What it is really like to be a widowed parent

Being a widowed parent is definitely its’ own type of parenting.

First there are all the difficult questions I have to answer.

“Why is my Daddy in Heaven?

“How come I don’t have a Daddy here?”

“How come my friends have Daddies and I don’t?’

And then come the questions from my daughters preschool friends which are trickier to answer because I am aware that not all families follow the same belief system I do (which is somewhere between “Lasped Catholicism”and Agnostic with some Buddhist tendencies mixed in).  Most of her friends ask questions that are innocent enough though one classmate asked me about her absent father in a very accusatory tone.

Then there is the feeling of being inadequate and overcompensating.

Like I am not enough for her.

My daughter started out life with two whole parents.

And now my daughter is left with one parent.

One parent who has to be two whole parents while she is broken herself.

Because on top of having to be Mom and Dad, I was and still am dealing with grief.

When Bryon was alive, we were a team.  His job had more demanding hours so I usually did daycare drop off and pick up.  But every Tuesday, I had a late night meeting so Bryon picked our daughter up from daycare.

When our daughter was sick, we coordinated who took sick days based on our work schedules.

But now it’s just me.  All the sick days are mine.  All the daycare pick ups and drop offs are mine.  All the lessons, doctors appointments, school functions and birthday parties are completely my responsibility.

As hard as widowed parenting is, I do a pretty good job with that.  (Especially since I work remotely and my hours are flexible.  I am very grateful for my job.)

I like to think I rock this widowed parenting thing.

I am proud of it.

I work very hard at it.  My daughter might be growing up without her father but I am going to make sure she gets the same opportunities she would have had had Bryon  lived.

The price I pay is that I don’t get much “me” time but I will get that when my daughter goes off to college.

Or maybe sooner, like when she becomes a teenager and decides I am not cool anymore.

But despite rocking widowed parenthood, nights like last night still throw me off my widowed parenting game.

The night started out innocently enough.

My daughter was in dance class, learning a new ballet routine.  She was corrected by her dance teacher.  It was for something innocent enough like her stance.

She didn’t like being corrected by her teacher and verbalized that.

Her teacher told her she needed go sit with me.  My daughter let out another verbal statement of defiance toward her teacher and she flops on the ground.

This is not okay.

I go to pick her up because it isn’t fair to her classmates or her teacher to have her flopping on the floor like a two-year-old.

My daughter gets more upset.

I try to calm her down.

She begins to get even more upset that she is missing class.

I try to calm her down so she can return to class.

We leave the room.  We go to the bathroom and she washes her face.

She says she has boogers which is usually the sign that she has calmed down and just needs to blow her nose.

She blows her nose and we go back to class.

She gets more hysterical about the part of class that she had missed.

I decide it’s time to go home but her teacher wants to make another go at my daughter joining class.

I decide that if her teacher is up for it, then maybe we can salvage what little bit of time we had left in dance class.

My daughter calms down initially but she gets riled up again.

I decide it’s time to go home and try again next week and she goes into full melt down.

My daughter is generally a pretty easy going kid.  She does struggle with transitions, especially when I am picking her up from school during an activity she enjoys.  I get it.  She is having fun and doesn’t want to leave.  Her teacher is aware and prepares her for any early arrivals.

She struggles to sleep at nap time so maybe she was tired.

She has a cold so maybe that was it.  I know I am an emotional mess when I feel sick.

Maybe she was hungry but unlikely.  She is very good about vocalizing that need to me.

But I do know that when my daughter gets mad, she gets MAD.  I am very similar. I have a strong personality and Bryon had an even stronger personality.  So it makes sense that she has a strong personality.

Someday her strong personality will serve her well.  Especially when she is older and is aware of that personality trait and is able to use her strong personality to her benefit.

But at this particular moment, her strong personality was causing a major disruption to dance class.

At this point some of the other parents are glaring at me probably because, clearly, their kid has never had a public meltdown.

