When something unexpected happens, whether home educating or not, it can take your heart and soul by surprise and leave you off balance for a while.
After a wonderful summer of fun and holidays, we were just starting out into our relaxed pursuit of educational and creativity, with me as parent and facilitator working on helping the children to find their passions.
Ben and Rose were growing their interest in Minecraft and engineering aspects of building and creating and Ella was starting to spend time volunteering down the local stables.
Suddenly and without warning we heard news that my Dad, divorced from my mother when my sister and I were knee-high to a grasshopper, had died in his sleep. He was only 68 years young. Thankfully, I was with my sister on the day and we heard the news together, though my youngest was also with us and took it hard.
Such a mix of emotions. Our father had left us when we were young and now, both in our forties, my sister and I have spent four decades of our life watching the man we thought was part of our family unit, step away and have his own second family. Words cannot describe the pain as a child of four years old, knowing you only get to spend a few hours at a time once a month with your dad when you're little, but not understanding why he is leaving you after that time - again and again.
The last few months has been difficult to navigate with our own thoughts about our childhood and what we'd missed out on, but holding on to the independence we'd gained through not having him around; something that my sister and I are both proud of, as we are fearless creatives and tenacious to a 't' - always trying our best to work on what we love, with love; perhaps because that element from a father figure was somewhat absent in our youth. Still, my sister and I both worked on our relationship with him for all that time and made it the best it could be in difficult circumstances.
The children have dealt with things the best they can. We've discussed death in its entirety, with gentleness, honesty, stark upset and all the emotions in-between. On the day of the funeral, whilst my children were not present, my eldest wrote her Grandad a letter and I promised it would never be opened; to be shared between her and my Dad only. It was her way of dealing with things. She misses him a lot, but doesn't make a fuss, preferring to keep her trainers he bought her for her birthday, perfect, as much as possible and giggling at how he used to be around them all. He was always light-hearted and fun.
My dear boy loved the fact that he had a Grandad like many of his friends. For a few years, I kept my Dad at a distance from my beloved children because I'd felt he'd let us down so many times as we had grown up and I didn't want him to commit to being in my children's lives, if he was going to let them down. He understood my cautious behaviour at this point and waited until he felt he could commit fully, before becoming a regular face in their lives. It took no time at all for the bond to be made.
And Rose, the little elemental that she is, always felt a more creative connection with Grandad, on perhaps, some might say a spiritual level.
Our journey over the last few months has been gently undulating, as I've tried to manage sorting my Dad's estate, whilst trying desperately to keep things as 'normal' as possible, but inevitably, the children have seen me dashing away in the car to 'sort out a few of Grandad's things' ... meaning everything from the paperwork in his house, or the meeting with the accountant telling me I need to liquidate his business.
How do you talk to your children about losing someone very dear to you, when in fact, you realise your relationship was very different and a lot more complex than you can ever explain to them. For the most part, I have been honest and spoken gently of his love and adoration for them. He loved them so much and being a Grandad was something I know he was immensely proud of. When I look at my children, I see where they get some of their sense of mischief from; some of their stubbornness, some of their creativity and some of their determination. I know he loved me and my sister, too and couldn't have been prouder of our varying achievements over the years, albeit from a distance.
Dad, if nothing else, was a great supporter of our decision to home educate and for that I'm so very grateful. He had lots of questions at the beginning and kept saying, 'I don't know how you do it, Ginny,' but when he came along to a trampolining session with them in the summer and realised that everyone else there was also a home educator, he was most impressed. He was always on about their socialisation and he knew at that point, there was no need for concern. He valued the time he spent with the children and saw them blossom in this first few months out of school. He couldn't believe the conversations the children were having with him and the knowledge they'd consumed by osmosis. He loved Rose's artwork, Ben's creative builds with Lego and vast knowledge of history - which he tried to catch him out on on many occasions - and Ella's grown up view of the world and her love of horses, which he was pleased to see was not just a 'flash in the pan' as he once presumed it would be. He was very positive about home education when he understood it. He realised that many people have views based on their opinion, but no knowledge of the courage and determination it can take. I miss him every day - especially when we go to a place where he joined us for visits or our walks locally. He loved nature and got to meet our pup, Gus in September, so I'm grateful for that, too.
I lost my Nana when I was 12 years old and I remember thinking earlier this year, I hope we get the children through that age without us losing anyone ... Dad died on what would have been my Nana's 105th birthday when my eldest had just turned 12 years.
We talk, we reflect, we cuddle and reassure; we cry (usually me, from time to time) and laugh, too. There's no easy or set way to deal with grief, your own or that of your children's or someone close to you. It's a very unique existence. It can be lonely, it can be tough, with moments of hilarity one minute and tears the next. It is a journey, that can be helped and assisted by kindness, kind words and offers of help when needed, but space to just be at times, too.
The realisation is that we are all ok and we will be in time. What matters is kindness, love and gentleness towards yourself and others and the knowledge that grief doesn't leave you, it becomes a part of you and your journey through this life, it becomes an experience, a story all of its own and a reminder of the love you had for the person who is no longer with you and yet, is still with you.