Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Different Grief

Pallas and Langston

It was a lovely evening. I could feel the exhaustion running all the way into my finger tips and for once I welcomed it. It was 9:30 pm. I checked the clock 7 times to make sure I hadn’t misread it.

9:30 pm and for once all three of my children were in bed and….asleep.
A self-congratulatory smirk (accompanied with a sigh of unimaginable relief) passes over my lips. I’m in bed at 9:30 pm!!! I close my eyes doing a happy-skip-run-prance towards sleep.

I am exhausted. In an effort to take care of myself I have run myself into the ground. Eating healthy and answering all those kid questions, paying attention to the long and drawn out stories, making orthodontist appointments, and ordering skin cream and buying bikinis and getting my 9 year old to SLEEP IN HIS OWN DAMN bed and getting a break from them and running a business (two now….) and trying to have a social life and exercising and trying to spend quality time with each of them so they don’t feel further abandoned and teacher meetings and volunteering (which I admit I HAVE TO STOP doing) and talking to a new widow 3 times a week and remembering who has what game/doctors appointment/play date when

9:30 is huge fucking triumph!!!

I drift into my triumph

At that mother sleep level, the level that allows you to hear the cough, the sneeze, the bathroom runs, the talking when you are asleep but not quite wake up, I hear him rise from bed. I hear his heavy methodical one-foot-slightly-dragging footsteps make their way towards the bathroom. Only they don’t stop they keep heading my way. I think “Lie really still. He’ll just go away.”

I remember those nights when all three kids just seemed to keep getting up, Art and I would pretend to be asleep so the other one would get up with whichever kid had just wandered into our room. I remember how the person who “won” would feel guilty and would hold open the covers.

So I’m pretending and it’s not working because Art’s dead and I’m the only one here. Langston, my oldest, says to me, almost pleading, “Mom I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.” His voice is nasally, stuffed up, then that mother awareness memory kicks in. He’s been blowing his nose….a lot. My big man-child has been crying. A lot. Him in pain jolts me awake.

“Hey … kiddo, what’s going on?” I hesitate using ‘kiddo” it’s what Art called him. I let my mother imagination fly … drugs, girls, bullying and suicide. He won’t tell me. He won’t alleviate my anxiety. He repeats over and over again “I don’t’ want to go to school. I don’t want to go to school.”

I repeat “I need to know what’s going. I need to know what’s going on. “

After the seventeenth “I need to know what’s going on.” He shouts, exasperated, “Never mind!!” and storms out. I get up, go into his room, he’s not there. I find my crocks, grab my sweatshirt and head out the front door, that I just noticed is ajar. And there he is. Sitting on the front stoop.

“I want to be alone.” He says. I pretend I didn’t hear him. I sit next to him. I put my hand on his back wondering when did this back become the back of a man, and not of a little boy. His man back is shaking as he cries.

My heart, that feels so fragile, begins to tear at seams that have been mended over and over and over again.

“Sweetheart, tell me what’s going on. It’s safe. I promise you it’s safe.” I say
“It’s everything.” he says “I miss Daddy and no one understands. Only one of my friends gets it.”

I say “Yes, that’s true. Many of my friend’s don’t get it and it makes me feel lonely.
But you know people who get it. You can talk to them.”

Then he says
I want to laugh.
I’ve been waiting my whole parenting life for one of them to say that to me.

“You don’t,” he catches a sob in his throat, “You don’t have to walk past his office every single day!

Rip…the seam is completely undone.

Langston attends school where Art used to work and he does walk past his old office every day. I thought it didn’t bother him.

I’m such as ass.
Such a mother ass!
I know better than those not-knowing people who act all surprised at my sudden tears over Art’s loss and say “Are still mourning?”

“I think about him all the time, Mom. All the time, every day and I don’t want to think about him every day.”

He’s sobbing. He’s almost pleading. My 6 feet-225-pound-14-year-old is sobbing. I'm trying to use my 5’7”-130-pound frame to comfort him and it feels entirely inadequate.


I can’t fix it for him.
I can’t protect him from this loss.
No amount of words, or actions or back rubs will take his pain away.

It is like watching someone drown because I am unable to swim.

I’m silent. Every day he walks past Art’s office. Every day. How many of those days does he think he might see his dad? How many of those days does he just want to punch that door?

