“This Is What I Said to My Young Daughters When Their Mother Died” originally appeared on From Drunk to Monk and The Fatherly Forum and was reprinted with permission.
My name is Jason and I am a dad. I have two beautiful daughters who are now 10 and 12 years old and they are growing up so fast. That’s what every parent says. I also have an amazing wife who is beautiful, smart and funny. I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful family.
It wasn’t always like this. We went through some hard times together. My daughters lost their mom when they were 5 and 6 years old. She was sick for a long time, but the girls didn’t know it. I didn’t tell them because they were too young to understand. It was always hard to to figure out what to tell the girls and when to tell them. We wanted them to know the truth, but they are kids. It’s not fair to tell them too much too young. We listened to our hearts and we talked to each other. If you do that you’ll end up doing the right thing most of the time.
Even though she was sick for many years, she died suddenly — with not much warning. One day she was alive and the next day she was in heaven. And she was never coming back. Maybe it doesn’t matter how long people are sick for. Maybe when they die it always seems sudden. I’m not sure.
I’m going to spend the rest of the piece speaking directly to my 2 beautiful daughters, as there is so much I want to share with them as they get older. I love my daughters dearly, and I want them to have as much understanding as anyone can have in a situation like this. I want them to feel peace, joy, pain, sadness, confusion, but most all love.
I Hurt Just Like You
I want you to understand what grownups go through when something like this happens. Losing your partner is one of the hardest things that can ever happen to a person. It’s even harder when they leave their beautiful babies behind. Yes, even though it seems weird, we still think of you as our babies. No matter how old you are. You’ll understand one day.
This happened to us almost six years ago. I understand things better now than I did then. I have had a lot of time to think about everything that happened. It makes a little bit more sense to me now and I find it easier to put things into words. I can explain what I was thinking and how I felt. Sometimes it can be hard to find the right words. There are so many emotions and so many things to do. We want to say the exact right things to our kids. Sometimes we can’t because we don’t understand them.
I hope that if you read this you will understand your dad better. And that you understand that I am a person, just like you. I need you as much as you need me. I hurt just like you hurt. I lie in bed and wish so hard that things could be different. I worry about what the right thing to do is. Just like you. And I cry. We cry because I am so sad for you and I’m sad for myself.
I know that losing your mom is a terrible thing to happen. You feel lost and confused and sad and angry. Sometimes you feel all those things at the exact same time. It’s so hard and it hurts a lot. When you miss someone this much it can make your whole body hurt. You’ll have times when you swear they are right there with you and other times where you feel like they are a million miles away.
You look to grown ups to help you understand how you are feeling. They help you feel safe. I’ll tell you something. Helping you feel safe and protected is one of the best feelings a parent can have. In a tough time like this you turn to us to help you understand how to feel and what to do. It’s a lot of responsibility but we owe it you to do our best. Sometimes our best is great and makes things better. Not always though. The important thing for you to know that we are doing our very best.
But you know what? I don’t know what to do all the time either. I just lost someone so important to us. We are feeling all the things that you are feeling. Except I have to try to be strong. I still have to take care of you. Sometimes that is a blessing because it gives us something important to focus on. Sometimes I wish there was an instruction book on what I should do to get through this. But there isn’t. It’s scary for me when I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid of making big mistakes. Sometimes I even feel like I have failed at my job.
The most important thing is that we love each other and help each other. Understanding how each of us are feeling will make that just a little bit easier.
Mommy Is in Heaven
I want you to understand what it was like for me to tell you both that your mommy was in heaven. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I found out about eight hours before I told you and it was the longest and loneliest eight hours of my life. I was so scared and I felt sick. But I knew that no matter what, I was going to have to tell you.
I found out she died at about 11:45 PM. The police came to our house and woke me up. I went downstairs and they sat me down and told me Cindy was dead. They stayed for a few minutes and then they were gone.
At first I felt relieved. You probably think that that is a weird thing to feel. Remember that your mom had been sick for a long time. She was in a lot of pain. I felt relieved that she wasn’t going to be in pain any more. But I also felt guilty for feeling relieved. It was confusing because I had all these feelings but I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel.
Everyone Feels Their Own Feelings and That Is Okay
Then I started to think, “Oh my god. How am I going tell the girls?” What would I say? Where would I say it? What if I said the wrong thing? Were you going to cry? Was I going to cry? Was I supposed to cry and what would happen if you saw me cry?
You can see that there were a lot of thoughts flying around my brain. It was confusing and I didn’t know what to think. It was scary too. I felt like I had to try to figure my thoughts out before you woke up.
I kept thinking about how I was going to tell you the terrible news that would change your lives forever. You went to sleep with everything being normal. In the blink of an eye you were going to wake up, then everything would be different. Your mom was with the angels now. You would never get to hold her again.
I want you to know that even though I am writing this almost 6 years later, I am getting upset while I write it. It’s making me remember the feelings like they just happened. It makes me wish you could hold her one last time.
I sat there looking at the clock. I had about seven hours until you woke up. Every second that passed was one second closer to having to tell you this devastating news. I thought about all kinds of things during that time.
I thought about what it was going to be like to go to her funeral. I would have to see her lying there — dead. So would both of you. What would happen? Was I going to freak out? Were you going to freak out? What would I say to all the people that came. I had no idea but these were some of the things I thought about.
I went up into your bedrooms a bunch of times. I looked at you both sleeping like peaceful little angels. It’s so weird and awful to be the only one that knows this terrible news. You breathed softly like you always do. And I cried. My tears landed on your pillows.
I remember looking at the clock a lot. One time that I remember is 4:14 AM. I can still picture the clock. Why do I remember that time so well? I have no idea. Things just stick in your head for some reason. Maybe I was trying extra hard at that time to think about something else.
I spent a lot of the time remembering our lives together. I thought of the happy times and the not so happy times. I remembered the birth of our beautiful daughters and how excited we were. I remembered the times we laughed together and cried together. I’m sure I smiled while I remembered the funny memories.
And I cried a lot. I cried because when someone dies young it feels like a waste. A waste of a life. She would never have the chance to see her girls grow up, get married and have babies of their own. She would not be there to answer the questions that all growing girls have for their moms. She would never answer the phone when you called just to say hi.
I was also thinking about how I was your dad. I had to make sure that these beautiful girls were safe and grew up to be wonderful and happy young women . That’s a lot of responsibility. That’s the most important responsibility I would ever have. I was going to have to make every breakfast, drive you to school and pick you up every day. I knew I would do it. I had to. But it was scary.
Then you finally woke up. You came down the stairs excited like usual. You were surprised to see Gramma and Grandpa there. I hadn’t told you they would be there. They came right away when I called them in the middle of the night. They drove for 4 hours. They are awesome that way.
I Have Some Very Bad News
You played and had breakfast. I knew I couldn’t wait any longer to tell you. I asked everyone to leave. It was a private moment for just the three of us. I asked you both to sit down on the couch. I was sweating and my heart was beating a million miles an hour. I did not want to do this at all. I wanted to run away. But I couldn’t. Sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to because they are the right thing to do.
I looked at you and you looked at me.
“I have some very bad news to tell you.” You both thought I was joking because I am always a joker like that. Then I started to cry and you knew I wasn’t joking. But you still had no idea what the bad news was.
“Mommy died last night.”
Then one of you asked, “When is she coming back?”
I was not expecting that question. You were both so young. You were so beautiful and full of wonder and life. I didn’t know what to say but I knew I couldn’t lie to you about something like this.
Then we hugged each other a lot. I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but I knew we would do it together.
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