Today is my Dad’s birthday. It’s hard to believe he died 8 years ago. That eight entire years have passed, and so much more living has happened for me, since he died. It’s hard to believe I’ve been without any parents now for eight years. But it’s amazing to see where things have gone in my life since his death. Not only the good, but also the challenges and hardships. Not only have those struggles taught me more about myself, they’ve taught me so much more about my dad. You see, he was also widowed. It was a journey I never expected to go on that horrible day when I got the phone call that my fiance was killed in the accident. A journey of walking in my father’s footsteps in so very many ways. Of being able to see with new eyes the depth of his love for me.
My dad struggled with depression and alcoholism for most of his life. I watched it periodically destroy him, and strain our relationship in such complex ways over the years. But for a time, when I was between the age of 9 and 17, he was sober. He went to AA meetings weekly. And though I wouldn’t quality our life as normal or healthy by any means, he did create some semblance of stability in my life at a time when his had fallen apart.
The catalyst of his sobriety? My mom’s death. I don’t quite know how it all went down… whether he had begun to stop before she died, or after, or what the main motivator was. I wish today I could ask him those questions. I wish I could know… how on earth did you stop drinking? How on earth, when the love of your life had been ripped from you, and you were certainly plagued with guilt for how your addictions created unhappiness in your marriage and family…. How?
I do not know how to be a Dad.
I believe that most who know me would refer to me as “capable.” Since Ben died, I think I have adequately learned how to manage things I have never before needed to know how to do. I have learned how to bank online, get my vehicle repaired, hang a picture using a level and hammer instead of the heel of my shoe, use a drill, update the computer and now, as of tonight, I know how to re-hook up the Apple TV.
I did not have to do any of those things in my real life because, after 25 years together, Ben and I had come up with a division of labour that worked for us. Bills, banking, electronics and cars were Ben’s job. Appointments, sports scheduling, registrations, keeping an eye on the kids' social media, yard work … those were my jobs. We were good at our jobs, and that division of labour made us both happy. (Plus, I never had to worry about paying the bills after I spent the money.)
Since Ben died, I feel as though I slid as seamlessly as could reasonably be expected into those foreign roles that I never wanted, and I think I have done a fairly decent job for the most part. I haven’t yet lost all our money, I’ve managed to pay the bills on time, and currently everything in the house is in decent working condition, including this computer. I think Ben would be proud of me.
But here’s the thing ….Read more
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.
My sister came to visit last weekend, and we went out for a girls night to see that movie Bad Moms. It’s the first time in my life I could relate to such a movie… and to parts of my sister’s life, having raised three children herself. The movie was hilarious, we laughed so hard, and it felt so good to finally just have some girl time together.
At the end of the movie, the actresses sat down with their own moms to do little outtakes. Sharing old funny stories and memories of motherhood. Laughing and crying and bonding together. And of course, here we are, two sisters without a mom, watching all we have missed out on with our own mother being gone 25 years now. Insert ticking time bomb of grief here.
I sucked it up that night, trying not to here the tick, tick, ticking. "Eh, it's nothing new, just let it slide off your back" I said to myself. Sure. Because that works.
Mike asked a few times in the days following if everything was okay, because I was noticeably a bit bitchy. I shrugged it all off, thinking I am just overly tired. But I wasn’t just overly tired. I had a time bomb of grief inside me. For my mom. And for every single moment of the day that I want to be able to call her and vent, or ask her advice about mom stuff, or just share and feel “normal”.
When I finally unloaded to Mike, the tears welling up in my eyes, he acknowledged that it must be really really hard to be helping to raise a child without your own mom’s guidance. Time bomb activated! I burst into tears. I try my hardest on a daily basis to just not feel this truth, because it sucks, and it isn't going to change. But there are new layers now, that I never was challenged with before. Like the feeling that I am somehow less capable of mothering because I lost my mom so young. That somehow her death has created a deficit for me.
Here I am, 33 years old, with an instant 9 year old to care for, no mom, and no clue what I am doing. And this shit sucks. Because now I am grieving for my mom all over again, and also trying to parent. And I just do not know... how the hell do you grieve and parent all at the same time?
My mother, daughter, and girlfriend have all lost their own mothers at a young age, all to different illnesses. Each of their moms had to stare their own mortality square in the eye, and hope for the best for their daughters. They did everything they could to love and protect their little ones in the time they had, but ultimately, they had no choice but to leave them to grow up without their biological mother.
Tuberculosis, Cancer, and Cystic Fibrosis. Those are the diseases that took my mom, Sarah, and Shelby’s mothers, each before their daughters were even ten years old. Though each is of a different generation and time in their life, they have all needed to learn how to become a mother after losing their own biological mother. They each picked up surrogate mothers along the way. Friends of the family, adoptive parents, neighbors, teachers, and other relatives were all able to form part of the village it takes.
But none had their biological mothers. I can’t begin to fathom that.Read more
Photo: Circus skills class
As this pregnancy draws closer to the end, I’ve found myself thinking about how different John’s early childhood’s been from what Ian and I had wanted – particularly what I’ve done and how I’ve engaged with John as a mother.
We all have grand plans of the childhood we hope to give our kids. Play dates, sports activities, educational outings, visits to library readings, heading to the playground all sit in on the plan – whatever falls within our means financially and time availability. And often our wishes don’t fit our means.
In hindsight, widowhood has also had an impact. In some ways, it’s given me the means to provide John with these activities than I possibly would have had. I put some of Ian’s estate aside to pay for activities, and by studying part time rather than working, have had the time to give him.
But simply getting out of the house. Socialising with other parents.
That’s been much tougher.
And it doesn’t help I wasn’t the most social creature before Ian died, let alone after.Read more
I’m naturally a person who likes to have a few things on the go at once. Hence I’m currently combining solo parenting and John’s various activities, studying and a pregnancy, plus involvement at the leadership level of a community organisation.
I’d not say I’m making a success of being busy (2 finals this week and I am WAAAAY under-prepared), but I like idea of having things that need to be done and places to be. It stops me from feeling unproductive and lazy.
You’d have thought the crash-and-burn of trying to maintain a similar load in the first 9 months after Ian died would have taught me a lesson in moderation.
i met another one.
this time, holding
a baby just
a few days past
a month old.
she was pregnant
when her husband died.
What do you see when you look at this picture? I see love, fun, teamwork, happiness. A couple of years ago this picture, as happy as it is, would have made me sad. I would have seen sadness, loss, something missing. Unexpectedly, I am finally able to see what is there instead of always focusing on what or who is not. It's huge. It also happened without me noticing the subtle difference.Read more