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So Now We Don’t Have a Father? One Widowed Parent Answers Tough Questions

Posted By Sonya Jones Dawson, Tuesday, March 13, 2012
My daughter is the typical 7 year-old in that she asks a lot of questions. And there is a lot in her life to question. We had a baby last year and she wants to know how that happens. She saw me go through pregnancy, the changes in my body, and had the waiting experience. She heard his heartbeat more than once and felt him move inside me. Still, at 6 years-old, I imagine it's strange to go through all that only to be brought to the hospital one day and told, "Okay, he's here and have this tiny person just appear. She adores him. He's her best friend. She still has questions about not so much where he came from, but how he got in there. Not a conversation I'm ready to have with a 7 year-old. I told her that God helped her father and I make them. She did see an animal planet special on the subject. It included talk about the egg and sperm. I did let her know that people made babies the same way. That's as far as I've gone.

Then we weren't settled into life with her little brother when her father, whom she loved dearly, and who was sick most of her life died one day while she was at school. He wasn't terminal. I didn't tell her he was dying. I didn't tell her he wasn't. She asked. I just told her that she'd be taken care of no matter what happened.

She was always concerned for his comfort and that has not changed since he died. I think she worries just as much about him as she does about me. I remember taking a significant amount of time letting her know how soft the pillows inside the casket were and how he was wearing his favorite suit. Still death is a huge mystery to anyone who hasn't been there no matter what their age. At the age of 7, there's another whole level as far as an inability to understand the concept.
Sonya Jones Dawson
I sit in wonder as to the inner workings of a child's mind.

"Doesn't he need food?” "No.”

"Is he okay?” "Yes because he's not sick anymore.”

She made him a get well card after he died similar to how she would periodically during his life. I told her he wasn’t sick anymore, but unfortunately that also meant he wasn’t coming back. I asked if she’d like to put the card in the casket, but she declined. Instead we gave the funeral home a bracelet to put on him that she’d given him for Christmas. It was a gold ID bracelet with "DADDY” on it. They put it on his right wrist along with a gold bracelet I had given him for a previous anniversary.

She was able to see him the day before the funeral and checked him over thoroughly while standing guard as others came and went. I looked at her in between greeting visitors and shook my head at the thought of the confusion she must have been feeling. She asked me whatever she wanted to ask though. Mostly she wanted to know why he wasn’t doing various things. "Why isn’t he breathing?” "Why isn’t he talking?” "Why isn’t he moving?” I had to keep saying "People don’t (insert activity) after they die.”

Then it was on to the concept of burial. How do you explain to a 6 year-old that beyond being put in a box, we also have to put her father in a hole in the ground? However a person finds the words that will work is all I can conclude. I found though that explaining it once doesn’t mean the conversation won’t take place again. For Ariana this was hard to accept because her father really valued being clean. He worked and the first thing he always did after work was take a shower. He hated being dirty, and his daily shower was very important to him, especially during the summer months. She looked at him and knew he would never get a bath again. I told her we could not keep him at home anymore because after a person dies they have to be kept in a special place. They need that special bed and the bed has to go into a special box. I explained it was all being done to keep her father safe and clean and that once it was done he would not need another bath. That explanation satisfied her and fortunately for me, it satisfied her all four times we had the conversation since we buried him.

It still took her a while to realize it was permanent. After about 6 months she began to ask me continuously for weeks if he really was going to be gone forever. But I didn't mind. I still look at the door and can’t believe he won’t be back so I can’t imagine how difficult it is for her, so I don’t hesitate to answer her. I mean I hate for her to have to deal with the reality, but I imagine it is better for her than expecting that after a certain length of time he's going to come bouncing through the front door like he did before he died.

I have a friend who lost her husband when their daughter was the same age as my daughter is now. She found out later that the little girl just thought he was going away for a while to get better, that she didn't know when, but thought he'd eventually come home. It was 3 years later she said when the reality set in, and it hit her so hard she started lashing out at friends she'd had since preschool because they still had both of their parents. She said it was so bad she had to change schools. And I've read this is normal, that children grieve in cycles, so I'm still on guard. But with counseling that little girl has blossomed into a beautiful teenager who has helped other girls who have experienced the loss of a parent. I expect she'll help my daughter at some point. And I expect at some point my daughter will be helping others.

