Natascha McElhone Keeps Memory of Late Husband Alive for Sons

06/29/2009 at 01:00 PM ET
Whittle/Kaminski/Splash News Online

Having lost their father at such an early age, Natascha McElhone says she knows that memories of Martin Kelly “will ebb at some point” for the couples’ sons Otis, 6, and Theodore, 8 ½. Fortunately, new baby Rex Coltrane, 8 months, is in a unique position to help. “I think the little one will start to ask questions just at the stage when memories are fading,” Natascha says in a new interview with Red magazine, “and hopefully that will bring them back to life again.” For now, Martin has stayed “very alive” in the 37-year-old actress’ London home. “We talk about him all the time,” she says, adding,

“There are pictures of him everywhere and his office is still exactly as it was. The boys go in there and raid it — they love the fact that they’re not going to get told off.”

Natascha also invokes Martin’s memory when the boys are in need of encouragement, or more recently, when they need to straighten up! “I’ll often say to them ‘That would really make Daddy laugh’ or ‘He’d be so proud of you,’ but the other day my eldest son was being trying,” she recalls. “I said to him, ‘I think Daddy would have a few words to say to you about that.'”

“He was so shocked, because I’ve never used Martin in that way before — it’s always been for positive stuff. But it just came out. I felt dreadful about it, but then I thought, ‘No, that’s probably much more real than always using him to commend. Of course Martin sometimes lost his rag with them — I’d forgotten about that.”

Click below to read about how hormones kept Natascha strong.

On the outside looking in, Natascha’s pregnancy with Rex seems impossibly tough but she says it was just the opposite. “All those hormones are very positive; it must have helped a lot,” she says. “Martin was obsessed with his boys and he so wanted another one. New life does invigorate and keep you engaged.” Settling into the life of a single mom to three boys Natascha admits, however, that her new role can sometimes be “overwhelming;” To that end, she stays focused on “managing the very basic side of life.”

“It’s boring, but it’s the logistics of the roof leaking, mail coming through the door, the kids’ homework, lunch boxes and sports kits. It’s up and down and you’re the only person…But I look after myself and I hope I’m doing okay.”

Noting that ‘there’s no one else on the planet who cares or has the same investment in [the boys]” that she does, Natascha admits there are moments of “feeling hugely responsible,” where she thinks to herself, “I hope I don’t screw up, because it will all be my fault.”

“At the end of each day, I think about everything I’ve done with them and if I’ve been okay. Who knows with kids, but they seem to be doing alright. They’re very loving and great fun, which is the main thing. They howl with laughter.”

When Martin — a plastic surgeon — was still alive, he was able to help shoulder the childrearing load while Natascha filmed Californication in Los Angeles…with varying degrees of success! One day, when their “brilliant nanny slept in and didn’t arrive,” he had to take Theodore and Otis to the office with him. As one of the boys pretended to use breast implants as headphones, chaos ensued. “He was a great dad, but he was in work mode with a queue of women waiting for their consultations,” Natascha laughingly recalls. She has resumed her work schedule since Martin’s death and counts herself “lucky” because the show films during their long school holidays.

“The rest of the time it’s so normal. I’m just ‘Mummy,’ who’s often a pain in the butt but who, thank God, they love. I’m the wallpaper in their lives.”

Source: Red

— Missy

FILED UNDER: News , Parenting

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Alex on

I have to say, I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of using their deceased father’s memory to keep them in line. Each to their own, but that feels really wrong to me.

linney on

you never know until you are put in those shoes, and hopefully i never will be. i think she is doing a beautiful job.

Daisy on

I can imagine Theodore’s surprise at hearing that. I remember a few months after my father died my sister and I were messing around and she took it to the next level were it became an argument and i said “I am going to tell daddy” and we both just sort of stopped in our tracks. The shock soon led to giggles mind you.

I don’t think it’s wrong to ‘use’ Martin in this way. It just reminds them that they have to behave well because their dad is watching if you like. Also, in my experience kids can be quite inquisitive about death so despite the fact that adults tend be extra sensitive about it, it is ok to let them know the reality of the situation they find themselves in.

megan on

Alex, I feel the same way. That may backfire on her eventually : /

Emily on

She seems to say it slipped out once and that was her justification to herself for accidentally saying it so I don’t think there is anything in particular to backfire on her, it doesn’t sound like it is her general discipline strategy. It’s whatever works for her family though, it certainly sounds like she is doing her best.

Valerie on

I think it was a wonderful, inspired thing to say. I loved how she said it was more realistic for the children- for them to think of him being happy, laughing at something they did, and also concerned about any misbehavior.. it keeps his presence alive for them! Beautiful story.

Alex on

Valerie, there are other ways to remember their father than to be guilted into behaving because he might be watching them. These are quite young children, they don’t need that kind of emotional trip. I can understand Natascha saying it accidentally once (we’re all guilty of that), but I just don’t agree with her justification for possibly doing it again. They are already grieving for the loss and the permanent absence, I could just never use that kind of negative reinforcement or ever see it as a positive thing.

