Confessions of a Widowed Parent

I didn’t sign up for this

Although I guess I did, because the marriage vows were “’till death we do part.”

I married my high school sweetheart. We didn’t rush into the marriage. We took time to get our educations and establish ourselves sufficiently to have a good future before we made our vows. Like any couple, we didn’t agree about everything and we had our arguments. But no matter what, we were always best friends. After I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis toward the end of 1999, I was a nervous wreck about the future. I remember vividly how he looked when he hugged me on our couch and reassured me that no matter what happened we would deal with it together because, “Without you, I’m not me.”  It was a sentiment he would repeat to me frequently when I needed to hear it. We had 3 children, and though MS complicated things, we dealt with it. Together.

Then, on a Wednesday night as Chris drove home from the train station after work, a drunk driver was speeding down a local main road just a few blocks from our house. That man blew through a red light and slammed into the driver side door of my husband’s minivan. As a detective who showed up at our house soon afterwards informed me, “He did not survive his injuries.”

At that horrifying moment I became a single parent.

Parenting is never easy

If you’ve ever had a child, babysat a child, or even been a child, then you already know that it can be a nail-biting, nerve-wracking, incredibly stressful experience. Starting off as part of a parenting team and then being launched into solo parenting because death stole your partner… Brutal doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I always write what’s true for me, even when it’s about tough stuff, and this is all pretty rough. Yet I know that if I feel this way, then there are other people out there feeling the same, and it’s good to know we’re not alone. Or maybe you have a friend in this type of situation and this may shed some light on how they are likely feeling.

In my experience, people don’t really want to hear from me or anybody else about the hard, ugly stuff that lingers. They’d rather classify me as ‘strong’ and ‘doing great. No one wants to hear about how my heart is broken, life is hard, and I miss my husband so much I could scream.

Single-Mom Comparisons

I’m a single mom but there is a difference between a person parenting solo because of choice, divorce, or death. Some people make the active choice to adopt or utilize the services of a fertility clinic in order to become a single parent.   Some couples choose to end their pairing for any other variety of reasons. The courts make them work out a plan for custody, finances and decision making. It can be very ugly, but at least to some degree it’s always intentional.

The former partner of a single parent’s partner is statistically still in the picture to some degree. Even when the other parent is irresponsible or horrible, he or she exists …as in, they’re not just a headstone and a memory.

There are a lot of songs about love lost for all different reasons, but “Don’t Wanna Write This Song: by Brett Young really captures it for me,

The chorus explains:

Maybe the hardest part
‘Cause we didn’t break this heart
Nobody cheated or lied
I still have to live with goodbye
But how can I just move on?
I’ve loved you for way too long
I don’t want to admit that you’re gone
I don’t wanna write this song
Don’t wanna write this song

 

Widowed people don’t choose this path.  A widowed parent has to deal with their own grief and that of their children, immediately shoulder all responsibility, stay sane and try to simultaneously raise decent human beings.

Please don’t get me wrong, this is not some twisted “whose situation sucks more” competition, and there is no award package. Any single parent has obstacles to deal with and many challenges to face. It’s just the fact that those challenges differ based on the reason someone is a single parent.

I miss my husband; I miss their father

My husband and I were really a great team at so many things in the 29 years we shared. Our kids were aged 12, 9 and just-turned 8 when Chris was killed. He and I shared the same attitude about parenting, the same goals for our family. We navigated the rocky shores of parenthood together, even when my physical disability complicated everything. We took care of one another and we took care of our children.

It is one of the nasty facts of life that multiple sclerosis and stress are not good together. In the months after my husband was killed, I was in the hospital multiple times because the MS worsened significantly. I had to advocate for myself medically while supporting and encouraging my young children, and coordinating every detail of their lives. Did I mention that about 5 years before that time I also had to give up driving? So, I am not exaggerating one bit when I say every little detail had to be coordinated with care.

My kids are older now, (2 teenagers and one who recently turned 20), but the responsibilities I have toward them are no less stressful. Now I worry about one of them driving, 2 of them working, college choices and potential career paths, high school stress, social and psychological consequences of living in a pandemic and all of the other typical parenting worries. I still compulsively second-guess my choices and my decisions. I am always conscious of the fact that they are not just my children – they’re Chris’ children, too. He was a phenomenal Dad. They’re his living legacy, and I’m entrusted with that legacy. It magnifies the pressure that every parent already feels.

Restful sleep? What’s that?

There is no escape

I have seen advice given to widowed people that they should get out and do things. Well, MS has me trapped in my house. That layers on top of the frustration of not being able to do enough for my kids. It also makes my day-to-day even more stressful sometimes. Sometimes I really just want to get an iced coffee and go to the park or to the boardwalk. Nope, not a possibility at all. Can’t go out for dinner, can’t get a drink in a bar, can’t go to a spa for the weekend – even if there was no pandemic.

Chris and I were always going away for the weekend, doing getaways and planning things. Even after we had kids, and even after the MS interrupted our lives, we were still always going somewhere and doing something. He always made it possible. I feel like I’ve been perpetually, unfairly grounded by grief, responsibility and disability.

Most days, I’m a mental or emotional wreck at some point .

Our house is in pretty good shape, my bills are paid and my kids have food to eat. My kids are all in school. I’m starting the last semester of getting my master’s degree through an excellent University. I have a blog website and a personal brand I am proud of, and am closing in on the end of year 1 of a 5 year plan for it.

But each and every day I struggle to make sense of the crazy world in which we all live, and the surreal, emotionally painful existence that now is my own. Chris always told me I was the strong one, even though he was my rock. When he was with me, I was always confident that somehow everything would be alright. I no longer have that confidence.

Confession … There are times that I wish our relationship had been less than what it was, because then maybe I wouldn’t still be dealing with this gaping hole – this constant, underlying sense that when the drunk driver took Chris, he simultaneously took half of me. I miss him so damn much.

February is coming

I think for a widowed person February, the month of Valentine’s Day, can add a special twinge to whatever grief or sadness may still be with you. Chris and I met a few days before Valentine’s Day, started dating exclusively a few days after, got married on that same date years later. Our son was born in February. And he died in February.

Basically, February is the hardest month of the year for me to deal with emotionally. It might be the same for you, or maybe another month is your hardest. Whatever days are toughest for you, please know that although nobody can replace a loved one you have lost, there are people who understand the burning of grief, and a burden shared is lessened, even if just a little bit.

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