Some of the other mothers were trying to help me which stressed me out even more.

Because at that very moment, I just wanted to curl up in the fetal position and cry.

I couldn’t just carry my daughter out to the car because it’s nearly December and we live in Upstate New York.

But she was melting down and there was no way I could get a coat on her.

I was so embarrassed.

Completely mortified really.

All the pride I feel about rocking widowed parenthood goes out the window and as well as my confidence in my parenting skills.

I am not sure I can show my face in the dance studio again.

In a room full of people, I never felt so alone.

Because that is what widowed parenting is.  Being alone.

I do not have Bryon to take over for me or run interference.

Granted, Bryon and I probably both wouldn’t have both been at dance class but he would’ve have been home, ready to take over when we returned.

And if it he had been out of town for work or at a late night meeting, I could call him and he would make me feel better.  And we could come up with some sort of plan to prevent this from happening again.

But Bryon is not longer here and I am all alone in this.

Sure, my friends who are mothers would be sympathetic but most of them are married and don’t know what it is like to be so frustrated and truly not having any backup.

There is no one else I can turn to.

Because I don’t want to be seen as weak.

When you are a widow, everybody (and their brother) has an opinion on how you live.  Sometimes these judgments are met with offers to help but after I am criticized by someone, the last thing I want to do is accept their help.  Eff that.

I almost didn’t write this blog post because of those people.  Because I am tired of the sh*t but I felt it was more important to share my feelings because there might be another mother (widowed or not) who feels the same way and needs to know she is not alone.

I can take criticism about most things but I don’t feel like opening up myself for criticism for being a widowed parent.  Especially by people who have no clue how hard widowed parenting is.

No one knows how hard it is to do this alone.

For example, I have been told I don’t do enough in relationships.

Seriously.

What do people expect from me?

I am doing the best I can.

I need to be the equivalent of two parents to a child, I work 40 hours a week plus I spent  the past two plus years dealing with grief and processing the loss of Bryon.   And the loss of having a sense of security and the loss of the future as I knew it.

I am only one person.

And I don’t get a day off.

Ball dropping is the norm because my daughter comes first. #sorrynotsorry

People just don’t have a clue.

And yet, for some reason, I feel the need to prove myself to these people.

I constantly feel the need to prove myself.

When Bryon died, several people stated that I wouldn’t be able to stay in New York and raise my daughter by myself.  Thanks for the vote of confidence, a-holes.

Despite what the future holds for me, I am doing okay.  Most days.

My daughter finally calms down enough to put on her coat.  We go outside and she cries because she missed the rest of her class.  Someone walks by and lets out an “awwwww” because she is crying.

I cringe and I am sure I gave that person a dirty look.  She had no clue what I had just gone through.  Though it was dark and I am sure that person did not see my dirty look.

On the drive home, my daughter seems to be back to her normal self but I am not my normal self.

I spend so much time with my daughter that sometimes I forget she is a four year old.

I tend to take her behavior personally.

As if her behavior is a reflection of my inadequacies as a mother- a single, widowed mother.

That her meltdown was because I did something wrong as a mother because if I was a good mother, my daughter wouldn’t have had that epic meltdown.

I find myself saying to her that I didn’t get dance lessons or gymnastics when I was a kid.  Is it even fair to expect a four year old to appreciate that?   And is it her job to validate me because I am overcompensating for things I had wanted in my own childhood?  I am sure the answer to both of those questions is “no”.

When we get home, I park the car and I had my own mini emotional meltdown.

I put my arms up on the steering wheel and I cry.  I bawl.  I hadn’t bawled like that in months. I get teary eyed frequently but I rarely bawl.    The last time I cried like that was last April when I donated my wedding dress.

I question if I should even be crying in front of my daughter.  This goes against my Boston-Irish sensibilities that tell me that the only two feelings I am allowed to express are happiness and anger.

But maybe my daughter should see me express emotion.  I don’t want her bottling up her emotions like I tend to.  Expressing emotions need to be normalized.

