This past week, I participated on a panel at the local high school’s Parent Academy – the topic was single parenting. Many parents unexpectedly find themselves alone, either through divorce or death of the other parent. It’s a shock, really. It was for me. When my former husband passed away unexpectedly leaving me to raise our daughter by myself, I felt closed in and afraid. It felt too big, more responsibility than I ever wanted. Her grief, my own, our changed lives…how would we get through it?
We did get through it, day at a time…which brings me back to what I learned at the Parent Academy. Here’s some things I gleaned from the panel and audience participants:
Common challenges for single parents:
• Lack of Sleep
• Emotional stress
• Time management
• A lack of sanity
• Challenges with kids’ attitudes and accountability
Ways to take care of yourself:
• Exercise – one woman started running every day and lost 40 pounds
• Drinking water—keeping yourself hydrated helps to fend off depression feelings
• Find friends you can talk to about your challenges with kids and getting time for yourself
• Take time for yourself in nature—one woman walks under the moon and stars at night
• Dance to wild music when the kids aren’t around
• Start a gratitude journal for yourself…or share it with your kids so that you all practice gratitude
Ways to connect better with your kids:
• Set aside special time for your kids—they want time with you, even if they are teens
• Appreciate them for the things they do well
• Set reachable goals—make a chart with tasks that you expect and make a reward for getting a certain number done
• Work with your child on the things you expect and let them come up with some ideas
• Find grief support groups for them in your local community
• Realize that underneath bad behaviors is deep loss—help your kids learn to grieve in healthy ways
If you are a single parent, please share what works for you!
I found a new website called Widow’s Voice…it’s seven widows each writing on a particular day each week. The stuff they write about is deep and may resonate with our clients who have lost a beloved spouse. Check it out!
This article from an organization called “Hello Grief” lays out some practical tips for someone who has just lost their spouse. Click here to access this great resource.
As I look at Denise Kester’s monotype print “Out of chaos comes the dance of balance,” I find my head and heart align. Grief is indeed one place where I have found chaos and confusion. But it has also become my surest path to personal growth and enlightenment.
Something that most of us seem to discover, sooner or later in life, is that we are not invincible, not really “in control” as we might like to be, but that we can, and usually do, find a way through the whirlpool of life. We are children of many losses; but we are also survivors. Sometimes we need a little help from others to find our way – sometimes a lot of help. It is a major step to discover that we are not alone; there are plenty of others who have traveled similar roads and who are willing to share their stories.
The best discovery of all is that of our own inner spaces where our worst fears lurk, but where strength, renewal and life reside as well. Loss will take us to both, if we are open – and will help heal us and make us whole, or “balanced,” to use Kester’s term.
Writing about the death of her daughter, Isabel Allende says:
“My life is one of contrasts; I have learned to see both sides of the coin. At moments of greatest success, I do not lose sight of the pain awaiting me down the road, and when I am sunk in despair, I wait for the sun I know will rise farther along.” (Paula, p. 313)
“I am a raft without a rudder, adrift on a sea of pain. During these long months I have been peeling away like an onion, layer after layer, changing; I am not the same woman, my daughter has given me the opportunity to look inside myself and discover interior spaces – empty, dark, strangely peaceful – I had never explored before. These are holy places, and to reach them I must travel a narrow road blocked with many obstacles, vanquish the beasts of imagination that jump out in my path. When terror paralyzes me, I close my eyes and give myself to it with the sensation of sinking into storm-tossed waters. For a few instants that are true eternity, I think I am dying, but little by little I comprehend that, despite everything, I am still alive because in the ferocious whirlpool there is a merciful shaft through which I can breathe. Unresisting, I let myself be dragged down, and gradually the fear recedes.” (Paula, p. 272)
Even now, eight years later, I can still conjure up Michael’s voice on the other end of the phone line: “How’s our little Bunny?” he would have said, checking in on our six year old daughter after returning from his surfing trip to Mexico.
But his call never came. He died of heart failure on the beach. And I still expected that call for days, weeks and months afterward. Even though we had divorced the previous year, we remained close friends with a commitment to raising Emma together. And now he was gone.
I had experienced other losses – a favorite aunt, two grandmothers, and a second-trimester miscarriage. But Michael’s death changed my life forever and I was shocked by the maze of complexity as I learned to navigate as a “widow” without any widow’s rights.
I faced a community of folks who blamed me for the divorce and a daughter mired in the loss of her beloved daddy.
No rights to his things, bound by a will he wrote without a lawyer, hounded by his unfinished business: a life insurance policy still in my name that the estate lawyer said wasn’t rightfully mine and my basement filled with his tools and miscellaneous junk. The callousness of his friends astounded me as they vied for his outdoor gear and personal effects. Even though I was left to raise our daughter alone, I felt invisible in the process of settling his affairs.
Where was my support system? I had many friends who rallied around us. And thankfully we could afford counseling. Mostly, we limped through without a roadmap to grief and survived it. But the dreary climate of Bellingham, WA, where I had lived for 26 years, became a heavy reminder of our tragedy. I needed a change.
Four years later, we moved to Ashland for a fresh start. I’ve watched my daughter thrive in this community. Me too…but I never could have guessed it would take me three years to find a job here. And yet, the waiting now makes sense. When I interviewed with WinterSpring last November, I felt like I had found “my people” in this small nonprofit providing group bereavement support for kids and adults. I sat with three passionate Board members, each of them drawn to WinterSpring because of their own deep losses, and I felt my heart open as we discussed bereavement and how to pull the organization out of financial stress.
I wish we had found a similar organization eight years ago. Group support would have helped me make some sense of the chaos and to feel less alone. My daughter would have had a place to access her grief in a healthy, supportive process. Currently, Emma is attending a teen grief support group at Ashland Middle School and appreciates the opportunity to share with peers. We both took the recent WinterSpring volunteer training, because there’s always more to learn about travelling through grief toward the joys of living fully again.
This job gives me an opportunity to offer bereaved people the very thing Emma and I needed most. My compassion grows daily for those who stumble through grief when a loved one dies, and I hope to expand our reach into the community to help more people find joy in life again. I am passionate about serving such a worthy cause and honored to be their new Executive Director.