I think you have done a great job. Do you mind sharing how Shin was doing during her last days? Hope this is not too much for you. Reagrds, Emily

<*ANGEL*> said...

when my grandfather passed away due to cancer, lots of things will remind me of him.. old man in black glasses, stripey shorts, newspaper, wrinkles, sharp noses, a good sense of humour, bread tags...

But as they say, time will slowly make the pain and the missing more bearable.

I think your kids are doing great because you are doing great... as they say, KEEP BREATHING!:)

Anonymous said...

I'm very glad to learn that the kids are coping well, probably they are still very young and innocent. If they have been older, it might be a different scenario. When I read about Shin's story, I was very inspired by her inner strength. She is a heroine to me. She is definitely someone whom I will look up to in my life.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

This is Evelyn.

Indeed Shin will be proud of you and the kids.

When Shin is alive, she is a beacon of hope and a shining example to other cancer patients.

Now, by sharing what you, Josie and Toby go through, you continue her legacy by being a shining example to other widows and widowers.

My elder girl is same age as Josie and the younger one just turned 3 last month. The elder one, like Josie, does not want to dwell on certain topic because she is worried that it may make me cry. She sees me reading a letter with tears once, every time she sees me taking out that letter; she says “Don’t tell me that you are going to read that letter again? Please, please don’t cry when you read that letter.”

I also try to analyse the children’s feelings. Do they feel sad like we adult do or they take cue from the parent? If the surviving parent spent every waking hour weeping, will the children follow? Maybe when people say that we are strong, it really means not weeping constantly despite the grief but be a pillar of strength and example for the children that the world is still revolving despite all. Lives still continue……………… I guess we need that reminder once in a while.

I have also encountered incidents whereby the children cried for their daddy when the situation gets tough for them. I don’t know if it was out of habit or being manipulative but during this ‘grieving’ period, it is difficult to make a hard stand towards them without breaking down. I guess more hugs won’t hurt …..

Someone once share this with me “The kids are pitiful to lose one parent. You don’t know whether to be tough with them so that they will learn how to protect and defend themselves or to be extra loving to them to make up for the ‘lost’ love.” However, to a parent, especially to a single parent, we will always second guess whether our best is indeed the best or whether what we do is indeed right. I am not sure if you feel this way. I do. More so after being a single parent.

Then again another person also shared “The kids are neither pitiful nor needs special protection. It does not make them less privileged in anyway. As a parent, you know the best approach for the kids. The kids are stronger than you think.”

But it is hard to strike a balance between the two at this moment, isn’t it?

My opinion is this - if we as parent inculcate in the children that they are pitiful and less privileged, the children will grow up thinking so. Worse still, they may think that the whole world owns them a living. We cannot afford that isn’t it? So, I am determined to bring up my children without them feeling less privilege in any way. And the first one to change the mindset is myself and I believe it is a continuing process as I may lapse from time to time.

So keep sharing so that I can have some check and balance.

Bec said...

Hi Tony, this blog continues to be inspiring! Shin started it and unintentionally created not only an amazing following but also an outlet for so many people in similar situations. It is really fabulous that you are now continuing this incredible blog enabling us to see and in some cases emulate your approach on 'how to deal with all the issues that arise and will arise since Shin's passing. I guess in lots of ways, it's a great outlet for your healing too. ....Amazing this legacy your incredible wife has left all of us. Thank you Shin. Thank you Tony!

Anonymous said...

Dear Tony,

Thank you for the update...

Children never stop to surprise us - the adults, with their comments/remarks.

Since the day I read Shin's blog, I have been talking to my boy (same age as Toby) about everyone in your family. When Shin passed away, I told my boy that we will pray for Toby and Josie to be strong. On Sunday, we visited the temple and my boy said "Mummy, I want to pray for Toby".

Yesterday while in the car, he asked me "Mummy, where is Auntie Shin?"

Thanks to your blog updates and Shin's past entries, I have been able to share more with my boy - about life and death, about strength, about love etc.

Best wishes to you Tony.

Apoet said...

... and such is strength.

ALI KATI said...

Sometimes children can seem manipulative, though in the moment, they're just combining emotions because that's all they know and haven't been able to work them through. ie. I feel crappy I don't want to brush my teeth, oh yes, underneath I have an ongoing crappy feeling because i miss my mother so I put them both together because one seems to validate the other, and surely, someone must let me off for one cos the other is so hard.

It's good you're not reacting out of feeling sorry for them or guilt that their mother isn't there, because those ongoing feelings are something they too have to learn to manage and not mix up with whatever current situation they have to handle, or expect some kind of leniency or mollycoddling for the rest of their lives.

Having no children of my own, I can only speak from the experience of someone who nearly lost both parents when I was in my teens, and my father died a few years later.

I think grieving is an ongoing process - like there may be immediate and intense feelings of missing someone as a child, but these feelings come back in different forms throughout one's life. For example, when they're young, they may grieve as in they miss their mother's cuddles or comfort, but when they reach their teens, they may grieve inside for not having a maternal being around for whatever current issues they're facing. Feelings of anger, however irrational, may also occur.

One of the most powerful aids to learning how to exist with these feelings is the validation that one has a right to those feelings. In Asian/Christian culture, I found that one was always told to get over things, like come on buck up, or get over things or be ashamed, like "if your father saw you being sad this way," or one should not be sad as it seems disrespectful or unfaithful to the idea of God and his better plan. I think part of healing is allowing someone to have those feelings, and in that process, learn to manage and handle them.

Writing is a powerful tool. I like what WriterinResidence said - whether it's for Mummy or Toby, just having a private little notebook to write provides a safe and non-destructive outlet to let those feelings out. And certainly when it's difficult to communicate in words, they can be encouraged to show a picture or a little poem or letter.

Thanks for keeping this blog alive, Tony. It still makes for the same wonderful, heartfelt and rigorous reading.

Anonymous said...

Tony, some of the readers are right that not to make them feel that they are pitiful, guilty, they don't have to deny but you instead focus on how much love they have now and they still have their mum's love in their hearts always...acceptance may not be easy for them,even adults, different ppl (be it child or adult) needs diff period of time to be in acceptance stage...the grief will be there but will be able to manage better/handle as time passes.

You are doing fine, take your time and don't rush...:)

Anonymous said...

I am comforted knowing there are a lot of experience sharing. You can learn but do adpot them according to Josie and Toby character,etc. No one is the same but the underlying concept or techniques can be of very good help and references for you. Even the same approach won't work for the same kid as she/he grows up...because child will change too. This should be noted. :)

Well done Tony! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm just curious. Who is Aunt Jin?

Jacqie's said...

Just so happen that this parental magezine in Australia has published an article on :Death In The Eyes Of A Child". I just thought you might want to read it.