‘When I heard he was dead I went numb’: tales of losing a mother in childhood

Prince Harry unhappiness not talking about the death of his mother sooner. Our readers share their experience of coping with sorrow as a child

Losing a mother is always difficult, but saying goodbye to your mother or parent when youre still a child brings its own unique kind of heartache.

Its something Prince Harry touched on the coming week, when he said that he sadness not talking sooner about the loss of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in a car accident when he was 12.

Its OK to suffer, as long as you talk about it. Its not a weakness. Weakness is having a problem and not recognising it and not solving that problem, Harry said.

We asked our readers to share their tales of sorrow. Here, 6 people explain what its like to lose a parent in childhood.

Jonathan Turner, 48, Leeds: I felt responsible for looking after my mum and my brother

Jonathan Turner and two brothers Photo: Jonathan Turner

My dad died on Halloween 1974 and his cremation was on bonfire night. That voices made up but it isnt. I was six at the time. I didnt play out for six months afterwards and I used to cry at the dinner table because I missed sitting opposite him. Wed just got a colour Tv and my favourite programme was the Six Million Dollar Man. I remember writing in my exercise book at school that I wouldnt be able to watch it with my papa any more. My mum went to pieces and I was just old enough to be aware that she was in a mess. I felt responsible for her, and I allowed her to lean on me. It might sound dramatic but I didnt feel like I was able to be a carefree child because of this. I always felt like a crutch to mum and an auxiliary mother to my brother who was only one at the time our dad died.

At first, when my mum told me he was dead I felt numb. Although she told him that I wept after the actual day I dont remember it. My mum had a few partners over the years, mostly who turned out to be pretty unreliable, and I never felt like any could replace my father. One of the added benefit of having a dead mother is that you can hold onto a nostalgic image of them. What I regret most is that I felt somehow responsible for my mum in such a way that I neednt have and sometimes I wish Id just let her get on with it and had my own life.

If I could tell my younger self anything it would be to be a child. Adults have adult problems and sometimes things can go very wrong very suddenly, but its not up to you to clean up the mess.

Grace Mainwarin, 17, London: Be kind to those who are also mourning around you

I lost my father to terminal brain cancer when I was 15 in August 2014. It took two years between diagnosis and death for him to go, during this time he became paralysed down his left side and had a series of seizures. He succumbed half way through my GCSEs, so it affected my relationships, mental health and only the normal style a teenager is supposed to grow up. It was devastating. I was dealing with something so severe that many people dont have to cope with until they are much older. Something that stands out when you lose a parent as small children is how little your peers your own age can grasp what youre going through. I felt very isolated. I was 13 when he was diagnosed so I could nearly feel when I told other people my age what had happened that they were thinking of movies theyd watched. Death is often so abstract for those whove never experienced it.

My dad was a very good person who was a hard-working lawyer and loved me and my sister so much. He was funny and kind, and I have so many fond memories of him. His heroism and resilience during those two years was astounding. He maintained on trying to walk, he kept on trying to adjust and adapt to his situation as much as he could, because he loved us so much.

If I could devote myself advice at the time it was able to to be kinder to those who were also grieving around me. I would say: Dont make their suffering worse. You need each other.

Genevieve, 45, Kyneton, Australia: I have a huge reservoir of unresolved grief

Photograph: Genevieve

I was 12 when I lost my mother. I was the eldest of three and I have always felt luck that I was able to have a few more years with her. I also felt responsible for looking after my siblings when she died, and feel I failed them because I was too young to handle this responsibility while also dealing with my own sorrow.

Mum and fathers were divorced and my dad remarried three months after her death. We moved in with him but suddenly had a new stepmother. It was as if both my parents were taken away. Whats more, I was never encouraged to talk about my changed situation so I developed a very distant route of being.

Im now 45 and realise that there is a huge reservoir of unresolved grief that is impacting on my relationships and has helped keep me in unhappy patterns. Talking is vital and it would be good to encourage this in children who lose their parents. I regret not talking more and wish I could be more open and trusting.

It can take a lot of effort to understand how sorrow impacts us years later. It is a hard road to confront these truths but probably even harder not to get help to deal with the losses that a parents death brings.

Rachel Martin, 40, Manchester: I regret my mum didnt know my successes

Photograph: Rachel Martin

My mum succumbed aged 31 when I was six years old. My sister was four years old. We were raised by my father and maternal grandparents. I recollect being told that mum had died and gone to heaven. My sister told me not to sob mum was there to have her leg stimulated better then she would come back to us, but deep down I knew that death was final.

I have a few lovely memories of my mum but not many. I remember her singing in the kitchen, taking us to assure our grandparents, and one Christmas morning when she wore a spotted navy dress for church.

I also recollect her smelling. After she passed away I would sit in her wardrobe smelling her clothes and handbags before my father get rid of everything. They smelled faintly of her perfume.

I recollect the last day I ensure her as I was being driven away from the hospital as she was waving goodbye. She was wearing a lime green dress and blue slippers.

I dont know if I ever told my mum that I loved her. I wish I knew that.

I regret my mum didnt ensure me grow up. She would never know my success. She would never meet my wonderful spouse or my wonderful son. I am so envious of my friends who have mums to share everything with.

If I could send a message to my younger ego it would be: do not feel guilty or responsible for your mums death.

Tim, 45, Sheffield: I wish Id told my mum how I missed my dad

My dad became ill when I was only just three, and succumbed after a few months. It devastated my mum, but she doesnt like to show her emotions, so it was never actually discussed. Me and my younger friend were just told the facts in a very straightforward way and never asked how we felt about it. It was only much subsequently that I discovered how poorly it affected my mum, who I dont suppose will ever get over losing the love of their own lives.

I have some sketchy memories of him coming home from run, and me being really excited to see my father, but my strongest memories are of visiting him in hospital just before he died. It was obviously a significant event for everyone, and so stands out in my memory, although I didnt know why at the time.

I dont think I ever dealt with the heartbreak, or was even aware that it was something I should feel. It was communicated to me in a very matter-of-fact way. Looking back now, I wish I had expressed myself to my mum, and told her I missed having a father. I never said that to her because I was afraid of upsetting her.

Clive, 27, Bristol: My mum told me of her cancer over crumpets

In 1997, my mother told me of her cancer over crumpets. Needless to say, I was devastated or as much as one can be at such a young age. Its not something I have ever truly get over but it only becomes history. I became a shy child as a result, although I try not to think too much about that time as it was so traumatic. I hated being the center of attention, with people asking me endlessly if I was OK. They were all so kind but I just wanted to be alone. To this day I hate to be the center of attention.

My mum was lovely and softly spoken. She had red hair and wear flowery attires and hats I wish I could remember more but I dont and that upsets me. My biggest regret is not going to see her when she had passed away, I just couldnt do it, but I wish I had.

I try to stay positive, you either laugh or shout, I realise that life is too short and not to hold on too tightly to superficial things.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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