Nothing could have prepared me for the moment, for that first week and the passing months.
The memories are hazy and the reality of my husband being really gone is still utterly surreal. Almost two years later, I am still learning the difference between a sigh of despair and a deep breath of relief.
When the policemen first came to my door and told me my husband had been in an accident, I found myself speechless. I was only 26, but every vision of my life, my family, our future, it all just went black.
The grief was a knife. It was pure despair. It changed me. It is still changing me.
They say that to cope with grief you should just keep doing the “next thing.”
And so I did. I got out of bed each morning. I dressed my son. We sometimes managed breakfast, but sometimes a sippy cup of milk had to do. I dropped him off at daycare or the babysitter or a friend, depending on the day, and I grappled with an inability to focus as the work days dragged by.
I tried. Lord, I tried.
Without my son, I could not have kept going.
I would not have kept getting out of bed in the morning. I wouldn’t have opened the curtains or stocked the fridge with food.
And yet, the grief tore my days apart.
At first I tried to bury myself in busy-ness. It was necessary distraction to keep from breaking down. I painted rooms of our new house. I started potty-training my son even though he wasn’t really ready. I cooked new recipes, read new books, dedicated myself to writing a novel.
I broke down anyway. I did not feel equipped to single parent. That wasn’t my plan. I hated being alone. I despised talking about my husband in past tense. The word “widow” made my skin crawl.
Anxiety overtook me and panic attacks became the norm. Everything I had bottled inside felt explosive. If I wasn’t screaming at the dog, I was yelling at my barely two-year old child. Cheerios for dinner was a staple, while days’ worth of dishes piled in the sink and showers became less frequent. I couldn’t wait for my son to go to bed at night so I could pour a glass a wine.
Finally, fear for my son’s future took over. I became terrified of dying, of leaving my son orphaned. I could not keep living like this.
I was fortunate and blessed to be surrounded by incredibly supportive friends and family. I eventually got myself to a grief support group and saw a counselor for a little while.
But the very real truth was that despite the help, despite the support, despite the love, I felt isolated. Alone.
This was not how it was supposed to be.
Every time I met another mother, I faced a choice on whether to tell my story or not. Do I tell the mom friends at the new daycare? Do I share my story with a new family at church? If I tell people, they don’t know what to say, things get awkward. If I don’t tell people, they make assumptions or ask the wrong questions. I shouldn’t care so much, but I do.
My son has no memories of his father, but he knows who he is in pictures. He asks if we can go to Heaven to talk to daddy. He tells me that one day daddy won’t die anymore and they can play together. I don’t know how to answer.
They say grief is the price we pay for loving someone deeply. Continuing to mother a child while in profound grief is a nightmare.
There is no “moving on” from this kind of nightmare. There is only continuing to live.
My story sounds dark, but there has been joy and beauty, too. I have found deep faith, and I find something new to be grateful for every single day. My son is the happiest three year old I know, laughing and singing and dancing.
I miss the little things about my husband. His laugh, our discussions, his tendency to leave empty milk cartons in the fridge. But I find him still, in my son’s giggle and curiosity, in his family and friends who remain close, and in the memories I cling onto.
There aren’t too many widows out there with young children – and that’s a good thing. But for the ones who are, they are not alone.
Clare is figuring out one day at a time as a 28 year old mama to 3 year old Nicholas. Life was forever changed after her husband passed away in 2013, but their tiny family lives on and works hard to find joy in the every day. When she isn’t playing, singing, and dancing with Nicholas, she writes about life, death and everything in between on her blog. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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