I start to feel anger.

I know a lot of widows get angry at their spouse for dying and leaving them.  I have never really gotten mad at Bryon for leaving me.  He didn’t want to die.  He had wanted to live.  I tend to reserve my anger for God and other factors.  If I get angry, it is at the situation.

Then I realize that my anger is really despair.

The despair where I am left just asking “why?”

Why did this have to happen?

Why am I doing this alone?

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

My daughter was supposed to have her mother and father.

I stop crying after a minute or two and my daughter and I go inside.

My daughter is back to normal and inquiring about normal activities.

I needed to sit down for a minute.

During that minute, my daughter manages to find a tube a glitter, opens it and spreads it all over the living room couch.

I feel defeated.

Then there comes the shame.

Shame that I somehow missed any signs of a pending tantrum.

Shame that I wasn’t able to calm her down.

Shame that I melted down.

Shame that even though I try so hard, I still feel like I fall short as a mother.

My daughter gives me a hug and tells me that she loves me.

I love her.

My life is what it is.

But sometimes I still feel broken.

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When I really died…

When I first started this blog, I said that part of me died on August 21, 2016.

That was the day that Bryon died.

And that is true.

But it is also a lie.

The “death” of me really began on a different day.

My death really began on March 29, 2016.

Two years ago today.

It was Bryon’s 5th day in the ICU.

He had spiked a fever of 105F the day before.

And on that day, his kidney’s shut down.

Then his other organs started to fail.

It all happened so quickly.

Septic shock.

“Your husband might not make it.”

I made phone calls to those close to us.  Friends dropped what they were doing and rushed to the hospital.

My parents took my daughter, then 18 months, out of school because they decided that she was probably the only person who could bring me any sort of comfort, which she did.

I remember saying to my mother that Bryon couldn’t die because my daughter wouldn’t remember him.

I was told that my husband had to be rushed into emergency surgery.

A surgery he might not survive.

It did not seem real.

How could the strongest person I know, both mentally and physically, be clinging to his life?

My parents left with my daughter because everything seemed too hectic for someone that small.

It all seemed surreal.

My husband might not survive.

He came to the hospital to get better and all he seemed to get was progressively worse.

And now I was told he might die.

He couldn’t die.

I needed him.

I couldn’t do this alone.

Our daughter was too young.

Some of our closest friends sat in the waiting room.

In silence.

With fear in our eyes.

Waiting.

Everyone in that room fell somewhere on the Catholic spectrum and we learned what “purgatory” meant.

After what felt like an eternity, we got news that Bryon survived the surgery but it was uncertain if he was going to make it through the night.

It was during the flu season and only two “visitors” were allowed in the room with him so everyone took turns sitting with me by his bedside.

He did make it through that night.

And the next 145 nights.

And while part of me died 145 nights later, the death began on that day.

I lost innocence.

My naivety.

I lost my sense of safety and security.

The old me is dead.

A new me has emerged.

A wiser me.

A more grateful me.

A person who takes life a little less seriously.

A person who isn’t so concerned about being a people pleaser.

A person who has no trouble telling people who go “eff off”.

But today marks the day that where I was forced give up the safe life I knew.

And I am okay.

I am surrounded by those who truly love me.  People who embrace the “new me” and strive to understand what I went through the best they can.  All while they mourn the man they knew too.

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that today was tough.

Because it reminds me of all the pain I went through and the loss of a great man.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was having moments.

But it is okay.

I keep those moments to myself.

I only cry when no one is around to see it.

 

Anger

It only took 18 and a half months but I am finally ANGRY.

I have felt bits of anger here and there but this is the first time that I have truly felt ANGRY.

I wrote about my sad grief mix a few weeks ago but now I realize I need an ANGER mix.

Please comment with any suggestions.

I have never listened to ANGRY girl music but I have a feeling I am about to start.  I only know Alanis.

