I am honestly not even certain what this has to do with being widowed, but it sure as hell has to do with death and loss and trauma and fear. Often times, I begin writing not knowing what will come and find that what needed to be cleansed comes to the surface on its own. I suppose, as someone who is learning to mother the child of a widowed person, it may relate for someone out there. I hope so. Either way, it seems this is what my soul needed to say today.
These past 2 years, I’m learning to mother a young girl who lost her mom a few years ago, and all the while I’m working through my own fears and the ghosts of my own past having lost my mother young as well. Maybe this is all coming up because we just had Mother’s Day and Mike wrote this heart-wrenchingly beautiful post last week about my role in Shelby’s life. Either way, I guess this is what needed to come out for me this week...
I had no idea just how much having a child in my life would bring up all of my own unresolved stuff from my childhood. It makes sense now, but I was truly and completely clueless when I first stepped into this shit (I am imagining every parent smiling right now). To say the least, it is both an incredibly healing and immensely painful process of unraveling pieces of my own heart day by day. Pieces that have been dormant for many years. Some of this stuff I didn’t even know was there.
Letting a child in has proven to be the very scariest kind of openhearted vulnerability that I’ve ever attempted. Guys, this shit is HARD. And it isn’t hard because she is a difficult kid. She makes it so easy on me. It’s hard cecause of course, you can’t really get by with being half-connected or faking it. Kids know. And I know deep down, I have to try my hardest to push past my not-so-great coping mechanisms and my own past trauma to be there for her.
I constantly battle my own expert abilities to disconnect from her… a tactic I learned well with all the death in my young life. Disconnected meant safer from pain. It’s taken years to learn to let people in, and most relationships I still keep some level of disconnect. Simply put, it is very easy for me to be a loner. So while my loner self is fighting tooth and nail to stay in her nice, tidy, safe little corner of disconnection, the rest of my heart is dragging her along, telling her to get with the times.
I’m certain I can’t be alone in this. In fact, I imagine being a widow raising your kids on your own must bring up whole new levels of desire to disconnect and a need for even deeper connection now that the other parents isn’t there.
After a few years and now almost nine months of living as part of a family instead of alone, I’ve come to realize that the threat of loss is so great inside me - buried so very deep - that I’m having to open my heart very, very slowly and gently.
Death is never far from my mind... and I’ve now doubled that threat by having not only a new man, but also a little girl in my world. I now have the underlying fear that I will die, and she will have lost not only her original mother, but her new one. I mean how shitty would that be? I have the knowing that I can’t really control that either, and that I have no idea how long I will even live for. There is also the reverse fear of something happening to her because, as we all now know, anything could happen. I know far too many mothers who have lost children now for that to be something my mind can ignore.
I don’t dwell on these things. They aren’t necessarily in the forefront of my mind daily or causing total breakdowns. They are more like ocean currents inside me - swirling and twisting under the surface of me in a slow, invisible, fluid dance. On the surface, the waters usually seem calm. For her, I hope they seem calm and inviting more times than not, as I try my hardest to hold my heart open to her while I work on myself.
But there is no doubt an underlying push-pull of resistance under the surface. It’s taken me two years now to begin to understand what’s going on inside me. For a long time, I was afraid it was because I didn’t want this, or that there was something wrong with me because I sometimes felt myself emotionally withdrawing from her. I was afraid to even voice this fear because it seemed so awful to me.
As we grow closer, I can begin to see, it isn’t that at all. It is the fear of vulnerability, which is ultimately the fear of pain from loss. In a way, she represents the very biggest threat to that fearful part of me. Moments of true openhearted love between she and I are often countered with a surge of fear inside me. And then the withdrawal and the trying to push through it or ride it out. By now, I can tell what’s going on there and know well enough to be mindful of how I am acting towards her during those times when I am feeling a desire to disconnect.
I’ve been dealing with this lately by making sure to give myself quality time alone, but also to begin to do small things that create connection between she and I and push me out of my comfort zone. Time alone helps me feel safe and secure and settles those currents when they start to get stormy. Time spent mindfully connecting with her when I’d rather go to my safe place though, is equally good for me, and us.
The latter is slowly getting easier and more natural for me over time. The other day I read something about the benefits of good, long, awesome hugs for kids. It stuck in my mind and I started to notice that sometimes my hugs with her can be quite half-hearted as a result of my own discomfort and my own desires to withdraw to that safe place of disconnect. I’m already not very affectionate as a person… and prefer to initiate affection myself…. Which doesn’t really work when you have a ten year old that likes to hide around corners of the house and hug attack you at will!
It may seem like a small thing, but to me it’s a small thing I can easily do better at that will make a big difference in her world. So I’m trying to be a better hugger. To make sure my hugs with her really count. Hug tighter. Hug longer. Hug with more of me. And when she hug-attacks and I just want to get her off me because being caught off guard makes me uncomfortable... I will just hug her right back. Because, after all, who knows how long any of us have on this earth? I shouldn’t let my own fear or discomfort get in the way of loving and loving well. I can already tell, hugging through the fear is the very best thing for soothing that fear away.
I could have never imagined the journey this kid would take me on. The ways in which she would call forth the best of me despite my fears of being that person. The ways in which we would challenge some of my most deep-seated fears and false beliefs about myself, childhood, and motherhood. I guess that’s what having kids does for most people though… mine is just happening with a ten year old instead of a newborn. More and more, as time goes on, I am so grateful for the things that she is teaching me about who I am and who I have the capacity to be. She really has made me a more beautiful person.