Auntie Says...

Dealing with the Death of a Parent.

It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to wildlife artist Terry Isaac. I was traveling when I learned of his death and like the rest of the community, was shocked. We all know there are no guarantees in life but the natural progression of loss that we all expect and cling to is brutally shaken when an untimely and unexpected death occurs.

Terry had a quiet and unassuming manner that put those around him at ease as he availed himself to his students, his work, his fans, and of course his family. In my mind’s eye, I can see him hurrying into the pool at the community centre or down the corridors of the local mall with his boys bouncing after him. He always had a smile and a nod to those around him as he went about his daily life but it was evident that the role of Dad was paramount for him.

His sudden and unexpected passing leaves an emptiness in the Arts community and while I’m saddened that he’s gone, my real concern now turns to those left behind—especially his three young sons.

Death is a tricky thing as there’s no way to prepare for the sudden gaping hole left by someone we love. Terry’s boys won’t have the gift of having their dad around as they learn to spread their wings and that breaks my heart.

Thinking of Terry’s boys brought back memories of losing my brother who died suddenly in 1996 when my nephews were only six (Justin) and eight years old (Josh). At that moment, their lives changed forever. While I vividly remember the excruciating pain I felt in my heart over the death of my brother, it was the loss suffered by my nephews that shook me to my core. The thought of the changes that would go on to affect their safe and unsullied childhood hung heavy.
I feel that now for Terry’s boys.

I recently talked with my nephew, Josh, about Terry’s sudden death and the memories it evoked. I asked him to speak to the effects of losing his dad at such a young age. Here are his words:

“The effects of a parent’s death on a child are terribly hard to predict. There will be many tempting pitfalls for a kid that is now missing that guidance. But if that child is able to stay on the right track, they can have every success. Personally (and I was 8 when my dad passed), I didn’t realize how it was affecting me until I got into my mid-teens. Then it kind of hit me that he wasn’t going to be at all these things like my grad, the birth of my children, or my wedding one day. That began to make me sad, which is why having a support system is crucial. My advice is to surround yourself with the best of friends, your family, and be honest with them when you need to be. Feeling sadness or depression over the loss of a loved one is the last thing anyone should ever be ashamed about. One of the things I took to heart was trying to live my life in a way I knew my dad would’ve been proud of. That’s all that mattered. For parents, talk to your children over the years about what they remember about their lost parent. It’s not some taboo subject. It can’t hurt anything to ask, and maybe they’ll say no sometimes, but eventually, they’ll likely have something to share,” said Josh.

I’ll take Josh’s words even further and ask that adults in the lives of children who’ve lost a parent to take it seriously. Don’t pressure the kids to talk, laugh, or be someone they’re not (it’s not a kids place to be a protector or ‘man’ of the house, etc.). Reach out and offer them the tools to define things like depression, anxiety, loss, and loneliness. This may be through counseling, listening, sharing of memories, or having a good cry with the youngster.

Kids are resilient but don’t dismiss their sadness which like Josh indicated could go on for years and come out at different times.

Rest easy Terry. Your art will live on forever and I know your boys have a great support system and will continue to make you proud.

First published by Black Press on August 2, 2019.

Note: I was reminded by a reader that Terry Isaac also has a daughter who lives in the United States. My thoughts and well-wishes extend to her along with her three brothers.

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