And I have always wondered- What did Dave Coulier do?

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For the record, I want to start that I don’t care what the so-called grief experts (who probably have fancy degrees and learned everything in a textbook and probably haven’t actually experienced grief) say- grief doesn’t come all packaged up in neat little stages.

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Yes, at first I was in shock and denial.

But then I jumped over to dialogue and bargaining because I started this blog 5 months after Bryon died.

And now I am somewhere between “anger” and “depression and detachment”.

Except I am not helpless.  F*ck that.

The following chart gives a more accurate representation of expectation(left) versus reality (right).

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I am ANGRY that my husband and the life I was supposed to be living were stolen from me.

I am ANGRY that my dreams died with my husband.

I am ANGRY that I will probably not have another child.

I am ANGRY that I lost those 5 months with my daughter when my husband was in the ICU.  I am grateful for my parents for taking care of her and I know I needed to be with Bryon, advocating for him and overseeing his care but I won’t get those five months back.

I am ANGRY that I had to sit in an ICU room watching my husband cling to his life.

I am ANGRY that I had to watch him suffer.

I am ANGRY that he was hooked up on machines and we couldn’t talk.  We didn’t get any closure.

I am ANGRY because in my daughters daycare class there is a chart that lists the kids and their parents name and my daughter is the only one that only has one parent listed.

I am ANGRY because at age 3, she already has a better understanding of death than many adults.

I am ANGRY whenever I hear other parents complain that their spouses are gone for a couple of days.  Yes, it’s hard.  I remember when Bryon had to go away for work.  But it’s a whole lot harder when they are gone forever.

I am ANGRY that the doctors didn’t save Bryon nor did they seem to care.  Maybe it would have been different if it had been their loved one.

I am ANGRY at the healthcare system for being so shitty.  It’s all about money, not people.

I am ANGRY at God.  I was taught that he was a loving God and that was all a lie.

I am ANGRY at all the people who tell me that “God doesn’t hate you”.   Um…okay…

I get ANGRY when I see everyone living their perfect lives on Facebook.  By perfect, I mean living lives where they don’t have a dead spouse.  Because to me, that is perfect.  I get no marriage is perfect.  Bryon and I did not have a perfect marriage.  But even on our worst day, it is still better than the hell I am living.

I am ANGRY that I am turning 40 this year and that I am in this position.  So much for playing it safe and making good life choices.

I am ANGRY that I am alone and broken.

I am ANGRY that I am viewed as damaged.

I am ANGRY that I don’t fit into my own life anymore.  I am a square peg in a world full of round holes.

I am ANGRY that despite having lots of loving friends, I am still lonely.

I am ANGRY because I have lost my innocence.  If I ever fall in love again (which I probably won’t because I am broken and damaged) I will always have that fear that they could die young too.  This could all happen again.

I want my old life back.

Why me?

What did I do to deserve this?

The last Christmas

Christmas 2015 was my favorite Christmas with you.

You were the Clark Griswold of our street.

I even got you a Clark Griswold-esque mug that you loved.  You drank the Starbucks 2015 Holiday blend in it.  You are missing the 2017 blend.  It’s pretty good.

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In early December, you found a light up nativity on Craigslist and you had to buy it.  It didn’t matter that it was in Scranton, PA.  You had to have it.

So we drove to Scranton.

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We packed them in.  Complete with two bonus nutcrackers.

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Of course on the ride home Joseph fell over and he wound up face to face with our daughter.  She did not like it at all.  I would have been freaked out too.

But it was all worth it in the end.  #takethatgriswold

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You had researched which streets in the Capital District had the best lights and we drove there.

We attended as many Holiday parties as we could.

Our daughter wanted nothing to do with Santa.

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Christmas Eve was a bizarre 74 degree day in Upstate, NY.  You insisted we drive with the sunroof open.

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We spent the afternoon with our Christmas Eve crew at a local establishment.  As usual, I brought buffalo chicken dip.  

