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A Dad’s Story: Pawan

Father’s Day is bittersweet for many of our Nanny Angel Families. Fathers often carry a tremendous burden when their partner becomes ill. We would like to celebrate the important role father’s play in helping moms during the difficult time of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. For all of the fathers who find themselves in a situation that they could never have imagined, we acknowledge that you are often the glue that keeps your family together. You deserve this special day.

For some dads, this may be the first Father’s Day that they are celebrating without their children’s mom. One such dad is Pawan Sharma. When Pawan and his wife were introduced to the Nanny Angel Network, it was just after Pawan’s wife had been diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with their second daughter. The Nanny Angel Network was able to support Pawan and his family through his wife’s treatment and after she passed. The Sharma family holds a special place in the heart of the Nanny Angel Network family, and we’re so thankful that Pawan agreed to share his story.

The Nanny Angel Network came into my life as its name reflects, like an angel, like hope. It’s not easy to know your loved one is in pain and is going through so much. I’ll never forget the night I was waiting outside the operation theater, praying for two lives, my wife’s and our unborn daughter’s, to come through safely. You can’t even imagine that moment. It was so heavy for me and I felt helpless.  After my wife was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, my role as a husband and as a father totally changed. On one side I had my wife, who was fighting for her life and whom I promised before marriage that I would be there for, in her happiness and her sorrow, and on the other side, I had my little angel who was born premature. I was on an emotional roller coaster but I gathered my courage and cared for my wife until the last moment of her life.

I can’t even express my gratitude and thanks to the Nanny Angel Network. NAN provided moral support to my family and a financial gift when Audrey Guth was selected as part of TD Canada Trust’s Make Today Matter campaign. The Nanny Angels assured my wife that everything would be okay and my wife was able to take satisfaction from knowing that our kids were in good hands.

When my wife passed away, I was very down emotionally. Returning to work a couple weeks later seemed like a new challenge, I was scared and unsure of what would happen. When Audrey called and told me that she would stand beside me, I felt secure. She kept her promise and I returned to my job with no worries.

Michelle, our Nanny Angel, stepped in and cared for my kids as a mother would. She gave love, affection, and support to my kids when they needed that support the most and she even provided help for my mother, who was living with me and my daughters.

She came to my house everyday and gave a bath to the kids, fed them, read stories and allowed my mom to take breaks and relax. At that time my older daughter missed her mother a lot, and was experiencing many emotional difficulties. Life was not normal anymore, but our Nanny Angel supported us and became our savior.

My younger daughter knows nothing regarding our situation; she is still too young to understand what happened, but my older daughter went through a very emotional phase. She visited the hospital many times to see her mother before she passed, and asked so many questions. “Why is mom not coming home? When is she coming back?” After my wife’s death, she went through the grief phase, just like us. It’s so hard to even think of now, I am just so thankful to God that NAN came into our lives.

The Nanny Angels touched our lives and I hope and pray that they will touch many more in the future.

Pawan’s story has touched the hearts of those at the Nanny Angel Network and it is so uplifting to know the difference NAN is making in the lives of those experiencing such challenging and exhausting circumstances. Pawan and his daughters are one of many families who lives have been profoundly impacted by the presence of a Nanny Angel. This impact is exactly the kind of difference NAN aims to make in the lives of every family they serve.

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Text: Mia Shulman       Photo: Omar Duragos

Grief and Loss

On a chilly Sunday in late February I found myself wandering around the basement of the Toronto General Hospital in search of the ELLICSR centre. Inside, I found a lovely and warm space in which I would spend the next eight hours.

I was at the centre to attend Grief and Loss training as part of the Nanny Angel Network’s volunteer training program. Though I am not a nanny, I was there to see what nannies going through the required training learn. The seminar is hosted by NAN every other month, and is taught by Andrea Warnick. Andrea is a nurse psychotherapist, educator, and thanatologist with twenty years of experience in supporting grieving children and families.

As Andrea introduced herself, she explained that she first began to explore issues surrounding death and dying when working as a nurse. Working on the frontline of healthcare and regularly interacting with bereaved families, Andrea realized that medical personnel were not receiving sufficient training in how to talk to kids about cancer, death, and grief. Though there was a wealth of research surrounding kids and death, from how to talk to kids about death to how to recognize and help with children’s grief, this research was not being put into practice.

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It is no surprise, when one considers our general cultural-wide discomfort with the subject of death, that we would be bad at speaking about it with children. Parents understandably want to protect their children from news of a serious illness, and especially from the death of a loved one. They worry about the impact a death, whether of a parent or of a loved one, will have upon their child. With this in mind, they will often avoid speaking to their children about the approaching death, attempting to spare the child from trauma.

Study after study has shown, however, that the opposite is true. The best way to protect children from being negatively impacted by the death of a loved one is to prepare them for it. Instead of not speaking about it with children, discussing it openly and in age appropriate terms helps children psychologically cope with the death of a loved one both during their childhood and as adults. Grief is something that never really leaves us, though we may cope with it differently at different ages.

While Andrea discussed the complexities and difficulties of discussing death with children of all ages, in the end she summed it up in a few central principles. Be honest with your child. Use simple, but correct language –  euphemisms can be confusing, especially if a child is still at an age where they take everything very literally. Foster an environment where they can ask questions. They might not be asking questions only because they are picking up on the fact that the adults don’t want to discuss it. Finally, be prepared to not have all the answers. You aren’t going to mess your child up forever because you didn’t know the answer to one of their questions. Do some research, or wonder at life’s mysteries with them.

Children’s concerns around cancer and death often fall into four central questions – did I cause it? Can I catch it? Can I cure it? And who is going to take care of me? Explaining cancer to a child involves answering these four questions, using real terms, and explaining what is going on in as much detail as the child can comprehend… if the child wants! Ultimately, the level of explanation depends on the kid, and how much they want to know.

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After the death of a loved one, children will grieve and mourn just as adults do, though their grieving will look different from an adult’s grief. Play is often part of a child’s grieving, as well as moving between intense sadness and normal happiness. It is important to discuss, encourage, and model the expression of all emotions, in a range of healthy ways. If a child is expressing their grief through inappropriate behaviours, feel free to correct those behaviours, but it is important to distinguish between the emotions and the behaviours ­– the emotions are not the problem. Offer children the chance to talk, but don’t force them to if they don’t want to, and help them develop rituals to stay connected to their deceased loved one.

Ultimately, every person is different, and every child is going to react to illness and death differently. The important thing to remember is that even young children are fully capable of understanding cancer and death – if the adults in their lives explain it to them and are prepared to take the time to engage with them fully on their level. I left the course with a far greater understanding of the importance of creating safe spaces for children and fostering honest conversations with them. The knowledge Nanny Angels gain from this seminar allows them to do just this. If the children they are visiting want to talk to their Nanny Angel about the things they are afraid to discuss with their parents, our volunteers are prepared.

For more information and resources on how to help children cope with grief and loss, check out Andrea Warnick’s website and follow the conversation at #nanGL on twitter, where we regularly post links to resources and community programs designed to help bereaved children.


Text: Jensine Jones          Photos: Becka Soyka