A Death in the Family (Small Boy Chapter-3)

About three weeks ago we had a sudden death in the family. Tink held his little guinea pig, Willow, in his arms as it drew its last breath and then “went floppy”. After I had examined him and declared very gently that I thought he was dead, Tink stared wide-eyed at me before bursting into floods of tears. A more than natural reaction for a child of 7 when one of his beloved pets dies, but not for us, this was a special occasion, for us this was a real milestone.

In the almost 6 years Tink has been with us I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen him cry raw emotional sad tears. Oh yes we’ve had tantrum tears, “I’m not getting my own way” tears, we’ve occasionally had “I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do” tears, there are over tired tears, and there are dramatic tears, Oscar nominated. There are never tears of pain, you race towards him as he slams face down in the playground, he stares at you for a moment, checking those emotions and pushing them back inside, dusts himself down and then states nonchalantly “I’m fine”. We’ve had a few trips to hospital and I’ve seen fear in those eyes and a slight glazing, a wobbly lip, but no floods, not even a drip.

The first time I experienced his tears was the first time I realised that we hadn’t experienced tears of this nature before.  Following a day when we had done quite a lot of life story work (a book accompanying an adopted child informing them of their life journey) we sat on his bed at bedtime and he asked me a question regarding birth mum. As I answered this delicate query I could see the sadness brimming in his beautiful eyes, gently pulling him towards me I nestled his head in my shoulder and stroked his head. As we sat in the dark his body began to judder against me and ever so faintly the sound of sobbing could be heard muffled into my clothes. In that moment I realised I had never before experienced this with him, this was something new; the sadness of it brought a lump to my throat. I didn’t actually get to see the tears, he wouldn’t look at me when he finally pulled away, but there was a wet patch as proof. It would be some time before I experienced them again, and I don’t remember all occasions with such clarity but I do know that it has not happened often.

So to the week of little Willows demise, the same week we were seeing CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) for a review of Tink’s ADOS assessment (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule). I had become increasingly anxious about the feedback, trying to decide in my own mind, do I think he seems autistic? The fear had been growing inside me. What if they find him to be on the autistic spectrum when actually he’s not? What if any attachment issues or early life trauma issues go undiagnosed? Will people, school look to manage his behaviour instead of exploring the reasons behind it? And there I stand yet again with him pulled into me as he sobs, not hesitantly but full shoulder shuddering tears. I see them again as he reaches school and he tells a friend of his sad news, and then at pick up on seeing me his eyes glisten as he runs into my arms.  Days later he is contemplative as we bury his little friend in the garden and he decorates the grave with sea shells, saying his goodbyes.

So there I have it, transparency, I know for certain my child is struggling to come terms with his broken beginnings, that the emotions have been buried deep within for fear of showing vulnerability. I knew it really but this was the sign, something to spur me in my determination to ensure we don’t stop exploring Tink’s emotional needs. Luckily for CAMHS they agreed with me, although Tink is on the autistic spectrum they believe things for him are complex and we need to explore how best to support him emotionally as well .Appointments have already been made to speak to school, a follow up appointment will help Mr H and I to understand a little more about living with Tink’s autistic traits and there is even a whisper of some play therapy.  I breathe a huge sigh of relief and feel we will start to get thinks right for Tink, especially during his much loathed school days.

So to the lovely little fur ball that was Willow, I pay tribute to this mischievous, greedy, popcorning, (it’s a guinea pig thing, look it up), forever squeaking guinea pig. You gave your life to an amazing cause and I can’t thank you enough, I’m just really sorry it had to be this way, R.I.P.


  1. Maxine. August 10, 2012 / 9:46 pm

    Beautiful. Xxxxx

  2. Luanne July 5, 2013 / 2:53 pm

    Aw, what a sad but inspiring post, Sarah!

  3. Fiona Ferguson July 5, 2013 / 8:53 pm

    First of all , so sad to lose little Willow ,but proof that animals can touch parts that people can’t .I am so glad you are going with your gut feelings about attachment issues being dismissed. listen to your gut and you won’t go wrong .As Adoptive parents we are often hyper vigilant and are more aware of our children’s changing moods than some mothers who have given birth naturally .

  4. new pyjama mummy July 5, 2013 / 9:02 pm

    so amazing how a loved guinea pig dying has produced a significant catalyst for change with such a powerful breakthrough of emotions. very precious. x

  5. Honeymummy July 6, 2013 / 3:51 pm

    Oh I am a soppy thing. Tears free flowing here. I am sorry for your loss but I know understand what you mean about the “raw tears”. I have only ever seen Beeswax do this twice once when we lost our cat and then when I had to tell him a member of his BF had died but on those occasions it felt like a mini breakthrough.

    • thepuffindiaries July 21, 2013 / 10:30 am

      I know those raw tears hit you like a tone of bricks don’t they, so emotional as a mum to take on board, thanks for commenting and sorry to make you cry. x

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