As recently as last month, she voiced some concerns. Some were repeats, but still I sit in wonder as to the inner workings of a child's mind.

"Doesn't he need food?” "No.”

"Is he okay?” "Yes because he's not sick anymore.”

"Is he our angel now?” "I'm not sure, but I believe you have always had one or more. (that’s another story). If he's not one of them, I'm sure all the praying he did for us has sent us some.”

"Can he see us?” "If he's one of our angels he can. If not, no.” (And on my angry days I hope not. I get so angry. And I’ve made some changes in my life I know he wouldn’t be happy with and I’ve invested in things he wouldn’t have. But I’ve done what I felt I needed to do to survive and since he died, he doesn’t get a vote).

Then, the conversation got even more interesting.

"Does he still snore in that bed?” To explain the concept of a casket on her level I called it a special bed. "Absolutely not. He isn’t snoring.”

"Oh, is that because he doesn't breathe?” "That’s right.”

"So, is he bored?” "No.”

"Mommy, why did you marry an old man?” "Huh? He was 45. That's not old.”

"Well, only old people die right?” "Um…no honey. Anyone can. It's sad, but anyone can no matter how old they are.”

I shake my head at her having to deal with such harsh realities at this age. I worry it will make her grow up too quickly. I remember the day it happened. I remember thinking of telling everyone I had to tell, how it was going to hurt them. For her I felt I was going to take part of her innocence. My heart began to beat faster when Ariana's Godmother left our house to bring her back home. And it progressed to racing when they returned and Ariana came bounding up the steps to our front door. I was about to turn her world upside down. How could I do this?

I didn’t wait. As soon as she was inside the door, I took her hand and walked to her father’s chair. I sat and held her close to me. We had talked about death when she asked about my grandfather. He died when she was two years-old, but his picture is up in our house. So, I went from that. "Ariana, do you remember when I told you that sometimes people are hurt or they get sick and the doctors can’t fix them? "Yes.” "We talked about how when that happens the person goes away to be with Jesus if they believe in Him right?” "Yes.” "Well, honey, daddy went to be with Jesus today.”

She was the calmest person I talked to that day. But her quiet tears tore through my heart in those moments and still do. And I'll never forget her words...

"So, now we don't have a father?”

But I continue to be inspired by how she handles not having a father. And I pray that God continues to equip me as He has been faithful to all the way to now, to handle my children not having a father. It isn’t easy. The truth is I have never been more tired in my life. But I’ve also never been more grateful. My children are beautiful and the greatest things my husband and I accomplished together. I’m sorry he doesn’t get to see it, but my appreciation to him for giving them to me, outweighs the sorrow enough that I keep putting one foot in front of the other for him, for our children and for me.

Sonya Jones Dawson is a Clinical Data Analyst in North Carolina. Thomas and Sonya were married for 10 years. During that time Sonya cared for Thomas as he courageously battled the effects of Lung disease. He had bouts with lung infections, heart disease, steroid induced osteoporosis and diabetes that resulted in intermittent periods of incapacitation ranging from two weeks to 7 months long. Sonya joined the Well Spouse Association in January 2008 shortly after Thomas' diabetes diagnosis.

Sonya and Thomas had two children from their marriage, and two children from Thomas' previous marriage. On March 9, 2010, two months after the birth of their second child, Sonya returned home to find Thomas had died in his sleep while she was at work. Sonya and their two young children continue to live in the family home in North Carolina. Their daughter Ariana is now eight years-old and their son Elijah is now two years-old. She continues to be an active supporting member of the Well Spouse Association.

This post was re-printed with permission from the Wellspouse Association, which "advocates for and addresses the needs of individuals caring for a chronically ill and/or disabled spouse/partner.” Please follow this link to learn about this wonderful organization.

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Randall Reitz says...
Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Sonya, Thanks for sharing your inspirational story. You are a blessing to your children.

Good luck to the Tar Heels in the tournament this year!
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