Like I said, it’s each to their own, different families operate in different ways, but this just left me feeling really shocked to the point where I audibly gasped when I read it. I don’t really think guilt is a good disciplinary tool, and that’s essentially where this one comes out of.

Other than that, I do have admiration for Natascha and enjoy seeing pictures of the family, she seems to be doing a good job in the wake of such a huge loss.

mp on

I’m with Valerie.

Me on

Well said, Valerie.

Claire on

I have to say that in this interview she never says that their father is watching them. She is gently reminding them of how they’ve been raised.

Stephanie on

I completely agree with Valerie and Claire…really doesn’t seem like she is *using* guilt on her boys, she just said she *felt* guilty at first at having said it at all – and then realized that it was ok to be realistic about their father’s feelings/expectations. I hardly think this would be her constant form of discipline, just a gentle reminder of BOTH their parents expectations of how they should behave. She really seems to be doing a great job!

Tia on

I didn’t take it as guilting them or even saying that their father was “watching” them. She simply reminded them that while he would be proud of their behaviour often, there are also times (like when it slipped out) that he wouldn’t have approved of what they were doing.

I don’t see anything wrong with it or any way that it would “backfire”.

Jacquie on

As an adult who lost her father when she was 5 years old, I think the inclination of the other parent is to give the children a “gilded” view of the deceased parent – like everything they did was great, everything they thought was positive, etc. I think having a more realistic view would be better for the child. If his father was still there he would be taking part in the disciplining along with his mother and now in a way he is. I have to give her kudos – being a single parent to three small children and losing your husband like that is not easy – I watched my mom do it and I pray everyday that I never have to do that.

Grace on

It would be different if she’d said “Daddy would be angry with you for that”. She says “Daddy would be so proud”, and that’s a great, very positive comment, but she’s pointedly NOT doing the flip side of that.

“Daddy would have words with you” isn’t a wholesale condemnation, it’s not a solid statement that the child’s disappointed his dead father. It’s a much more gentle chiding, sort of a reminder to think again about his action more objectively. I think it’s absolutely fine for now.

Amanda on

I agree with Valerie too. She didn’t guilt them, she simply said if what their father would do if he were there. I actually think it’s a great way to keep his memory alive. He did scold them I am sure, that’s just something fathers do sometimes. If all they hear is the ‘good’ things they’ll miss out on the other part too, what their father wished for them and part of that is what he wanted out of their behavior

MZ on

My father died when I was in college, shortly after I got engaged. A different situation then here, but I think it’s similar in a way. My dad was mentally ill and not always a nice person. At his funeral, everyone said these wonderful things about him, which were nice to hear for sure, but I also felt like people were making my dad out to be a saint. We had time for people to come up and share memories, and my fiancee got up. He told everyone that unfortunately, he didn’t have the opportunity to know my dad before he got sick, but that he did love hearing about what my dad was like before, and was sure that he would have loved to have known my dad then, and that he knew my father loved me very much. I appreciated that my fiancee acknowledged that my dad was not perfect, and some of my parents’ friends said the same afterwards.

I don’t think parents out to be deified. Let kids know their parents were human and made mistakes and things. I think it’s a lot healthier in the long run…doesn’t set the kids up to think they could never live up to the deceased parent’s expectations and the like.

Gini on

Well put, MZ. Thank you.

SY on

I completely agree with MZ, my brother passed away when he was 19 yrs old and the only memories my parents have of him are the “idolized” ones. Now that I am a parent I understand where that is coming from, but as the sibling of someone deceased it was a bit grating to hear about all of my brother the saint.

Mallory on

My father died two days after my seventh birthday, and so I don’t really remember anything about him because he spent the ten months before that mostly in the hospital. I have to say, as someone who can directly relate to not having memories of your father, that I appreciated hearing about the kind of father my dad was – both positive and negative. As much as children can idolize their parents, as they get older it’s a good idea not to sugarcoat who they really were. My mom isn’t afraid to tell me that while my dad was an excellent father, he wasn’t always the greatest or most attentive husband. That doesn’t make me think any less of my father. It just makes things more real.

Alex on

This isn’t about deciding to only allow good memories to be saved for the children, it’s how you go about it. And I will never feel that it’s okay to get a child to behave by using a deceased parent’s memory. To be clear, I do not feel that only good memories should be repeated, a child should not grow up thinking their parent was perfect by any means, but there is a line to be drawn IMO and this is it for me. Talk about good things, talk about bad things, but I wouldn’t go this far. On a long term basis (and I’m not suggesting that Natascha is planning on doing this again, I mean in general) this could leave a child with terrible guilt and in the short term be very confusing for them. Neither are things that I personally feel are good for children who have lost a beloved parent.

That said, once again, I think Natascha has a right to raise her boys as she sees fit. And as the (paraphrased) saying goes ‘I may not like what you say, but I will defend your right to say it’. I would never *choose* to discipline a child the way Natascha accidentally did, but I will defend her right to choose to do it.

