Widows hold a special place in my heart. After all, I was raised by one.
The widow’s journey is never easy. My mother was 47 when my father died. When I think about it now I become more in awe of her and the sacrifices she made for me and my brother. I was only 16, and my brother was 10 when our father died so suddenly one hot April summer’s day in 1981. Plus, I am now my mother’s age when she became a widow.
From that day forward, our lives were forever changed.
The child in grief needs many things, and often those needs must be met by an often already burdened widow who grapples with her own grief. It becomes even more complicated when the circumstances surrounding the spouse’s death are sudden — such as in the case of an accident, a murder, or like in the case of my dad — a massive first heart attack at age 49.
Your world spins, and spins for days on end. You become fearful of many things, wary and at times weary of the world around you. Relationships become a tenuous ground. Navigating the world after losing a parent before the age of 18 can be tough and complicated. I know that from experience.
My heart goes out to children who lose a beloved parent, or are on the verge of losing one in the case of illness. If only it were possible to prepare a child for that eventuality. But how does one prepare for pain, or the daze and disorientation that come after?
Joan Didion wrote so poignantly of her husband’s death in “The Year of Magical Thinking” —
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”
Often the widow tries to hold it all in and be strong for the children. Doing so is both healthy and unhealthy. Children take their cue from their mother. If they see her inconsolable, wailing and flailing all about, then they will tend to feel a sense of helplessness and will either refuse to show their own sadness in an effort to spare the surviving parent, or prone to do the extreme as well and display outbursts of anger and despair.
Open communication, where there is a sharing of feelings is the ideal. It’s all right to cry and break down in front of your children every now and then, or to shed tears of remembrance. Let the tears come if they must. When the children see their mother do this, they will realize themselves that it’s okay to be sad, and it’s okay to talk about the loss.
There are many things that grieving children need. Among them are a sense of stability and consistency, affection, reassurance that they will be provided for and taken cared of, a safe haven or venue where they can air their anger or sadness without being judged.
Growing up, when things were difficult, I always found consolation in knowing that God has a special place in His hart for orphans and widows. Faith and holding on to that promise became an anchor for our little family.
I came across this excellent piece in the NY Times written so eloquently by a doctor. It reminded me so much of our early days when we had lost our dad. How I wished back then that there was someone we could talk to back then and unburden. The world of grieving children and widows would certainly be so much better, if only there were more healers like him.