Children’s book offers hope to grieving children

Alicia English and her husband Noel, who passed away from Covid-related complications earlier this year.

A Mitchell’s Plain mother and son have written a children’s book, I Miss Daddy, which they hope will help children deal with losing loved ones who have died of Covid-19. ALICIA ENGLISH shares her family’s journey which culminated in the book.

I love the month of August. Two of my favourite people have birthdays this month – my mother and my husband, Noel. Their birthdays are two days apart, my mum’s on the 23rd and Noel’s on the 25th.

Usually, I would have my husband’s birthday planned by now. Now all I have is mixed emotions. Mostly because he won’t be with us in person to celebrate his special day. Noel passed away in hospital due to Covid-19-related complications on January 17 this year. He was 45 years old when he died. He was an amazing father and husband who was sold out for Christ.

Dealing with grief

Coming to terms with my husband’s death has not been easy. In fact, it has been particularly tough on our sons Malachi, 18, Matthew, 7, and Joel, 3.

Matthew, 7, with his dad Noel English.
The cover of the book, I Miss Daddy, written by Alicia English and her son Matthew.

We have all since celebrated our first birthdays without him. He was the pillar of our family and we are still getting used to not having him with us.

One of my many priorities over the past few months have been to help my sons navigate through this difficult time. While it has been somewhat easier for me to talk about the emotions of losing my husband, I soon realised that my children were each grieving in their own way. We all now had to adapt to a new normal. And we are not just simply dealing with the loss of life. We’re daily facing the impact of immediate and permanent loss of relationship, companionship, intimacy, protection, conversation, covering and friendship.

Every time we hear of someone’s passing our hearts are flooded with compassion because we know what it’s like. At the same time, it also brings along billows of grief. We want to reach out and touch our loved one’s hand, but it is simply not there. Imagine trying to touch the wind when there is none. Imagine wrapping yourself in a body-less hoodie because you just want to feel your loved one’s arms around you again. Now imagine watching your 7-year-old son do so because he misses his daddy so much.

Just the other day Joel told me, “Daddy mustn’t stay in heaven anymore. Mommy, tell him he must come home now. Tell him.”

Imagine trying to figure out how your adolescent son is dealing with this when he doesn’t talk about it because he thinks what’s the point of it all as it won’t bring back his dad.

Even hearing of someone testing positive can trigger a rush of painful memories. It can cause your eyes to well up with tears on a hospital bench and choke back tears on a bus.

Grief is ugly. Some days you don’t feel like brushing your teeth, bathing, or combing your hair. Grief changes you. Sometimes so much so that you can’t recognise yourself and don’t even want to look at yourself in the mirror.

At the end of April, I left my job of 13 years as a magazine editor as I struggled to focus on my work while trying to make sense of my grief.

While Covid-19 has certainly disrupted our lives, my sons and I are grateful for the love and support of family and friends. Our faith in God and the prayers of many people continue to sustain us. My boys can still laugh and play.

A great way of coping with our loss has been to talk about Noel and to reminisce about the wonderful times we spent together as a family.

One day in May, I sat down with Matthew and started capturing his memories of Noel, how he became ill and later passed away in his own words. I wanted to collate it in a children’s story book as a personal keepsake and to help keep the memory of his dad alive. I realised that creating a safe space in which he felt free to express his memories of his dad was helping him to deal with his grief on his level.

Living purposefully

While he was alive, Noel was determined to live a life of purpose. Likewise, I have been digging deep to find purpose in his death. This is why I have decided to make this special book, which is called I Miss Daddy, available for free to kids in under-resourced schools. Our aim is to help them deal with their own grief, while promoting a reading culture.

Our objective is to publish and print 10 000 copies of the book and first make it available to schools in the Western Cape, and later roll it out to other provinces as funding becomes available. We would also like to translate the book in other languages.

Our nation is in mourning. Many of those who have died of Covid-19 have been parents. In some instances, children have had to bury both parents. Let’s not forget those children who have lost grandparents who were their primary caregivers.

Publishing I Miss Daddy and making it available for free to children in our communities is our family’s way of adding meaning to our loss. This is how we choose not to be defeated by Covid-19. We hope the book can do the same for other children like Matthew.

We would be happy to engage individuals, companies and organisations that would like to sponsor copies of the book in aid of grieving children in poor communities.

In the meantime, people can pre-order the book and collect it at our drive-by launch, which will be held at 4 Kowie Close, Portland, Mitchell’s Plain, on Wednesday August 25 from 4pm to 7pm. The book will be R55 a copy, R105 for two copies, R150 for three, and R190 for four copies. For more information, email alicia@oliveexchange.co.za

• Alicia English is a former Plainsman reporter and award-winning magazine editor.