Amanda on

It’s not about ‘guilting’ a child into behaving by using the memory of their dead father. It’s about reinforcing to the child that even though their father is dead, he had expectations about their behaviour and just because he is no longer with them, that does not mean their behaviour should fall below the required standard.

Slightly different example but a few years ago I was driving in a car with my mum, something happened and I let rip a few expletives. My mother said something along the lines of, “If your Nanna had heard you say that she’d have washed your mouth out with soap, young lady.” It didn’t guilt me into behaving, rather it gave me the mentality that I wanted to adjust my behaviour to a level that would have made my Nanna proud. So now I try to watch my language.

I think it’s perfectly acceptable that if Natasha uses the boy’s fathers memory to praise good behaviour, she should also use his memory to admonish bad behaviour. That way, it works both ways. The children are aware of behaviour their dad would have been proud of and what he would not have been proud of. There is no guilt involved, just an awareness of what would have made their dad happy and proud.

Liv on

I agree with valerie and mz.

Anna on

I think there is nothing wrong with what she said, especially the way she said it. If she would hold it over them every second of the day, than yes it would be wrong.

Every time I read about this family I feel so sorry for them, I can’t imagine losing a husband and father of such young children.

danigirl on

Natasha isn’t guilting them into anything. She is reminding them that daddy would laugh at a moment or be proud of something and also that daddy wouldn’t approve of a behavior or expect a better behavior. It seems very balanced and not manipulative at all. She knows her children best.

Christina Bledsoe on

I admire her. She is in a tough position.

Liliana on

My boyfriend passed away days before I found out I was expecting our first child. From day one, my biggest concern was how I would be able to keep his memory alive for a child who never had the opportunity to meet him. It’s been a rough road but I, with help from family and friends, do whatever it takes to make my son’s father an active part of his life. This has been done through pictures, videos, stories, and surrounding him with people who knew my boyfriend best.

Not a day goes by that my son’s father does not come up in conversation. Usually, I tell him how much something he does reminds me of his dad or how much he would be proud of him. I don’t think Natascha was out of line by telling her son that his father would have an opinion about his behavior. It’s something that slipped out and when you’re actively trying to keep an individual’s memory alive, these things happen. It’s true that when an individual dies, people focus on the positive aspects of their being and, at times, elevate them to a saintly status. Although this is nice, I’m a firm believer that that given individual should be recognized as a person; faults and all. Since my son is still young, he doesn’t know all the components that were his father but I’m sure he’ll question things more as he gets older and I will be honest with him. Does that mean I’m going to call my boyfriend out on every wrong doing and degrade him? Absolutely not. But I will teach my son that everyone makes mistakes but what’s most important is how you learn from them and bettering yourself by doing so.

I wish Natascha and her sons nothing but the best of luck in life!

eva on

My daughter often asks me what her father’s opinion or take would be on the things she’s doing now,even when she’s not on her best behaviour.When she realizes why privileges are taken or we have a stern talk she comes to me and asks me “do you think daddy would be mad at me?” and my answer usually is “I think daddy would have agreed with me,because he wanted you to grow up the best way possible and so do I”.I don’t have it in me to say that her father would be mad at her,it hurts me to even think about it,but I do try to keep it realistic and sure,I am confident that we would have gone about the same way to discipline our child.

K was too little when my husband died to remember him at all but she is guards his memory fiercely and constantly.Her daddy is a very important topic of conversation and I don’t think I’ve done anything besides the obvious talks,pictures and mementos to keep his memory alive.I think K feels him close to her and when she was younger she would talk to his portrait outloud.She might idolize him a little,but she does that with me and most adults in the family.I plan to be honest with her when she’s old enough to hear about her daddy’s (and mommy’s) wild past. She takes comfort in knowing that her daddy adored her and needs nothing beyond that for now. When she asks more, I’ll say more.

fuzibuni on

nothing wrong with what natascha said at all. the boys must miss their father’s guidance… even when he got upset with them. Its good for them to think about how he would have looked upon their behavior.

Terri on

That’s very sweet how she keeps her children’s father’s memory alive by sharing who he was.

Sue on

Sometimes when I have a disagreement with my daughter she says, “I wish Daddy was here!” I quickly fire back, “So do I, because he wouldn’t approve of what you are doing and it would be nice if he could back me up.” I never bring Daddy up as a way to discipline her, but if SHE brings it up, I’ll go there. The way I see it, she is is trying to GUILT ME into changing my mind about something she doesn’t like, and it won’t work with me.

Emma on

I think Natascha is doing a brilliant job under terrible circumstances. I see nothing wrong in what she said (and remember, she didn’t even plan to say it). I don’t see that she’s using Dad’s memory to make the children feel guilty – she’s just reminding them that Daddy would have agreed with her on discipline. It’s not like “win that race at sports day because Daddy will be watching and be sad if you lose” – that’s wrong but this is totally different.