Pictures by Emily Vaden

posted in: Uncategorized | 10

My husband Troy took his life when our daughter was 16 months old. We stayed in a hotel for 10 days, moved into a new apartment and did the best we could to move forward. She was only slightly verbal at that point so the extent to which she understood what was happening, was her walking around saying “dada” and looking for him in the usual places. I told her “daddy’s not here” and that seemed to placate her.

I started driving his car and she’d say, “dada’s car” whenever we’d get in and I’d tell her, “yep, mommy is driving daddy’s car.” Around this time the car song game started to become a part of our routine. She’d yell out a word and I’d make up a silly song about whatever that word was, “grandma”, “milk”, “baby”, whatever, all to the same tune, of course, because I’m just not that creative. One day she asked me to sing “the dada song” and I was gutted. I had promised him though when we did the viewing before he was cremated, that I would tell her about him every day, so I took a deep breath, and came up with a song to tell her about her daddy. The first dozen times she requested it, it made me want to puke, but I sang it all the same. She eventually stopped asking.

pumpkin farm


I had enough child development classes to know that children will ask questions to the degree to which they can understand. I had been telling her, “daddy’s not here” when she’d been obviously concerned about where he was, and that was enough, until the day it wasn’t. 

I don’t even really remember what she asked or said, but I remember it was right before her second birthday and I just knew that “daddy’s not here” wasn’t cutting it. I held her in my lap and said something to the effect of, “we’re not going to see daddy anymore”. And I watched as our beautiful perfect child had her world collapse. She cried and cried and cried, and I held her and did all that I could not to throw up. I composed myself and told her, “it’s okay to be sad, mommy feels sad too.” As time went on, I’d repeat, “we’re not going to see daddy anymore”, “it’s okay to feel sad, mommy feels sad too” and “even though we can’t see him, we can feel his love” and “we can talk about daddy and look at his pictures.”

I saw a therapist specializing in children and loss the week after I told her that we weren’t going to see her daddy anymore. I saw her for a few sessions on my own to insure that I was saying the right things and she assured me that I was. She told me that children don’t understand death until about 4, and to, as I had done, answer her questions to the extent that she asked them.

Around this time, I put up all the pictures of him in her room. When we’d moved I had stashed them in the closet but hanging them in her room seemed like the right place for them. The wedding photos and all the photos of us together were hung. It became our ritual. When she’d get upset, we’d go to her room and I’d tell her a story about her dad. Sometimes when she was sad about daddy, and I told her I was sad too, she’d say, “don’t worry mama, we can look at his pictures.” 

And of course, my beautiful, sweet strong little 2 1/2 year old girl has an extraordinary emotional bandwidth. She picks up on how others are feeling. She can tell you when she’s mad, sad, frustrated, nervous, happy etc., and ask you how you’re feeling and respond appropriately. All very good things that I’m so proud of. 

But the books and the research says 4. Kids don’t understand death until 4. And tonight, my sweet child asked me where her dad was. She asked if he was at work. And I tried what I had been saying, “we’re not going to see daddy anymore”, “it’s okay to be sad, it makes mommy sad too, but we can talk about him and look at his pictures.”

I looked back at her face reflecting in the mirror positioned in front of her car seat and she said, “I want my daddy to come out of the pictures.”

Me too sweet girl, me too.




10 Responses

  1. Judy Popoleton

    Beautiful. Heartfelt. Gut wrenching. Reality.
    You have am amazing little girl. Just like my grandson she should not have to process grief. She should not have to know the loss of her Daddy. She should not!
    But like my grandson this is her reality.
    She will always want and miss her Daddy. She will know he lived. She will know he loved her. She will learn to celebrate him. This too is her reality. And you along with the rest of Troy’s wonderful family will make all of those things possible for her.
    That is the gift you all will give her. The gift of knowing love, loss compassion and the strength to make a difference in this world.

    • Emily Vaden

      Thanks Judy <3 And you're right, neither of them should have to, but the good news is they have incredible love and support to help them through it. Here's a great article on kids and resilience I found that I absolutely love.

    • Olivia Case

      Judy – how old was your grandson when he lost his dad? I was two months when my father took his life

  2. Dianna Matzo

    Beautifully written by an obviously beautiful heart. You are a good mom. I pray for your endurance over the years to come. And, i am very sorry for the loss of your husband.

    • Emily Vaden

      Thank you so much <3 I know this is not the end of the difficult questions she'll have but I'm confident we'll figure it out, one question and day at a time.

  3. Dee

    Oh Emily, this absolutely takes my breath away. What a wonderful Mom you are to your precious daughter. I am so glad you have each other; I am so sad you don’t have your husband/daddy. May God give you strength and wisdom for each day.

    • Emily Vaden

      Thank you. She’s an incredible little person. I am sure every parent feels this way, but we were truly made for each other. She has taught me so much and so far, I feel like I’ve been able to help support and love her through this and I’m confident we’re both going to be okay.

  4. Olivia Case

    Emily – my thoughts go out to you and your daughter. My father took his life when I was two months old – I know the strength you and your daughter must have to face each day. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. Kate

    Emily- Thank you for being smart and brave. Thank you for practicing courage for you and your daughter.

    Parenting our children through traumatic loss takes so much… You are a wonderful Mom for your precious daughter.


  6. Melissa

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Emily. Our oldest was almost 22 months and our twins were one day away from their 6 month birthday when their dad died. I’ve always been honest with our girls and answered all of their questions but sometimes their questions are painful in regards to how he died and so I explain to them that it was too painful for mommy to talk about but that we would one day when I am ready and she seemed okay with that. I’m a counselor as well, and I think you’ve done a great job raising one empathetic little girl!