I’m a Widow and a Mom — and Trying to Be Both at Once Can Feel Impossible
By Jennifer Doelle Young
Photo © caitlinrheaphotos/Twenty20
Feb 19, 2020
I used to think parenting was hard.
Exhaustingly, mind-bogglingly hard — the most difficult undertaking imaginable. And then I became a widow at 45 and a solo mom of two kids. Suddenly, parenting was no longer just hard. It seemed impossible.
I’ve always loved being a mother. Despite the sleep deprivation and messy body fluids, the tantrums and arguments, the worrying and tough choices, I treasured the precious moments, the unquestioning trust, the unconditional love. It was something I took immense pride in, a defining aspect of my identity.
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But that was when I had a partner. Together, we were a formidable team. My husband was an amazing father; fun and exuberant, he embraced life with his whole heart and was relentless in the pursuit of his goals. As the more cautious one, I balanced him out with my level-headed and methodical nature. No matter what challenges we faced over our 27 years together, we knew we could count on each other, through the difficult choices, the major crises and the everyday messes of life. We had each other’s backs. And the kids knew we had theirs.
And then, in one horrible, devastating moment, I lost my life partner and my best friend — and the kids lost their father.
Though we were surrounded by our loving, supportive family, I still felt so alone without him. His absence was larger than life, a huge, dark void that swallowed me whole. Even worse was contemplating my children’s loss. Who was going to teach my son to shave, or hold my daughter in a strong, protective bear hug? Who was going to love, guide, and shield them in that fiercely all-encompassing way only their father did?
"[...]I berated myself for not being all the things that he was: joyful, unafraid, strong."
And the worst question that plagued me every waking moment: How could I ever be enough for them?
Broken and incomplete, our little family of 3 limped forward, trying to pick up the pieces of a life that no longer existed. We had not only lost the pillar of our family, we lost our home, our security, our future dreams. All the while, I worried about what this would do to my children, how it would irrevocably damage them to not have their loving father coming home to them every evening, waking them with kisses every morning.
And at the same time, I berated myself for not being all the things that he was: joyful, unafraid, strong. Instead, I was fraught with fear of our now unknown future, a heartbroken shadow of my former self. What could I possibly teach them about life when I felt like I could barely carry myself forward?
So I concentrated on doing the only thing I could: rebuilding our life and loving them with all of my heart, trying to pile on two parents’ worth of love when I didn’t know how to fix anything else. The weight of their grief, added to my own, was a heavy, sacred burden. I carried it as often as I could, but inevitably, I would stumble under all that responsibility, no one to cushion the fall.
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On those days, when my kids saw me at my grief-stricken, nonfunctioning worst, I felt as if I was failing them, that I was failing my husband. But looking back, I know they were watching each time that I dragged myself up out of that hole, swiping away the tears and self-pity, and continuing moving forward.
With time, we settled into a new rhythm. Slowly, I figured out how to repair things, how to make big decisions on my own, how to trust my gut, how to live again. I focused on my strengths as a mom, but I also learned how to cut my son’s hair the way his father did, embraced sporty activities with my daughter the way her athletic dad used to and always, always regaled them with stories of how their father lived, what he believed in and the kind of man he was.
The kids are thriving now, and I have learned to be kinder to myself. As long as I do my best every day and they know that I have their backs, I think maybe I can be enough for them. I will never be able to replace their dad; he left a hole that cannot and should not be filled. But I try to keep him present in our lives and infuse my own life lessons with the values that were so dear to him. That way, I know that even though he is no longer physically here, his imprint is forever on our kids. And right now, that is more than enough.
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