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We went to four pm Mass with one of our bestest couple friends.

Mass was uneventful until after communion.  The four of us sat down in our pew.  

A loud cracking sound filled the church as our butts hit the floor.  

We looked at the pew which was split lengthwise.

Everyone else in the church looked at us.

You lean over to our friends and me and say “Sh*t.  We need Jesus the carpenter, not Jesus the Baby.”

We stand there as we wait for Mass to end to for the church to empty.  People continue to look at us as they are leaving. After the church was empty, you put that broken portion of the pew up over your shoulder and march up to the altar and you explained to Father Bradley what had happened.  Father Bradley listens and doesn’t seem phased at all.  I guess after 40 years in the priesthood, he has seen it all.  I wished I wasn’t so mortified and that I thought to take a picture but the mental picture will always be in my mind.

After Mass, we went home and you made Chicken Parm.  After our daughter went to sleep, we opened our presents that we got each other.

That Christmas you and I went crazy.  The previous year you surprised me by putting the confirmation from a cruise you booked in a box for me to open.  You assured me that there was no cruise surprise.  I didn’t mind especially you already booked our 2017 cruise.  Though neither of us would go on that cruise.

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You were very concerned that you couldn’t live up to the previous year so you finally bought me the sewing machine I wanted for years.

For years we couldn’t afford to buy each other presents after we shopped for everyone else. I was having fun making up for those years.  

You told me that the $600 shoes you wanted were on sale for $445.  Hint, hint.  I took the hint.

(For those who might be side-eyeing the price, these would be shoes would have been resoled.  He was planning to use them for the rest of his life, and ironically he did.  But when they we were bought, we were envisioning decades of use.)

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You admitted to me after the fact that you were worried I was going to buy you more gifts and your competitive nature couldn’t handle that so you did more shopping.

After the fact, we admitted that we were ridiculous and that this would be the last Christmas were we would do this.  Even if it was fun.

I am beginning to have this theory that our souls know more than we do in our human form.  I think our souls knew that this was our last Christmas and that we needed to have fun and do what we felt we needed to do to show love to each other.

Of course you insisted we leave out something for Santa.

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Christmas morning was spent with our daughter opening up Christmas presents.  

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You also bought her a Barbie Power Wheels Jeep because you saw a good deal on Amazon.  I told you that she was too young.  You called me a “Miss No Fun.”   We decided to save it for the following Christmas.  You never got to see her ride it.  My father and I did assemble it for her second birthday a month after you died as one last present to her from you.  And I was right because even then, her feet didn’t reach the pedal.

We spent Christmas Day with our daughter’s Godmother, her now husband and their family.

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We bought each other a bottle of wine from the same winery although they were more generous than us.  We brought a peppermint pig and some coasters.  We were so excited about those coasters because they were custom made.  When our daughter was born, there was this mildly disturbing Georgia O’Keefe-esque artwork on the wall.   Our daughter’s Godmother and you were confused and disturbed by the artwork.  After she left, I suggested you take a picture and make it into artwork for her.  You loved the idea so much that you took credit for it but I didn’t mind.  Not a lot of people know that some of your material came from me.  You always said you were the funny one but sometimes I could be funny too.

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Ultimately you decided on coasters instead of wall art. The best part was that our friend forgot about the maternity room artwork and decided to be polite and say that they were lovely.  Of course, she had a good laugh when we told her where the artwork came from.

And this ended up being our last Christmas.  

There was no way we would know that this would be our last Christmas.  

There was no way that we could have foresaw that we would take one last cruise in February and then you would would unexpectedly become critically ill and spend five months in the ICU. 

We had no clue that we were so close to the end.

I have come to realize that unless someone is on their deathbed at Christmas that there is no way to know who will be there the next Christmas.  A lot can happen in 365 days.  My life changed 89 days after that Christmas and you were gone 240 days after that.  

