Dear 7-year-old Hannah,
I want to start by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the pain you are feeling right now, faced with the sudden loss of your dad. I know I am writing to you during the hardest time of your life, which has just changed immensely. You have had to move countries, join a new school, and learn to cope with this strange new reality, in which your family of four has become three.
I don’t want to lie and say, growing up without your dad will be easy.
Grief is hard for anyone, of any age. Some people much older than you have never experienced what you are going through right now – the death of a parent. This will often make you feel angry, sad, and alone. You will learn as you grow older that you are never alone in your grief – even if it sometimes feels that way. In fact, 40,000 children in the UK lose a parent each year—children just like you. Eventually, every single person will lose someone they love. You just happened to experience it aged seven.
The most important thing I want you to know is that it is okay that you feel sad, and that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
If someone breaks their leg, their experience, pain, and recovery are often visible. They go to the hospital, take medicine, and for the next few weeks they wear a cast, walking with crutches. Typically, people around them are quick to ask what happened, if they feel okay and if they need help. When someone you love dies, some people don’t know what to say, or how to help. Grief isn’t visible in the same way: crutches can’t solve a broken heart, and the emotional pain certainly won’t go away after a few weeks. When you’re sad, it’s important to be kind to yourself and take your feelings seriously.
I still find that some days are harder than others.
I struggle with birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and other important events, like my University graduation. These days often feel bittersweet. We learnt as a family to create new traditions, and to do special things on these days to remember our dad.
It’s important to talk to people when things get tough, even though this can sometimes be hard.
Please don’t keep your feelings bottled up – over the years you will learn that you feel better after a good cry and a cup of tea. In fact, you will learn that you love to talk about your dad. You love to ask questions about him, hearing stories of him growing up in the East End, his career, how much he loved football, novels, his family, and so much more. Write these stories down – they’re great to read back when you’re older.
I’m 22 now, and I’ve learnt that grief doesn’t ever truly leave you. but the way you experience grief will change over time.
Time is a healer, and although it won’t make your grief disappear, it will help you deal with what’s happened. Over time, you will have more good days than bad days. You will smile again; you will laugh, you will meet some of your best friends and make some amazing new memories. You’ll never forget him, but you will learn that you’re allowed to be happy.
Things always get better, and one day, you won’t believe how far you’ve come.