“Once I was seven years old”

A Guest Post from Natalie Heyen Stafford

A few weeks ago my daughter Natalie told me she had a blog post idea.  Once she told me what it was, I asked her to write it for me as I felt it would have more impact in her voice.  So here it is.  Thanks Natalie.

At the age of seven, my childhood best friend, Brady McNickle, tragically died in an ATV accident. Our friendship began at birth, thanks to our parents’ pre-existing friendship.

As a seven year old, I think I was aware of many things, but maybe that is just hindsight bias.  It was June 17, 2000. I was out on a combine in a wheat field, I think with Mom. Dad was coming to switch spots with Mom, but he stayed in the truck. Mom tells me that this puzzled her, so eventually we got out of the combine and walked to him. She says she immediately new something was wrong by the look on his face, and fell to her knees when he told he what had happened. We packed up and headed for Stafford, Kansas. We lived in Dodge City at the time. I remember telling Grammy that I had packed very well for the trip. I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.


About nine months later, my mom gave me an incredible gift. She sat with me for several hours over the course of a few weeks and helped me make a scrapbook commemorating Brady’s life and our friendship. It included the story of how we met, personal memories, pictures, his obituary, the funeral program, a thank-you note from his family, dried flowers from the burial, and a letter from his donor recipient. This was helpful for many reasons:

  1. It made me feel comfortable talking about loss. During this special time with my mom I could ask questions, share memories, and talk through any confusion.
  2. It helped me through the grieving process. Because mom waited until March of 2001 to make the scrapbook, I was in the right mindset to talk about Brady openly.
  3. It gave me a wonderful book of memories that I still cherish. Whether I just want to reminisce or share Brady’s story with a friend, the scrapbook is a special reminder.



The reason I am writing about this is to encourage mothers to consider doing this with your children. Whether it is for a parent, grandparent, friend, or other family member, it can help your child understand loss and will be a treasure for years to come. The alone time is a perfect opportunity for your child to explore their feelings. It doesn’t have to be fancy – you will see in the pictures that I made many mistakes in my writing as an eight year old. The point is that you are there for your child at a crucial moment in their lives. I truly believe it helped me deal with other losses in my life in a healthy way.



Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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One thought on ““Once I was seven years old”

  1. Beautifully written and a wonderful way to connect with your children, especially through a time of grief and pain. Thanks for that Natalie!