Even if I could have known it would be your last Christmas, I wouldn’t have done it any different.  I was with you, our daughter and some of our closest friends.  And we had fun and ate some really good food. 

I am glad I didn’t know that it was going to be your last Christmas.  If I had known it was going to be your last Christmas, I would have been devastated and unable to enjoy it.

Now I am embarking on our second Christmas without you.  Some of the traditions have changed a little bit but I will be with the same friends.  Christmas 2017 will pretty much run nonstop from Fri until Wednesday with my parents coming for New Years.  So I won’t be alone without you.  

It’s hard to be sad around our daughter.  She is getting so much bigger and she is so excited for Christmas.  She’s warming up to Santa.  She won’t sit on his lap but she’ll at least stand next to him.  It just breaks my heart because you were looking forward to her being this age.  You were so excited about the kinds of conversations you were going to have.  Every happy memory that we create is also tainted with sadness because you are not here.

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Now I am reminiscing with the internet instead of with you.  Even though the internet and blogosphere is filled with great people, I would rather be recounting these memories with you.

But at the end of the day, I have to say I am grateful.  I am grateful that I have these happy memories.  Even though your death broke my heart, I am lucky that I have these memories that are filled with so much love and happiness.  These memories make me smile and laugh.  

It’s my job to push through my sadness and continue creating happy memories for our daughter and our friends so when I am gone, they can look back on those memories with love and happiness.

Wherever you are my love, I hope have a Merry Christmas.

They say you are supposed to do things that scare you…

They say you are supposed to do things that scare you…
 
My intuition has been telling me try making a YouTube video. This is my first attempt. I have a lot of learn. Please watch it and tell me what you think.

The second year is a b*tch

During my first year of widowhood, I learned what coping mechanisms did not work.

I tried to outrun grief, literally.  I ran a half marathon 6 weeks after Bryon died.  It was one of my biggest accomplishments in my life.  I hope to do it again.  But with only 6 weeks of training, my knees were not happy with me.

I tried to eat my emotions.  I gained back all the weight I lost when Bryon was sick and then some.  My knees continued to be unhappy.

I tried to keep busy and outsocialize my grief.  But now I am exhausted and nothing is getting crossed of my to-do list.  Being with friends is important but I have ignored spending time with myself.

There was one night I had some Spanish red wine.  That night I watched Jinger Duggar’s wedding and I bawled my eyes out.  But the next morning I had a headache and I was too old to be waking up with headaches.

I would go to Target whenever I was sad.  Nothing could cheer me up more than buying my two year old daughter a pair of pink cowgirl boots.  However, that cheerfulness would never last long.  My daughter had a great wardrobe that year.  A wardrobe she promptly outgrew and I gave away.

Writing helped my grief.  It helped me sort out my feelings.  But it also caused me to intellectualize my feelings which can prevent a person from feeling those feelings.  It is a mechanism I have used my whole life.

While I participated in some questionable grief practices, I have never denied my grief.  I have always acknowledged it.

But maybe I did something wrong because now I feel a flood of anger consuming me.

Let’s say grief is like an ocean.  Grief, like the ocean, can make a person feels small and insignificant.  Both grief and the ocean can be peaceful and serene at times and stormy and dangerous at other times.  Well I am standing in an island in the middle of this grief ocean and my anger is like a large wave crashing down over me.

Anger for all that happened to Bryon and for all his physical, mental and emotional pain.

Anger at how the events transpired.

Anger that Bryon and I never got to discuss what was happening nor did we get to discuss “what if”.

Anger that Bryon isn’t here to help me raise my daughter.

Anger that Bryon didn’t get to accomplish all his dreams and that we didn’t get to accomplish our dreams together.

Anger at the isolation I feel.  Everyone else gets to live normal lives  and not the “new normal” that I was told I needed to find when Bryon died.  I want the old normal.

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The second year is isolating.  Just as the reality of Bryon’s death is hitting me, people think I should be “over it”.

The second year is a b*tch and I still have nine months of it.