By Abi Jackson, PA
Kelsey Parker said telling her two young children their father was dead is one of the “hardest conversations” she’s ever faced.
Speaking ahead of the first anniversary of The Wanted singer Tom Parker’s death from a brain tumour (March 30), the 33-year-old said she’d decided to be “honest” with their daughter Aurelia, three, and son Bodhi, two.
“My children are young, so I just had to keep it as honest and as simple as possible,” Parker told the PA news agency. “But that kind of looks really blunt, saying to a three-year-old: ‘Daddy’s dead, he’s gone, we’re never going to see him again’.
“But it had to be that black and white. Daddy’s not gone to sleep, because then they might be scared to sleep. I had to use the right wording, and it was quite black and white. It’s really raw, and it’s really horrible to say, but you know, we are a year down the line and she understands more now.”
She acknowledged this is a conversation that’s going to continue throughout their lives, but it will change as the children get older.
“The conversations are going to change, because it’s going to be, why did that happen? Is that going to happen to you, Mum? There are going to be so many more questions – I’ve literally not even touched the surface yet with them, have I really? Because they’re just babies. When they’re eight, I’m sure it’s going to be a different conversation we’re going to have,” Parker said.
She said her own mother has been a source of guidance in tackling this particularly difficult aspect of grief.
“Because my mum’s always been straight with me. There’s never been any blurred lines, and I’ve really always respected my mum for that. So, my mum just said, ‘Be honest with them’. That’s all I can do, is be honest.”
The actress – who announced her engagement to The Wanted star in 2016, before tying the knot in July 2018 – appears in a new MTV FACES series on grief, loss and mental health fronted by Ashley Cain, whose daughter Azaylia died in April 2021 aged eight months from acute myeloid leukaemia.
The series sees former footballer Cain – who co-founded The Azaylia Foundation in his daughter’s memory to help fight childhood cancers – chat with a range of guests about their own experiences of coping with loss in a bid to make talking about grief less “taboo”.
The series premiered on the MTV YouTube channel this week, starting with Parker’s interview. Three further weekly episodes – featuring Brenda Edwards, Roman Kemp and Jordan Stephens – will follow.
During her episode, Parker – who is determined to help raise awareness and improve treatment for glioblastoma tumours, following her husband’s death from the condition at age 33 – also talks about deciding what to do with a loved one’s belongings after they’ve died, explaining she gave away some of her late husband’s clothes.
When asked what advice she’d share on this topic, Parker said: “I would say that there’s no right or wrong time, you’ve got to do what feels right for you. With this process, there’s no guidebook for this – you don’t get a book out for grief and go, ‘Oh, this is how I’m going to feel and this is what I’m going to do at this point’. You have to go with what feels right to you. That’s what I’ve learned.
“If you want to sit in your pyjamas and not get out of bed, you do that. If you feel like you want to give all their clothes to charity, you do that. Some people might look at me and go, ‘Oh, why did she give away the clothes?’ But [Tom] would have wanted them to have it, and I knew that felt right to me.”
The MTV FACES interview also sees Cain and Parker discuss dealing with the reactions of other people when going through grief and how it can be hard knowing what to say.
Parker said having “a village” of support around her from her family and friends has been invaluable. And as for supporting somebody dealing with the loss of a loved one, she added that there’s “no right or wrong for what they can say, just be there for that person”. Plus, practical support can be extremely helpful.
She explained: “After we lost Tom, my friends would come around and they’d do different shifts – someone would turn up at six o’clock in the morning and help me get the kids out of bed and just be there for me. And even if I didn’t want to talk to them, they would just know that we’re not going to talk today.”
Parker added: “The practical [support] helped me so much. Even someone just coming round and doing your Hoovering for you, it was massive for me. Because it just took that stress away, it was one less worry. Clearing the kids toys away. I just felt numb, and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything. If you can, just be there for that person.”