The House Dad Chronicles: What Should You Tell Your Children About Death?

14/08/2014 16:50 | Updated 22 May 2015

The House Dad Chronicles: What should you tell your children about death?

All around my family home in Manchester are photographs of my late mother with her grandkids.

This led to the obvious question when we visited recently: "Dad, where's Gran Betty?"

How do you answer this one? I am a sensitive soul, so the obvious reply was that she was in Heaven, watching over us.

But my own dad doesn't have a poetic bone in his body. He believes in truth, not embellishment; facts not lies, no matter how white, well-intended or warmly dressed up.

He took his grandchildren – aged eight and five- by their hands and said: "Let's go and see her."

And so one half-term morning, we walked together up to the memorial garden at the back of the church where my mother's ashes are buried.

Along the way, my father told his grandchildren stories about his late wife, their late grandmother. Her love of life, her love of them. Her love of laughter and friendship. And finally, his love of her.

Then he paused for a moment. "But everything ends," he said. "Everything dies. Everybody dies, one day."

"Even the Sun?" his five-year-old grandson said.

"Even the Sun."

"And the Universe?"

"Yep. The Universe, too."

The eight-year-old intervened, matter-of-factly: "What's he's trying to say, Sam..." in that 'Durr, Stoopid' way he has about him... "is that Gran Betty is dead."

"You mean she's in Heaven?" the youngest inquired of his grandad.

"She might be. Or the other place."

My dad looked at me and winked. We both know that she was no angel.

My dad has made this pilgrimage three times a week since my mother's ashes were interred a year or so ago. He'd go every day but his gammy knee won't carry him up the steep half-hour hill more frequently.

No flowers are allowed on the walkway of many plaques bearing the names of those remembered, but there is a small area where you can plant a token something. Life being nourished by death, so to speak.

As we stood by the plaque bearing my mother's name, I held back to take some pictures. I wanted to see my little 'uns expressions, to see how they'd react to this solemn moment.

And to be honest, their reaction was indifference. Quiet, respectful indifference, but indifference all the same.

My dad watered the plants and we made our back back home, along the snaking pathway and through the overgrown churchyard bearing the souls from 400 years of passing.

Later that day, we packed the car to set off for my children's other grandparents.

When it came to say our goodbyes, the eight-year-old looked his grandfather in the eye.

"When can we come and water Gran Betty again?" he said.

"Whenever you like," my Dad replied. "She's going to be there forever."

"Even after you've died?" the oldest boy asked.

"Yes. Even then."

"Good. I'll always make sure she has a drink."

Which was wonderfully fitting, because my mum was never happier than surrounded by her family, having a good drink and a sing-song.

Kids and death, eh? It's just part of growing up. Just part of life. No big deal. As long as it happens in the right chronologicial order.


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