Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Think of the Children

I feel compelled to finish this blog with a few more posts that relate to multiple losses and secondary grief losses. I am taking a break from blogging and am not sure where that will lead me. Perhaps I'll return or start a new widowhood blog. But I feel I have to have address these topics one final time in the event that I don't resume posting. These were issues that I wanted to emphasize in this blog and I have had trouble finding much out there about them specifically. I really believe that they are aspects of grief that get short changed or overlooked.

For me, the secondary grief losses, all those losses that came after my husband's death, were far more difficult for me to endure than his actual death. Maybe there needs to be some greater recognition of this in the literature and with grief counseling because I really struggled with the loss of my identity as a wife, the huge financial problems that came afterward, having to parent on my own, managing a household, having to go back to work, etc. I could go on and on with examples but you get the idea. The secondary losses can include loss of your social network, financial security, your home and so on.

I really lacked the skills and ability to some extent to navigate life as a middle-aged, widowed mom. Then there was the terrible loss of expectations/dreams. As parents in mid-life, my husband and I were reaching the point where we saw more opportunities to strengthen our personal relationship. My husband was 10 years older than I and we were contemplating his retirement to coincide with the boys going off to college. The thought and reality of me now having to get these boys through college on my own is so daunting and overwhelming, I sometimes feel like collapsing under the heavy weight that reality brings me.

I suppose it is all relative. Some are fortunate to have families providing moral, emotional and even financial support. For me, the absolute most difficult loss to endure through all of this, has been the realization that I really don't have a family to rely on. My husband was an only child and his out-of-state family has been invisible - not one gift or card for the boys since their father's death from their paternal grandmother or any paternal family member.

The lack of gifts doesn't matter to me. It has been the lack of any kind of familial emotional support. That has what I have really wanted - that is what helps restore and rebuild me. It is what helps prop me up when the going really gets tough.

My mother was my rock. Throughout my husband's illness and death she provided me with restoring words that were such a comfort and motivator. She wasn't perfect - she said a few insensitive things but overall, she was there listening, trying to understand and coming back with compassionate feedback. Just her acknowledgment that there were times it was hard for me, gave me strength. Once she observed, "You have it all resting on your shoulders." That is all she said. She didn't pity me or try to make it all better. She just honestly observed what was and that was very helpful to me. She didn't judge me. Her death in 2007 was a huge and painful loss for me. I greatly miss her and am thankful she was there for me as long as she was.

Other than my mom, I can't think of too many people who've ever said much to me on a positive note. I can think of two examples. A PTA mom who just shook her head after my youngest was going through his medical diagnosis of Long QT Syndrome (heart arrhythmia). She commented that I had had to endure more than anyone should have to experience. Then there was a dad from school who made a point of seeking me out and saying that I had done right by my boys. But there were so many more criticisms and negative comments - they kind of negated the good that resulted when somebody said something nice or encouraging.

I think that people suspect that widows/widowers want some kind of pity party when they talk or bring up their grief. But I know that all I want is some recognition for my life as it is and a little bit of encouragement for my trying to hang in there as best I can. Let me tell you, a little goes a long, long way!

My divorce absolutely devastated me. The best way I can describe it is as though you are getting hit in the knees with a club just as you're trying to stand back up again from a horrendous fall. The loss of my home and moving has been another tough load to bear. They say that experiencing loss makes you stronger and better able to deal with future adversity. But for me having to go through the divorce so soon after my husband's and mom's death was not strengthening. I was already depleted and worn out with grief. I hadn't rebuilt my energy or capability to deal with adversity. So when the divorce came, I was in little and poor shape to face it or cope with it.

Same with the house. I just endured the divorce battle and then had to jump right into selling and moving from my home to an apartment. It was physically and emotionally damaging and almost unbearable to face and get through. Again, a lot of criticism, virtually no support. The feeling of having no one to fall back on or rely on even a little has been the most devastating aspect of my grief. In the end, that is what it has come down to. It must relate to those primal feelings of being an infant and having to totally trust our caregivers. There is terror in the fear of not being card for and not surviving. Personally, for me, having to face the death of my husband, then a divorce and the loss of my home while parenting on my own has been its own terror because I have felt so alone. Sometimes it feels to me that that is how it might feel to die alone. To know that there isn't really anyone out there rooting for you, caring for you or wishing you well.

That has been my biggest cross to bear.

What I hope to convey here is that it is not just the actual loss of a loved one. It can be so much more and there can be numerous additional losses following a death that impact a widow/widower and families that are far reaching and very complicated. It is not a cut and dry situation. With that said, I think it is important that I add that I have come to believe that it really does take a village to raise children. For those of us without significant support networks, it is a challenging job on our own. I just hope these words get transmitted out there into the Universe to do some good here. I just want people to know and remember that withholding support, or being negative and critical to the poor widow/widower ends up filtering down to the kids. In the end, it is the poor father or motherless children that bear the brunt of all of this.

Please think of and remember the kids here. Through no fault of their own they've been dealt a blow and now their main support is an overworked, grieving parent doing their best to navigate an often hostile and less than sympathetic world. Give them a break. And give the parents a break. As I said earlier, a little kindness goes a long way.


  1. Dear Friend:

    This has been my greatest angst since becoming a widow -- my children's lack of persons, males, committed to mentoring and being a part of their lives. Oh, they were around for a bit, making all the promises, but when it came down to the nitty-gritty, gone!! I was in a network of home-schoolers which is very much family oriented - 2 parents involved, etc., etc. I was the first casualty of widowhood that any had experienced. I really thought these families would rally around, but no!! I even went to the church that my children were involved with, the youth group and such, home-schooling friends, and talked with the pastors and asked for help, mentors. No response. Some would come a couple of times and then no sign of them -- no explanation, nothing. Some of my children have lost their trust in people's word. I know I have. I handle being a widow o.k., but when it comes to my children, I WANT TO SCREAM!!!! But noone seems to hear.

    You are not alone in your feelings and I am sorry that you lost your mom, that support system we all desperately need. I am fortunate that my parents moved close to us, but their health has been rapidly declining since my husband's death and so I don't want to put alot on them.

    I so want you to find the support you need. I will pray. And if you ever need to share, write on one of my posts and we can figure a way to get e-mail addresses.

    Much love and care for you!

  2. I am grateful there is someone else out there who understands the absolute angst, anger and frustration this issue brings me. I also totally know what you mean about your dear folks. Mine were able to help a little with babysitting the first year after my husband's death and it was a Godsend! But their health failed very rapidly and sometimes I believe that my husband's death may have contributed to their overall stress. I'm going to post again today about stress - in taking a vacation from this blog I keep finding I have "One more thing to say." Anyway, my personal email is "livingandrea@aim.com" and anyone is invited to reach me there during my time out. I probably will post on the blog I started about my financial decline in the meantime.

    About our children. I wish there was more recognition out there about the crumbling effects of a parent dying on the kids, as well as the entire family network. I think there need to be more supports for families in place within our communities and I'm not sure why they are really lacking. And I guess right now there are more urgent matters on everyone's plates, what with the economy a mess and people homeless, etc. But it really is a shame that the kids get overlooked and in my opinion are the real victims in the end.