It feels like for the first time I am seeing his world, a world that doesn’t include potential other fathers the way my world includes potential other husbands.

He lost his father. There will be no other.

I breath deeply. He is not ok…he has been hurting all this time? Shame rises and then falls. In Art’s death I feel the lack of motherhood omnipotence.

He’s right. I don’t get it.
I don’t understand because I don’t walk past Art’s office every day. I don't understand because my dad lived till I was just one day shy of 40, not when I was 12.

Then he says, “Mom, it was so hard having you and Pallas and Ezra fall apart but I couldn’t.”

I let out the kind of sob that hurts my body.

“I know, baby. It must have been so hard for you to lose Daddy and then have me not being able to function. Sweetheart, I’m here now, I’m functioning. It’s ok. We survived it.”

He continues, “I felt so powerless. Unable to do anything to help you.”

This is when I hear my heart shatter.

I stifle the sobs. “I know how you feel.” I say.

He just sits there and cries. And I sit next time him, my hand on his back, or stroking his hair, his neck. I do what I wanted so many others to do for me.

I witness him.

I witness his pain. I honor it. I validate it. I don’t hand him a tissue, I don’t say “It’ll be alright.” I don't distract him with "You know your father loved you." or "Your dad used to...." stories. I just sit there until he’s cried out.

I put him to bed and he lets me rub his back as he falls asleep. I notice that it takes longer than I remember to traverse the distance from his left shoulder to his right, then down diagonally to his waist and across.

He has grown in the last two years, inside and out. Another loss for me. I feel like I am seeing him for the first time in two years, since Art died.

And in those long strokes, I send him courage and strength and love, love, and love. I sit in my powerlessness, finding that I do have some power.

My power is not in protecting him but in honoring his journey. My power is in not lying to him, telling him it will be ok because it will never be ok. His father is dead.

My power is in letting him have his feelings and making them ok. My power lies in showing him that the bad is followed by the good, which will be followed by the bad and the good again.

My power is in teaching him to hold tight to those moments…all of them because they are what will make him so wonderfully approachable and human.

I see his grief and my grief as separate. I always saw it as the same.
He lost a father, someone that cannot be replaced.

I mourn his innocence.


I finished writing this, the eve of Mother's Day, and for a moment I can't think. I keep wishing everyone else a Happy Mother's Day and forget that it applies to me as well.

I'm not sure how I feel about it or that I should even put much thought into it. The man who is partially responsible for me becoming a mother is dead, but I'm still a mother. A very, very different mother than I would have been if he were still alive. I haven't thought about the ways I've changed till now.

But when I re-read my post I see. In Art's death, I am becoming the mother I always wanted to be. The approachable kind, the kind that my kids (and others?) know will love them, will honor them, their triumphs and foibles. I am impatient, but real (I'm sorry guys. I don't have the space right now to help you.) I am harsh. (It's because when I was your age I didn't have the chance to do it. It may not make sense to you. But you are doing it anyway!) Above all I hope my kids see that I am human -- flawed and imperfect, courageous and terrified and still moving, changing and forever growing. I have never felt more like a real mother than I do today, at this moment.

Art's death freed me to be this kind of mother.

So to all you widow-mothers out there -- I love you. Our journey through motherhood without husband's is not easy. Yet we not only live it but grow in it.

That truly is the miracle of motherhood.


  1. wow! that was powerfull. I wish I could hug you both. You are in my prayers. Happy Mother's Day.

  2. Happy Mother's Day to us! Your post says it all - I don't know what to say because you put it all so perfectly and I so needed to read this, especially today! Bless you and all the women that are widowed Mother's today.

  3. Beautiful post, Kim. My tears are flowing. My oldest son was also 12 when my husband died and is now 14, physically and emotionally so different from the little boy he was when his Dad died. My husband was the principal and art teacher at the school where my boys attend and where I teach. I know how hard it was for me, especially at the beginning, and how hard it still can be at times. Just physically being in the space where he was and having others occupy his space who didn't even know him. But I haven't talked to the boys about it for a long time. I'm going to talk to them tonight... They are going to grief camp next weekend, which they are nervous about but I am so glad I'm giving them a gentle push in that direction, especially after reading your post. So much goes on in their heads and their hearts. I loved: "I see his grief and my grief as separate. I always saw it as the same.
    He lost a father, someone that cannot be replaced.". So heartbreakingly true. Happy Mother's Day, to the mothers we've become.

