Guest post by Mira Simone
We sit together in the calm, turquoise water, looking out towards the sea.
Her little body leans into mine and I tilt my face up towards the warm and gentle sun. I let the quiet of the moment hold me here, with her.
And then, I feel him. Somehow, he is with us on this small, sweet island so far from home.
I turn to face my daughter.
And I tell her.
“I can feel Dada’s love.”
She is quiet for a time, gently playing with her beach toys. The wide-brimmed sun hat hides her sweet face from view. And then, she speaks.
“Mama, I feel alone without Dada. Maybe I can go to the hospital and see him?”
It has been less than two months since she lost half her small universe. Did she even know that death existed? How much does she understand? How can I explain? Do I understand myself?
Together we have travelled across the sea, escaping a reality that we no longer recognize. We have landed here, where no one knows our story.
Home without Dada feels empty. But I feel him on this island, in the sand and in the sea.
That evening, we walk past a cemetery.
“What’s this, Mama?” she asks.
“This is a cemetery, my love. When people die, sometimes their bodies are buried in a place like this.”
“Oh! So, all these people’s bodies stopped working, just like Dada.”
The next day, she asks me if we can return once again.
“Look Mama!” she smiles. “Here are the other people’s bodies who died. Do you think they had cancer too?”
My heart aches even as I know that she feels comforted, within these silent stones.
Her mind is busy working, wrapping itself around her pain. She is barely even three and already, so connected to the suffering of life.
As we wander, she skips ahead, humming to herself. I breathe in the warm, salty air and feel my shoulders lower, ever so slightly. How long have they been raised? And suddenly I’m back there, then. We’re discovering we’re pregnant and we are so deeply happy.
From that very first moment, they were a perfect pair. My little girl and her Dada.
It was as if he had always had a small human tucked under one arm or attached to his chest in a carrier. Their time together was spontaneous. He’d throw a diaper in his back pocket and off they’d go.
“I love her so much it hurts,” he’d tell me.
It was life. It was simple and complex and up and down. It was ours and we were living it.
And then, his eyesight got blurry. And he wasn’t sleeping well. And his back started to hurt.
Overnight our bright, warm Dada began to turn inward. He became quiet and withdrawn, spending all his time in bed. There were hushed adult voices and lots of visitors. Dada was sick.
I poured myself into being busy. Or I lay in bed with him, while grandparents took care of her. She touched my face as I rocked her to sleep, wiping away my tears.
She seemed to understand that this was a sacred time. She cared for her dying father in all the ways a child can. Covering his legs with blankets and bringing him glasses of water. She learned to whisper so that he could sleep.
One evening, seemingly out of nowhere she sobbed, “Dada is always sleeping!” until her little voice grew hoarse. And then she wiped away her tears and tiptoed toward him, to gently say, “Goodnight”.
Time sped up and slowed down. Dada’s breathing sounded funny and he never sang or whistled anymore. He looked so different. He slept through lots of visitors, but every time she walked into his room, his eyes opened when he heard her voice. His face relaxed and broke out into a tired smile.
“Hey sweetie,” he always said, looking her straight in the eyes.
“I love you.”
He only smiled for her, at the end.
He died on a Tuesday morning before the sun came up. I told her in simple, concrete words, the way the social worker told me to. I remember her eyes. And I remember that she hugged me and she smiled, before turning away to play. But I don’t remember much else.
I know that at first, we barely left the house. And then, one day, when the sun was shining, we decided to walk to the park.
My phone rang as we entered the trees. It was the funeral home. I’d forgotten that I’d asked them to call me when his body had reached the crematorium.
And so, we talked about Dada.
About how he loved to hug the trees, how he taught us about the forest, and how he helped us learn to breathe.
And, as that beautiful body we knew so well turned to dust, we sat in the glow of the sunshine together, holding hands. We looked up at the sky and I smiled, as tears streamed down my face.
“Dada is everywhere! I feel him!” she cried, gripping my hand in hers.
At first, my grief was debilitating. It held me captive, incapable of seeing outside of myself. A heavy, dark veil wrapped around my body, suffocating me with its weight.
