Solo Parenting a Grieving Child by Emily Vaden

posted in: Uncategorized | 9

My husband, Troy, took his life on May 12th 2015. In the 800 and some odd days since, I’ve learned a lot about grieving, parenting and being kinder to myself along the way.

1) Self-care is non-negotiable.

                  The way I look at it, I’m the only captain of this ship now. If I go down, there’s no one left. This journey is brutal. Losing the person you were supposed to co-parent with, to love and guide your child into becoming an adult with, is awful. One income, one bank of sick leave, school events as the only parent. Knowing that if something happened to me, my daughter would be left parentless. That’s about as heavy as it gets.

                  I have to be constantly filling my tank so I can be there for her. If I let myself get depleted, I get cranky, easily frustrated and that leaves me unable to fulfill all the things I need to do. I will say it until I’m blue in the face, self-care isn’t selfish. Someday when my daughter is an adult, I can’t expect her to care for herself and put herself first, if I never show her how to do it. A significant part of my budget is devoted to things that are for me. Babysitters for exercise classes, massages to keep my stress/migraines in check. I take walks at work, and when I need a break or a minute to step away, I call one of those people who have said, “call anytime”. Because I’m worth it and because she deserves a healthy, happy mom.

2) It takes a village, no seriously.

                  I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to be loved in so many ways in the time since Troy’s death. Meals made, monetary help, helping me move, free babysitting and dance classes. Playdates where friends have offered to bring the dinner so we can just show up. Installing a dishwasher, putting a new roof on my house, hand me downs for my daughter. Both sets of grandparents have taken her overnight so I can go camping, be with friends, go on dates etc. All this helps me remember who I am as a person, not just a widowed mom.

Another huge part of my village are people who get it. A support group of others who’ve lost loved ones to suicide. An online support group of widows/widowers who get what it’s like to lose your spouse. A work environment where taking care of my mental health is supported. And therapy, seriously, do it.

3) Re-grieving is a thing
                  Here’s a great article, but to summarize, children will continue to grieve different parts of the loss as they develop and mature.  My daughter was 16 months old when he died. She was mostly pre-verbal and so the extent of her grieving at that time was to look around the house and say “dada” with a  confused look on her face. This continued until she turned two and I had to explain that daddy was never coming back.

Now, at 3.5, she understands that he died because his brain was sick and he didn’t go to the doctor. That death means your body stops working. That everyone dies at some point, most people do from getting really old. This has prompted questions like, “Are you going to die, mommy?” “am I going to die?” “why didn’t daddy go to the doctor?” “Why did my daddy die and (her friend)’s dad not die?”

These questions don’t just come up at home. They come up at the grocery store, in restaurants, at school events and they’re only going to continue to get more complex as she gets older and can understand more.

Finding a play therapist for Norah at 2 that we’ve continued to meet with several times a month has been a huge help for us. It helps me feel less alone and to ensure the answers and explanations I give are age appropriate. Then I take what I’ve learned and share it with her teachers, family members and friends so we can all make sure we’re consistent.

4) Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

                  I used to think if I just tried hard enough, I could do it all. Then Troy died and I realized how ridiculous and unnecessary that was. In any given day I have my own needs, Norah’s needs, whatever needs to be done at work and the house to take care of. And that excludes anything fun or pleasurable. There simply isn’t time to get it all done. I’m constantly on a budget with my time, energy and emotional resources. That means we eat quesadillas for dinner more than we should, the dishes pile up more than I’d like and my backyard landscaping style can be best described as “every man for himself.” But at the end of the day, if we’re both healthy, she feels loved and I can go to bed knowing I did the best I could, that’s enough. I’m doing enough. My worth is not tied to the cleanliness of my house or the number of tasks I accomplish in a day.

5) It is always going to suck, but it will get better

                  That terribleness never goes away. Someone told me early on that losing someone you love is like being handed a brick when they die. It’s heavy and awkward and you have to learn to carry it. We never get to let go of the brick but we get better at carrying it, and more accustomed to the extra weight. That’s where I’m at now. I’m carrying it and I wish more than anything I had never been given this brick, but it doesn’t feel as heavy as those first few weeks.

9 Responses

  1. Dianna
    | Reply

    You are so right. Self care is not optional. Like the example of oxygen masks on an airplane; you have to help yourself or you’ll be no good for anyone else. I’m sorry you have to endure this… but I thank you for sharing what you’ve learned with the rest of us.

    • Emily Vaden
      | Reply

      Exactly that <3 You can't pour from an empty cup is one of my other favorites. So glad it was helpful for you to read.

  2. Jan Bassier
    | Reply

    Thank you, Emily, for sharing these thoughts, with insight and humor (“every man for himself” landscaping 🙂 ) Thank you for encouraging us to self care – it is non-negotiable, but we often forget that. You gave many good examples of ways to do that. You also give friends and family some good suggestions for specific ways to help. I like that you used your”call anytime” list to good advantage.
    I’m also glad for all the support you have received. We found the same to be true when our son died by suicide in 2001. Not everyone has the family and friend support, but everyone can get involved in a support group, whether in person or online. We all need to know we are not alone on this journey.
    I also like the picture of being given a brick. I’ve heard a rock – sometimes it has felt like a boulder. And it’s true, we don’t put it down, but we do get stronger and can carry it better. And, once in a while, others help us with the weight of it.
    Our youngest was 9 when her brother died (he was 18). I knew then, that her understanding of the event would change as she grew older – as it has for all of us. It helps to have ideas for how to answer their ever-changing questions, and I appreciate that you share your insights with others so your care for Norah is consistent.
    Personally, I found that being told it was okay to say, “I don’t want to talk about that”, was helpful. This was something our daughter (and I) could/would say to others who asked too awkward or prying of questions. Or just too painful for the moment. I wouldn’t say it to my daughter, but it helped to have that phrase in my head.
    You are a good mama, and a wise woman. Thank you for sharing all this.
    I know not everyone who reads this has a faith base, but I pray for survivors to find people who will help them get to a place where they can develop the strength necessary to carry on after this loss, so they can continue their journey with strength and hope.

    • Emily Vaden
      | Reply

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. Your reminder that “I don’t want to talk about that” as a way of caring for ourselves too is a really good one. That we get to choose what we engage with and often times limiting that and saying no is the best self care. So glad this was helpful and thank you so much for the encouragement. Grateful that we have a place like this to connect.

  3. Lynne
    | Reply

    So good! Thank you! I will share with my survivors groups in Houston.

  4. Emily Vaden
    | Reply

    Wonderful! So happy it resonated.

  5. Royce Markley
    | Reply

    Great piece, Emily. I am sad for you, but also happy that you are finding a way to survive through all of it. I’m happy your daughter will grow up with a mom that loves and cares for her unconditionally.

  6. Keri
    | Reply

    You are amazing and your daughter is lucky to have you for her mother. Keep teaching her all your strengths so when she is older she will have good coping skills. Unfortunately life does not come with a book and as human beings we have to do what it takes to go on after others are gone. But you are very right in the fact that you have to be first. Take care of yourself so you can be there for the ones who need you most.

  7. John Filiczkowski
    | Reply

    You said it “It is always going to suck, but it will get better”. We all have different ways of dealing with grief having lost my Mother at 2 two days short I have a hole because of it. While the age will make the memory of Dad fade there will be a longing for that special father. Your child will need help to accept others to fill that hole despite your feeling of being taxed and dealing with your own hole. I hope you have strength in dealing with your grief, and letting others help is no sign of weakness.

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