  4. Sudden Widow....a lovely phrase. "Happy Mother's Day to the mother's we have become." I will use that all day and every Mother's Day going forward. Thank you.

  5. Wow, Kim - what a beautiful, inspiring post. Its honesty speaks to those of us with grown children, too.

    And my thanks to Sudden Widow, too: "Happy Mother's Day to the mothers we have become" is indeed a lovely phrase for all of us.

  6. Happy Mother's Day to all widows with children. My husband Martin passed away suddenly on 4/7/10 of chronic heart disease. We have a 9 and 1 year old, daughters. No one understands he depth of the grief and loneliness. I'm trying to connect with other widows with children in my area for support.

  7. As I celebrate Mother's Day alone today, I've became aware of some deep feelings. This morning my neighbor wished me happy Mother's Day, and I struggled not to cry. My boys are grown and this is my 3rd holiday without my husband. And what I miss the most is that my little family of 4--Mom, Dad, 2 sons--no longer exists. And I put so many years and so much effort into that family. And its gone in 6 months. That's the time it took my husband to die, and then my youngest son left for law school. So I've lived alone for 2 1/2 yrs. I keep my feelings deeply buried, because of the way I was raised, and today it struck me why I cried with my neighbor's good wishes. I think that is the main reason that I feel so lost, that in addition to losing my husband, I lost my family, and I'm essentially all alone, unless I ask a neighbor for help. My sons, my family of origin, and my husband's family are all in different states. And I'll always be alone unless I move close to my sons, or back to my hometown, or would meet someone, which I think is very unlikely. Girlfriends just aren't the same on holidays, cause they're with their families. All I can do for now is cry and get the sadness out. I went to a movie today to celebrate Mother's Day, and even that is a little difficult, because I'm usually the only one alone, and it is so hard to see couples out together. I'm sure there must be other widows who are as alone as I am. I'm glad that I have a place where I can speak my truth and not be judged. Thank you so much. I don't believe that I can really move forward until I get in touch with with my deepest feelings. And I'm sure they come to me as I'm ready for them. Blessings to all.

  8. Thank you for this beautiful post. I think of all of the people who I have been with while grieving my husband and the ones who I am most comfortable with are just like you - they can just be present. They don't feel the need to say anything. They witness your grief and in doing so, they send a powerful message - about the depth and truth of that pain. We each grieve something uniquely ours. Mothers Day is emotional. It brings with it the expectations and the joys and the heartache. My own children were here (they are grown) and as they left I felt grateful but also that ache of not having my husband here to talk with, as we always did after their visits. I try to be mother and father and find, I cannot. I feel speechless sometimes and I am unsure of my role for the first time in my life. I can't imagine how painful and difficult that is when you have young children at home. I think of you - the widows with young families trying so hard to keep going. Know, we are with you. Our experiences may not be the same but I, like many others, stand in awe of your strength and beauty and grace of spirit.
    your children are blessed.
    Happy Mothers Day for because of you, your children will become all they are meant to be.

  9. Your post was wonderfully written. I could feel your heartache for your son. My son, too, lost his father when he was 12 years old. He is now fourteen and I can see that he struggles and is sad for his dad. Like you I did not know how I would feel today, but I could feel their dad in them.(I have two sons and a daughter) Our pain is very deep still, but I agree that we have to know that a child's pain is different than ours. Your writing said it perfectly. You and your children are in my prayers tonight.

  10. Hugs sweetie.
    It was mother's day here (Oz) yesterday too and I finally realised why my 8 yo daughter is so pedantic about goodbyes.

  11. To Anonymous poster May 8th @ 2:11 PM:
    My heart hurts for your aloneness on Mother's Day. May I suggest you join us at Widowed Village? There are others like us who have grown children who are either out of town or don't come by as often as we'd like. It's a good place to keep each other company. You'll find us at and I'm "Dianne in Nevada". Hope to see you over there.

  12. I have read many of the posts on this site and all have ben illuminating but this one hit a special cord in me. My husband died 20 months ago. Our only child, a son, was sixteen. I have been overwhelmed for so many reasons but none more than how to support my son. This has been very helpful and has validated my feeling and expressed them in a way I never could.
    Thank You