The challenges of widowhood are many – emotional (obviously), practical (my contractor/handyman might as well keep a room here – he doesn’t even listen to my messages anymore, he just picks up the phone immediately to find out what new household calamity has befallen me). But the hardest challenge thus far is figuring out how to keep my children on an even keel. My little one seems well – he requires only cuddles and kisses and smiles, which I’m happy and able to bestow upon him daily, but my older son is a different matter. Jack is eight. He was very close to his dad and is very like his dad – highly intelligent, creative, complex, and stubborn as the day is long. As Jack said to me yesterday, “I make my own decisions.” Children don’t experience grief the way adults do. They may feel sadness, but quickly compartmentalize it and move on. They have to, to survive. But they still manifest their grief, just in different ways.
Jack has always been a challenge to parent (not always a negative, mind you). He was a very colicky baby. Friends used to shake their heads in sympathy as Andrew and I would use every tool we could think of to soothe his cries. I remember a legendary evening at a friend’s party when Jack cried from the time we arrived until we finally took our leave 3 hours later, after failing to comfort him. He cried for 3 hours straight! And we tried everything – feeding, jiggling, walks around the block - nothing could ease this poor child’s discomfort. This was a pretty regular occurrence, but as new parents we really didn’t know any better – aren’t all babies like this? When sweet and contented Ewan came along we realized just how very different children can be. As he grew, we realized what a smart and fascinating and complicated kid Jack is. He’s very sensitive; he feels things deeply and reacts with strong emotions. His mind is quick, and you can’t get anything by him. He can be bossy and difficult, but his heart is like a soft and squishy peach.
Lately, Jack and I are butting heads pretty good. I remember reading an author (possibly David Sedaris, but can’t remember) talking about how his parents didn’t parent so much as manage their children. I’ve since tried to be conscious to avoid this, but I admit I don’t always succeed. I find I do manage them – “get your shoes on, get your teeth brushed, we’re late”. A common refrain. And frankly, Jack needs a lot of managing. But he’s also a little boy who’s just lost his father, and I’m becoming painfully aware of the need to do better by him.
So we’re getting some help. Overdue, maybe, but I’ve never been to a therapist before. Andrew was always fairly anti-therapy. His thinking was, life is difficult – you just get on with it, and stop bitching. His father went through the Great Depression and World War II. That generation was all about getting on with it. When you’re watching your friends get blown to bits, you understand life and death on a different level and you don’t spend too much time feeling sorry for yourself. I always admired Andrew’s ability to face difficult situations and just get on with it. Even during his illness he never once asked “why me”. Wrong question, he said. Just, how do we address it? His bravery in the face of losing everything was remarkable, even to the end. But now that he’s gone, I’m struggling. Andrew was exceptional with Jack. I am less so. My greatest fear is having one of my sons grow distant from me.
I recently visited with a very nice family therapist who gave me some great, specific tools to use with Jack. He’s also going to meet Jack soon and try to get a better idea of what’s going on in his head.
These are things I never thought I would have to face. When I was married, I often said “ I wouldn’t ever want to be a single parent – wow, it’s so hard with two parents, can you imagine doing this on your own?” And I meant it. But life is not always kind, and here I am – desperate to help my child navigate life without a father, but with little real knowledge about how to do this. Unfortunately for my children, my all-consuming grief at losing the dearest person in my life has kept me from doing much beyond getting through days. But I hear Andrew’s clear voice in my head telling me to get on with it. Find a way to survive. Find a way to give extra support and love and attention to our children, who don’t yet have the tools.