Emma's Story: Supporting Children

November 2023

As part of Children's Grief Awareness Week in 2022, WAY member and ex-primary school deputy headteacher Emma Marfleet shares her story and how she is helping her children maintain an ongoing relationship with their Dad after his death.

Emma's Story

My beautiful husband Tom died in June 2019 leaving me and our three boys aged 8, 6 and 3 to learn to live without him. He was diagnosed at 39 years old with advanced bowel cancer just two weeks before our third son was born and died three and a half years later aged 42. Living these last three years without Tom has been incredibly tough as I come to terms with all I have been through, and I have found myself seeking regular time and space to check in with my boys and find ways for us to maintain an ongoing relationship with their brilliant daddy. I believe that if I look after my boys' developing good mental health and well-being now, it will directly affect the young men they will one day become. 

parent and three children sat on a bench smiling

I learnt about the continuing bonds model of loss through support offered by Princess Alice Hospice where Tom died. It's where the bereaved person has a continuing relationship with the deceased, creating a connection which develops and changes over time. This is not about living in the past but about recognising how bonds formed in the past can influence our present and future. They can provide solace and support for easing the transition from past to future and I liked that. It was the research which gave a name for what I had been trying to do with my boys and reassured me that I was doing a good thing. 

The initial few months following Tom's death were exhausting and pretty much a blur if I'm honest. And then March 2020 came and all physical support from friends and family came abruptly to an end alongside the day-to-day routines of young family life.

Lockdown gave time and space for that ongoing relationship where I could find a story to share or a mindful activity to do together which helped us connect back to Tom. I wanted to know how the boys felt about their daddy and our lives now without him here.

Don't get me wrong, lockdown turned our world upside down as it did for everyone at that time, but as we tried to navigate restrictions and home learning, we were also navigating a new world without Tom. It was a new way of living that Tom and I never wanted, and I needed that time and space to work some of it out.

Since then however, I have found the busy-ness of family life has increased and intensified, and I find myself needing to plan time in our family diary to stop and re-connect mindfully back to Tom and to each other.

I don't want to miss that moment when one of my boys feels something new in their grief. I want to give opportunities for them to express themselves and I want to be there to give them my support. It isn't easy but these regular moments, perhaps only once a month, mean the world to me and I believe they do too for my boys, now and for their future. 

I have a list of picture books I will read and a related activity that I will take time to do once a month  with my boys for our ongoing relationship with their daddy.

I know they won't all want to be involved in every activity, especially my eldest two, and I know they will have heard these stories before, but I have learnt that they sometimes ask, perhaps that little bit later, to have a go at something they've seen me and my youngest do and I know they listen to me read the stories as they pass by his bedroom door at his bedtime.

I like those extra special moments when they quietly creep in and sit beside me on their younger brother's bed just to hear that story another time. Then those night-time cuddles hold that little bit stronger and longer, and I know my efforts are worthwhile.