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June 25, 2021

A Parallel Story of Togetherness: How I’m Making Peace with my Childhood Trauma by helping my Son Mourn his Father.

Everything happens for a reason—or so they say.

Does it though, or is that what we tell someone when we have nothing else to say. 

There is this picture I have of me and my son, taken one year after my husband passed away.

It is the two of us walking away from a park, holding hands with no one else around. The promenade is covered with trees and is so lush and peaceful. If anyone looks at this shot, what do you think they would see?

Probably a mother and son, walking hand in hand, enjoying an afternoon in the park. When it was taken, I viewed this picture as us walking away from the life we knew and into an unknown world.

You wouldn’t know just by looking at it, but in that picture are two people unsure of their future—myself, without my husband, and my son, without his father. 

This picture is of two people who both lost their fathers at a young age. I lost my dad when I was 12, and my son lost his dad when he was nine. The parallels in our lives are uncanny. My dad was 44 when he died of cancer, my mom 46, and I was 12. My husband died at 47 also of cancer, I was 45, and my son nine.

After my dad died, everything was different in my family.

My mom started working more hours, and my siblings and I became latchkey kids—you know, the kids who were home after school waiting while parents were still working. Although I don’t think I was special, weren’t most kids in the 80s latchkey kids? 

Those first few years were weird. It was hard to wrap my mind around what had happened, and I don’t really remember grieving. How do kids truly grieve? I have read that young children show grief in so many different ways. Mostly, extended periods of depression, inability to sleep, and prolonged fear of being alone.

I remember experiencing some of these, but mostly I felt like this lost little girl who was so unsure of herself. I naturally developed coping mechanisms to help me. I would say a mild case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and full of fear and anxiety but kept this mostly hidden from everyone.

I needed to control so many things in my life; everything needed to be in its place and always follow a routine.

I was always afraid of someone leaving or dying, especially my mother. Maybe that is why I lived at home until I was 27 years old. 

As a little girl, I carried around a Merck manual—you know, the one with the flow charts and you answer yes or no to get your illness diagnosis?

Let me tell you how subjective those are. I could easily answer the questions about the symptoms and come to the conclusion that I was dying. I still do this, to a lesser extent, and I don’t carry a manual anymore, but my web searches can basically tell me the same thing. This is why every doctor tells you to stay off the internet when you develop symptoms you can’t explain (smart advice, by the way).

Childhood trauma can really take a toll on your adult life if you don’t attempt to make peace with it. My mother did help navigate my grief, as best she could as a little girl, but she had also been figuring out her new world while raising me and my three siblings. This left little time for actual grief work, as it was the 80s after all.

Eventually, after growing up, years of therapy have taught me how to cope with the anxiety and learn to reframe my thought patterns. That’s still a work in progress.

Fast forward to watching my son go through his own grief now.

As a parent, it’s hard knowing your child is in pain. A friend told me after the death of my husband, in reference to my son’s grief, that it might be good that he was young. His pain might not be so intense. I guess you could look at it that way, sure he was young enough to not remember his dad too much and his pain isn’t so great all the time. But isn’t that sad too? 

Will he have memories of his dad as he grows up or will they be told memories? 

I am not sure what memories my son has. I know I have some memories of my father, but I think most of them have been formed in my mind from stories that have been told through the years. This is why it is so important to talk of your loved one who has passed away. These stories are so beneficial.

My son experienced some of the signs of childhood grief I mention above, mainly the prolonged fear of being alone. He slept with me, in my room, for six months after. Thankfully, my childhood experience can now help my son. I can help him create healthy coping mechanisms. I can teach him to talk about his feelings when he is sad. I can share all the stories of his dad, and let him weave these stories into his own story. I can help him grow up without fear and anxiety. 

Looking at that picture, now, I see two people walking into their life with less fear, less anxiety, and more at peace. 

Children help us see things in different ways. My son shows me every day that I can be an imperfect mother but perfect in his eyes. He shows me that it’s okay to sit in sadness sometimes, and I know when he needs to sit in his.

I wonder how the universe works or what higher power you believe in, but I think my purpose was to help me make my son’s path easier.  

One fatherless child helping another fatherless child—who just so happens to be mother and son.

So, maybe, everything does happen for reason. 


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Kathleen Yeo  |  Contribution: 12,540

author: Kathleen Yeo

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