Parenting is both overwhelmingly rewarding, and unrelentingly challenging. Some days we glow with pride at the accomplishments of our little angels; other days we may wonder how our best laid plans went awry. Sharing parental duties with a wonderful partner definitely helps manage the roller coaster ride we call parenthood…there is someone to discuss options with, another person who loves the kids as much you do to listen to your rant about their current behavior, an additional carpool driver, and someone else to go over the math homework.
But for widowed parents the time we have to raise our children with the person we love is cut tragically short. For widowed people with children the common concerns of parenthood are eclipsed by the shadow of grief. Questions of which diaper to use are replaced by fears of whether our kids will remember mommy or daddy. Some children’s first written words are, “Why did my daddy or mommy have to die?” Nine year olds may apply the extra emotion of loss to the smallest disappointment leading to angry tantrums fueled by missing their other parent. Teenage angst, scary territory under the best of circumstances, is greatly complicated by the tumult of death and loss. Perhaps the heaviest weight for widowed parents to carry is the fact that we often provide the road map for our children that shows them how to grieve. Do we cry? Do we say our loved one's name? Do we remember aloud? Do we continue our regular routines? Do we shut down, speed up, or spin in place?
I am continually amazed at the fact that widowed parents must survive the searing pain of losing a partner, and also assume the role of only parent. Each family’s route to healing is unique, but some common themes may help pave the way. Seek a compassionate family counselor. Join a group that addresses death and grief in age appropriate forums. Find ways to help your children store their memories. Honestly access your financial situation. Accept help when it is offered. Know that you have limits and you have needs. Allow your friends and family to drive carpool, help with homework, and buy groceries; they want to help. Try to arrange time away from the kids to sob and rage without witnesses. Cry in the shower. Know that children grieve in a new way at every developmental stage. Live in the moment and try to let tomorrow take care of itself. And finally, laugh, play, paint, watch a funny movie, blow bubbles~ let the inherent joy of your children be a balm for your family soul.