I had a simple purpose: to survive and honour my love, to give him all I had to give.
And then one morning the veil lifted, ever so slightly and I saw our daughter in front of me. I saw her pain. I saw her loss.
And so, I added a second purpose: to honour her experience, to listen to what she said and to listen to what she didn’t say.
I learned to lean into the connection between the two of us.
She is still herself, as she always was. Excited and kind, sweet and caring. People tell me she’s resilient, they assure me that she is thriving. And I know that it is true. But I also see her grief, the grief that no one wants to see.
It rushes out of her, without warning. It starts just as quickly as it ends. And I know that this great loss is sewn into the fabric of her life, just as the love between her and Dada is.
Her grief is angry, uncontrollable, and strong. It speaks without apology and often “inconveniently”. It demands to be heard.
She wakes up in the night, screaming.
“Mama, can you still hear me? Can you still hear me?”, over and over again.
“I’m right here, sweetie,” I tell her, kissing her damp forehead. “I’m right here.”
Her grief is questions, so many questions.
“Why do we love holding hands?”, “Why do we wish we could hold Dada’s hand too?”, “Why does thinking about Dada make us love each other more?”.
“Can we promise to die together so I can show you where to go?”
Her grief is worrying about me. It is embracing all of Dada that is within her. It is a desperate attempt to control and a great fear of change. It is a seeing beyond the physical. It is a sadness and a longing that she cannot describe or explain.
“She’s doing so well,” people tell me and I believe them. I do. But also, she is grieving, which nobody wants to talk about.
So, I honour her invisible grief by acknowledging it. I can’t protect her from it, just as I can’t protect myself. So, we hold each other every day and we ride the waves together.
We talk of Dada often. We share and write down memories. We wonder aloud about where he is now and how we can connect to him.
We play his favourite music and we dance in our underwear. We put a photo of him on the wall of her bedroom and she strokes it before bed. I hear her talking to him in the morning.
“Let’s eat cashews like Dada!” she says to me at breakfast.
I don’t know what she’s talking about. But when she shows me, she looks just like him and it makes me start to laugh.
One day we notice that it’s spring. She picks a flower by the side of the road.
“I used to pick flowers for you with Dada,” she tells me proudly. “This flower is from him”.
It’s blue, her favourite colour. It’s beautiful.
“You’re crying because you miss Dada”, she tells me. “Mama, it’s going to be okay.”
That night as I tuck her into bed, she holds her stuffed lamb out towards me.
“You sleep with Lamberta,” she tells me. “She wants to sleep with you tonight.”
So, I do. And, it helps.
And somehow all of that has happened and now, here we are now, wandering amongst gravestones on a small island, far from home. Our grief feels held here. There is space for it to grow and that makes it feel less scary.
Then, before we know it, it’s time for us to fly back home. Time to face the remnants of the life we used to live. We head to the ocean, before we leave. I want to look out at the sea. I want to feel the sand between my toes.
“We love you Dada!” we yell out into the waves. She smiles and looks up at me. I smile back at her.
I am learning that children’s grief is transient, ever present, and hard to understand. So is adult grief, I guess.
She misses him. I miss him. She loves him. I love him. It is as simple and as infinite as that.
As we walk away from the beach, hand in hand, she stops and looks down at the sand.
“I’m a little bit sad,” she says, softly.
“Why, love?” I ask.
Our eyes meet.
“I miss Dada,” she answers simply.
“I do too, love,” I tell her. “I do too.”
About the Author: Mira Simone is a Canadian writer, widow, and mother. She writes about authentically living through traumatic loss, within the context of our largely grief-illiterate world. Her work strives to normalize grief and create connections between grievers. She is currently working on a collection of memoir-style grief reflections, with grant support from the Canada Council for the Arts. She has been published in The Globe and Mail, Modern Loss, The Tyee, She Does the City, and Dreamers Literary Magazine, among other publications. Mira is a registered occupational therapist with years of experience holding space for clients and supporting them on their paths. You can find her and her projects at newmoonmira.com, on Instagram and, on Twitter.