Monday, August 13, 2012

Child of a Widow

My dad, my cousin and me about 2 years after my mom died
When I was five, my mom lost her fight with cancer and my dad was widowed at almost exactly the age I was when  I was widowed. The Universe has a really strange sense of humor, by the way.

The two of us had to navigate this new life we didn't plan for. He never got us any professional help and he didn't have much of a support system that I know of.

At school I was the only kid who'd lost a parent. I felt utterly alone and Mother's Day was torture for me as I tried to pretend I had someone living to make a card for.

At Camp Widow West this weekend, I was a part of a panel of amazing widowed people who came to a session to hear from adult children of widowed people. The facilitator and I were the two of us who were both widowed AND children of widows. As each parent took their turn to share their story, a common theme revealed itself. They just wanted to do their best to make sure their kids were okay.

Then I was asked to talk about what helped me when I was a kid and I realized that what would have helped me tremendously is if my father had reached out for help more often like these parents were doing.

Regardless of how he handled his grief or my grief, I turned out okay, though. I'll grieve the loss of my mom my whole life, but I'm okay.

I wanted so badly to reassure these parents that their children would be okay, too. Showing up at Camp and reaching out for help on the journey was a step my father didn't and couldn't really take advantage of. I can only imagine what it might have been like if my father and I had had the resources that SSLF and other grief groups offer.

He needed support for the Herculean task before him and he didn't have it. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him, but I do know what it was like for me. I needed to talk about my pain and my loss. I needed to be with other kids who'd lost their parents. I needed female figures in my life who would take me under their wing and provide some mothering. I needed my teachers to know ahead of time that I didn't have a mommy so they could help soften the blow of Mother's Day. I needed to see a counselor. I needed to keep some things of my mom's. I needed to keep her memory alive as much as possible. I needed to feel loved and wanted by my remaining parent.

Most of this I've managed to either find or create for myself as an adult, but ideally I would have had them as a kid, too.

If you're raising kids as a widowed person, I want you to know (from the other side) that it will be okay. Reach out for help as much as you can. You can't do this alone. Please don't hesitate to have you and your children seen by professionals. If you can, find a camp or a support group for your kids so they have a community of children like them to be a part of. Reach out for help whenever and wherever you can.

And come to Camp! There will be so much support for you there. So many people are out there, doing their best to raise kids after widowhood.

I won't tell you that my childhood wasn't difficult, but most of what made it so was my father's inability to reach out for help, not my mother's death. You are not alone. Please remember that. Reach out for others who are traveling this road, too. We need each other.


  1. Oh Cassie - tears. Wait until you read my WV post for tomorrow that I just scheduled .... its like you've already read it and allayed my fears. Already I feel better. XXXX

    1. Wow. That was interesting timing, huh? Loved your post and so glad to hear that fears were allayed. <3

  2. Thanks for the advice, Cassie. I hope you know that your Dad did the best he could, you know what a struggle each day can bring when going through grief. Don't beat him up too much, it will get you nowhere. Thanks for the reminder that we are not alone, I need to keep hearing that.

    1. I don't beat him up at all. Being widowed myself has helped me understand how much he had to deal with while he tried to raise me. I simply wish he'd gotten himself some help. This is not something to try to survive without professional assistance, if you ask me! He needed so much more help than he got and I wish he'd reached out more. I wish he'd had the resources that are available today.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know what you mean about the cruel sense of humor of the universe.

    My husband died a little over a year ago in a drowning accident. My daughters were 13 at the time. When I was 12 my father died in a car accident.

    Watching what my mom did and didn't/couldn't do was a huge learning experience for me. Your advice is spot on. I know that my work is to provide my daughters the smoothest transition possible and to know that, while their dad may not be here for them, their mom has got it "under control". He was a good, good man. It is not easy, but I know it is what they need.

    Mom did the best she could. But she did all the things that didn't make sense. She made huge decisions the first two years. We moved to a different house in town. Then we moved 500 miles away. We never visited the grave. She gave away all of his belongings. We had no professional help. She never worked while she was married. She was totally unprepared for becoming a widow. Her intentions were good-she just wasn't thinking straight due to grief. I understand.

    When I called mom to tell her that my husband had died, I said, "God has been preparing me for this moment all my life." In a weird way, I was ready.

    His death had been hard for all of us, mom is especially devastated on so many levels. Indeed, the universe can be cruel. The most important thing is the lessons we learn from what it teaches us.

  4. hi. I lost my husband of 17 years two months ago. my kids are 16 and 13. I was lost and frightened because I didn't know what to do. I have a job but its missing him that hit us the most. I was pretending to be strong for my kids but im not actually. reading this blog made me realize that its ok to ask for help and to receive help. thank you