- In the hour of recklessness, they had to endure the shock of the death of a father or a mother.
- In Growing up with absence *, which has just been released in bookstores, thirteen personalities evoke this intimate drama.
- Karine Dusfour, one of the authors of the book, looks back on the intimate experience of these celebrities, in order to lift the taboo on what orphans live.
How to grow up when one of his parents has died? In Growing up with absence *, recently released in bookstores, thirteen celebrities ** evoke the early loss of a father or a mother. They tell of their feeling of being forever different, their habit of relying only on their own strength, the imprint of the absent on their journey …
A book all the more touching since the two authors know what they are talking about: Elisabeth Bost is the mother of Jean, whose father died when he was 5 years old. And Karine Dusfour herself lost her father when she was 12 years old. For 20 minutes, the latter returns to the atypical personal construction of these personalities.
Why did you ask celebrities about the loss of a parent, rather than anonymous?
We thought that famous people, who are used to expressing themselves on many subjects, would have less difficulty in verbalizing what the loss of a parent has induced on their journey.
Was it difficult to convince them to confide?
Since Elisabeth Bost and I are involved in the subject, when we read an interview in which a celebrity mentioned her parental bereavement, we withheld the information. We then threw lots of bottles into the sea and had quite a few refusals. Nicolas Hulot wanted to refuse, but when we explained to him that we wanted this book to be useful in the first place for young people who are confronted with parental bereavement, he finally accepted. He wanted his testimony to be useful to other children living in this situation, in order to make their bereavement less taboo. Some also confided in us to pass on a little of their family history to their children.
Several of these testimonies evoke the lack of transparency around the death of the parent. How do you explain it?
The remaining parent is still trying to do well. But his wish to spare his child sometimes leads him to postpone the announcement of the death. Some people also fail to tell the truth because they are not able to face this terrible scene. Joann Sfar says that his grandfather wanted him to know the truth about his mother’s death, but the father refused. After two years, he ended up breaking the ban to announce it to his grandson.
In many families, we don’t talk about the dead. How do children experience this silence?
Sometimes adults do not know how to go about bringing up the missing person and are afraid of hurting the child. Suddenly, they do not talk about it, while the child is waiting for it and needs it to build itself. What works best is to involve the child in a support group organized by an orphan association. Speech is released very quickly and the child then feels authorized to ask questions of his family.
All your interviewees evoke their impression of being different from others very early on …
The fact of being confronted with death at a young age sets them apart. But in adolescence, they want to be like the others and especially not to inspire pity. Suddenly, we must avoid talking to them about their situation in front of everyone, so that they do not feel stigmatized.
What many of these children have in common: they show off, have good academic results. As if it was not necessary to add more for the remaining parent …
The child instinctively understands that he needs the parent who remains for his own safety and development. So he does everything not to cause her worry and not to add grief to her. Jean-George Malcor recounts how he returned home early in the evening when he was a teenager, because he knew that his mother did not fall asleep until he was there. In these closed doors which can be oppressive for the child, society has a role to play. The child’s grief must be taken into account by adults other than the remaining parent, who already has their own grief to deal with.
What help could be put in place for these families?
Today, a child who loses a parent returns to school without any protocol specifying the conditions for his return. If he’s in college, his homeroom teacher knows about it, but the others don’t. In kindergarten, we make gifts for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. School support for orphaned children is failing while teachers all of you are faced with this situation. It is necessary to train them. A return-to-school protocol should be put in place so that the information is listed in the child’s school file and that an appointment with the school psychologist is compulsory before he returns to class.
Did some look for a surrogate parent figure to try to fill a little of the void he felt?
Yes, Nicolas Batum has long sought a substitute father in his coaches. Anne Goscinny too, with a doctor, a teacher… Sometimes, it is the grandparents who have taken on a very important role, as for Joann Sfar or Sarah Biasini.
Is the absence of the parent felt more keenly at certain stages of life?
Certain stages invite you to revisit your past and bring back memories. Almost all of them spoke of when they passed their parent’s age when they died. This is the case of Clémentine Autin who, at 33, felt a feeling of hesitation. Nicolas Batum was afraid of dying at the same age as his father. Sarah Biasini also mentioned motherhood, which brought back a lot of memories of her mother, Romy Schneider.
What character traits did this original drama induce in their personality?
The loss of a parent has generated in some an early maturity, a surplus of will, a kind of compensatory energy… When a child is thus exposed to death, he also knows very quickly what he wants in life. The lawyer Hervé Témine evokes it by saying: “I transformed this immeasurable drama into a will which made me go beyond myself”. Nicolas Hulot also quickly took charge and was financially independent at 18 years old. “It allowed me to develop my instinct for survival,” he says. Nicolas Batum explains that he became a basketball player like his father in order to continue his existence. For some, professional success appears to be a kind of revenge. Elie Semoun explains thus having sought the love of the public to fill a gap.
But the pain of losing a parent doesn’t seem to ease over time …
Sarah Biasini sums it up well: “I will never fully recover”. And with Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, who lost his father at 12 when he is 83 today, the pain is still alive. We do not mourn our parent, regardless of their age. The deceased continues to live in himself.
* Growing up with absence, by Elisabeth Bost and Karine Dusfour, Robert Laffont, 20 euros.
** Nicolas Hulot, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, Nicolas Batum, Sarah Biasini, Clémentine Autin, Joann Sfar, Anne Goscinny, Jean-George Malcor, Hervé Témine, Antoine Compagnon, Serge Klarsfeld, Elie Semoun and Cali.