The other night, I sat criss-crossed apple-sauce on our hard-wood floor watching my daughter Isabelle as she practiced her math worksheets kneeling by the coffee table. With concentration and delight, she added and took away fingers or shapes to solve each problem. (I’m amazed by how much they teach in Kindergarten!) In the other corner Theo quietly snuck in some playtime with her dollhouse, delighted that big sister hadn’t caught him in the act…yet.
I sat there in silence, soaking up this rare moment of pure contentment.
Ease. Peace. The three of us, finally feeling…WHOLE.
I started to cry because it’s taken me two years to feel any sense of contentment, peace, ease or wholeness as family after my husband Ian died.
In fact it’s been quite the opposite.
The mere logistics of solo parenting after a loss present a myriad of challenges — it’s basically close to impossible if you don’t ask for help. And not only that, 99.9% of your mental and emotional capacity for anything (let alone parenting two kids by yourself) is CONSUMED by grief.
For me, the grief not only prevented me from fully functioning as a newly single parent, but it also made me extremely bitter about my new family dynamic and resentful of my kids.
Let me explain…
The death of a partner often comes with the secondary losses of identity and purpose. Now, there are some widows who find new meaning by pouring their heart and souls into their children.
I was not one of these widows.
I was a widow who felt TRAPPED by her kids. I felt totally suffocated by two human beings needing me — depending on me for survival. I mean, they already lost their father!!! I was the only one they had left! And in every act of motherhood I felt like I was lacking or failing.
I was ANGRY about dealing with my kids constant sibling rivalry, the never-ending cleanup and chaos, the night-time battles, and daily task of herding cats to get to school every morning.
I was SAD about missing their father who was not around to experience their first lost tooth, their snuggles as we watch movies together, and their eyes widen with wonder as they live into the magic of the world around them.
For me, it felt much SAFER to pour my heart and soul into something else — so I started moveTHRU.
I felt guilty for wanting (and desperately needing) to spend time on this new purpose, as well as searching for my new identity, because it seemed like was abandoning my kids — even close family members questioned my motive.
But I despised the mom I was becoming around them.
(No joke…I’ve been called them all.)
I missed light, fun-loving mommy. The one whose heart would melt with a small hand gently squeezing her back as she swooped them off the ground; the one whose gratitude for these precious human beings trumped the tantrums and tizzies; and the one whose EVERYTHING once was her family.
A harsh realization (yet essential one) in my grief journey has been the loss of the mom I used to be.
Unfortunately, she died with daddy.
I didn’t understand this for a long time. And I resisted and denied it as the thoughts of I’m lacking, I’m screwing my kids up, and I’m not enough without my husband swirled through my head and unlocked the floodgates of guilt and shame.
Two years later, I’ve accepted that the mom I knew and loved when she had her husband is now gone. I’m finally at peace with this reality.
In order to get here it’s taken time (two years!) and space away from my children to embody my anger, release my sadness, and feel the full range of emotions involved in grieving the loss of the mom I used to be… in addition to Ian’s. I’ve had to explain my needs to friends and family members, asking them to trust me and in my journey, which luckily I received. I say this, because there is NO WAY I could have done this alone.
I’ve had to trust myself. To know that deep down my decision to distance myself from my children was an act of love…
To heal my wounds.
To let go of mom I used to be.
To surrender to the new mother I was becoming.
I’m still figuring out this new mom — who she is and how she shows up for herself and her kids. And to a certain, extent I think I will always be.
For now, I’m simply grateful that I finally feel content, peace, ease and WHOLE.
Just the three of us. 🙂
Never Miss a Post
Jump on our email list to follow Emily's grief journey, other's stories of loss, and insight from a community who “gets” grief.