Family dynamics after the death of a child

We have just returned from a holiday in the New Forest, in Hampshire, UK. We went last year our first proper family holiday since Abi died, and found it to be a very healing place to go. We found the thought of visiting our usual holiday spots simply too difficult without Abi with us.

A big part of grief is realizing that so many favourite places become out of bounds, at least for the first few years. In fact, the whole concept of ‘holiday’ has changed for us now. We find it hard to plan ahead, to choose destinations, to get excited about going anywhere without all our children with us.

This year, we invited one of our daughter’s friends with us. She’s a lovely girl who has been friends with my daughter for many years through primary school. Even though they now go to different secondary schools, they have remained close.

We felt by having a friend along, our daughter, who is now 12, would have a companion to share memories with and have a more enjoyable week as a result. This friend is a calm and confident girl who is just as happy kicking a ball about with our 8-year-old son or playing with our 17 month old boy as she is hanging out with my daughter. She often eats with us at the weekend and so we felt she’d fit in well with our family for the week.

I had no qualms about inviting a non-family member to spend the week with us, even though this was our first time. It almost felt good to do something very different to the norm. However, I couldn’t help noticing I had a few nerves about what to expect. Even in the run up, as I found myself adjusting to the antidepressants, I began to get cold feet.

What if I found it too emotional? What if I found the absence of Abi too hard? What if I couldn’t control my guilt, or had a grief wobble? But I knew I had to put my fears aside in order to give our children new, happy memories.

It wasn’t too long into our holiday that I noticed the dynamic of our group. The friend blended in easily and I realised my two older children were calmer and, surprisingly, getting along better than they have for years.

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The girl’s presence seemed to calm and balance them and they all played together (my son and daughter tend to ignore each other mostly unless it’s to join up on Minecraft – they can just about get along in a virtual world!).

The dynamic felt right, natural. Peaceful! This was how our family should be!

My children may have adjusted well to the absence of their older sister and the related strains on our family, but this holiday reminded me just what we were missing.

Abi would be similar to this friend. Having adventures with her sister. Hanging out with her brother. Looking after the baby. She would naturally keep the group blended.

Yes, of course, this was a heartbreaking revelation. Yes, it was painful and thoughts of Abi were constantly on my mind. But it was also strangely comforting and I found myself thanking the mother of the friend in my head several times for trusting us to care for her daughter on this holiday.

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We weren’t far from the Isle of Wight – where we had enjoyed our last family holiday with Abi – and when my hubby suggested we take the ferry over one day for a day trip, I was unsure.

In the immediate aftermath of our loss, we found it impossible to even contemplate going to any of our favourite places, which was sad in itself as we’d love to visit them regularly both locally and further afield. Going back to them would make us see the shadows of memories with Abi skipping along beside us, which would be unbearable.

Then, as time passed, we very slowly went to some familiar places and, while difficult, found we got through the day okay. There is an anticipation that by going to a familiar place, you not only think of the times you’ve been there before, but that by creating new memories you are erasing the old ones out!

This was how I felt about our day trip to the Isle of Wight. As time has moved further from Abi being here on earth, I wanted to feel her close again. I wanted to be reminded. I wanted to pray for her and us in a place we had been to together. I wanted to share the space with my new baby. I wanted to spark memories in our children.

The journey to the Isle of Wight was probably the hardest part. The anxiety of what we might feel. But the children had fun and we did with them the same things we did the last time – the chair lift and making a sand jar. It was a beautiful day and down at the beach the children spent ages throwing stones into the sea and we took photos. I also collected some lovely pebbles to do pebble art with when I got home.

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It was hard but it wasn’t unbearable. And, in a way, I felt glad that we’d embraced a fearful emotion and conquered it. As much as I miss Abi, I don’t want our lives to be dictated to by grief.

When a child dies, the dynamics of your family changes forever and nothing will change that. Yes, you adapt and carry on living your life, but there is always a sense of something missing… someone.

We’ve added to our family since Abi died, my baby was born one year later, so we do still have three living children, and you’d be forgiven for believing this would help with the dynamics, but this holiday made me realise it doesn’t. Not really…

Our dynamic is four. It always will be.

Abi – The Needles, Allum Bay, Isle of Wight, 2012
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4 thoughts on “Family dynamics after the death of a child

  1. You are so brave . Thank you for sharing this – and it looks like your children and your daughter’s friend will have really wonderful memories of this holiday . Xx

  2. Those last few words are just heartbreaking, but I’m so glad you were able to brave the Isle of Wight. It sounds like taking the friend on holiday was really good for all of you. X

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