Since the death of my husband in December there has been a lot of adjustment I have had to make. We have two children together, Johnathan Alexander, 6 years old and Isabella Ireland 15 months old. My husband passed away December 2, 2016 just 9 days away from our daughters first birthday. His death was sudden and tragic. I was lost and didn’t know where how to pick up the pieces, but knowing I had two young children who needed me. The morning after he died I remember rehearsing in my mind the words I would use to tell our son that his dad had died. I had to be gentle and not disclose too much information to him yet, right then he just needed to know he wasn’t going to see his father anymore and he would also need comforting. I sat him on my niece’s bed at my sister’s house; I told him, “remember last night how I told you daddy needed some help”, “yup” he said, I continued, “Well mommy did her very best to get daddy help, I did everything I could, but there was an accident and last night daddy died.” There was silence, I saw the tears and confusion on his face, he looked up at me and asked, “my dad?” I said, “yes sweetheart, your dad. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry” I hugged him as he started to cry and asked, “what happened?” I told him I wasn’t sure, I called 911 for help and something happened when the police were trying to help his dad. He cried and said, “Wait, I already knew that, I had a dream about it!” he went on to tell me about a dream he had about his dad being locked in a room and he was trying to help him and get him out, but he couldn’t and his dad started to slip away into another dimension. I was stunned and afraid, from that moment the fear has never gone away.
Since that day four months ago my children and I have struggled to pick up the pieces, some days are better than others. As a new single mom I have had a lot of adjustments. I returned to work a month after burying my husband and felt numb. I returned to only part-time as a family therapist choosing to work the hours my children were in school (particularly my son). I was fortunate enough to enroll Isabella into a daycare that is under the same organization as my work, she was enrolled when I was in college still, so she still qualifies for free daycare until age 3; I am so grateful for this. I have lost half my income since my husband’s death and have been supporting my children and myself off of our savings account and my part-time work. I am still waiting for the children’s veteran’s benefits and social security benefits to begin, but that has been a difficult issue to navigate. Luckily we have a very supportive family, who are willing to help financially if we need it. This new money adjustment seems to be the last thing on people’s minds, but I can assure you living in a single income is no easy task and requires careful budgeting that I was not previously used to.
I am also still overcoming the barriers of day to day tasks, every day is different. Usually I am up by 5 a.m. to get myself ready for the day and hopefully enjoy a cup of coffee by myself. I wake up my son at 6:45 for breakfast, he is quite independent now and can get himself dressed and brush his teeth. He still needs help making breakfast, packing his lunch, and doing his hair. These tasks are all new to him since his father died, but without encouraging this independence we would not make it to school and work on time. I wake up Isabella at about 7:30, I change her diaper, get her dressed, do her hair, and offer her a bottle. I then let the dogs out and feed them. We are hopefully out the door by 7:40. First we drop off Johnathan, then Isabella and I go to work and school together. I take her to her teacher about 8:15-8:30 a.m. I check myself into my office and hopefully do a little meditating before I begin seeing my clients for sessions. My last session ends at 2:00 p.m. and I leave to pick up Johnathan from school by 2:30 across town, then we head back across town to pick up his little sister when she is out of school by 3:00 p.m. When we arrive home, I bring the dogs in, give them water inside, check if my niece has come to walk the dogs and fix the children a snack. I sit at the kitchen table and go through mail, review Johnathan’s homework folder, and begin any home or business tasks that need to be addressed, such as: scheduling appointments, making phone calls etc. I will start a load of laundry, clean up, have the kids finish their snacks and wash up to play a little before dinner. After dinner the kids take their baths. I help Isabella of course and get her dressed for bed. She has a bottle and falls asleep in her crib at about 7:30 p.m. Johnathan and I then do homework together and read before his bed time at 8:30-9:00 p.m. I then take a little time for myself, feed the dogs, go outside and spend some quiet time to reflect and maybe write.
It’s hard to find a breather in these typical day to day tasks. I don’t get to watch T.V. like I used to enjoy or read books. I have missed many of my favorite shows because my time doesn’t have any room for them, I haven’t finished a book I started back in September. I am so exhausted by the end of the day, but I struggle to fall asleep because the memories of my husband keep me awake at night. I cry a lot during the day, when I’m home with the kids, or even alone at home. Mostly I cry because I miss my husband. Sometimes I cry because I feel so overwhelmed with everything. I don’t know how I’m doing it, but it’s the only choice I have because of my babies. When my husband was alive, he would make dinner, even do laundry, sweep and mop the floors, the kids would be bathed if I had to work late, sometimes they would even be in bed by the time I got home. He was a stay-at-home dad and went to school in the evenings twice a week. He took on a lot of the responsibilities at home, like those chores, but also picking our kids up from school, coaching our son’s soccer team, and taking them for the occasional ice cream cone after school. Now, I’m sometimes late to pick up Johnathan from school and he gets very angry when I am, Johnathan hasn’t been able to do soccer because I must take care of his sister. Not only have I had to make some hard adjustments, but so have our children. My son still only likes the way his dad makes French toast for breakfast, he misses him as his soccer coach, he only likes ice cream with dad, and I never read the characters of his favorite books right. But he appreciates me trying, even though we both don’t like our new roles in the family we are doing our best.
Isabella, though as an infant you might think she would adjust easily, has had quite a difficult time in her adjustment. She didn’t sleep at all in those first couple weeks her dad died. She ended up getting strep throat too that week he died. She only slept with me. She regressed too, she had just started to give up her pacifier and her bottle; after her dad died she took back to those comforts of sucking. Just as she was about to walk, she stayed crawling a little longer until almost 13 months old. About a week before I returned to work, Isabella began to sleep in her own crib again, but even today she still needs a bottle before bed and her pacifier throughout the day. She is very attached to me. I give her narratives of where I’m going and what I’m going to do next. For example: “Bella I’m going to go to the kitchen now to cook dinner” and she will then follow close behind me. If I don’t tell her where I’m going or what I’m going to do she will not be cued to follow me and will be left behind in the next room. If she so happens to turn around and realize I have left her without a narrative she will begin to cry and get scared, I will have to go pick her up and she will not let me put her down until she feels “safe” or can trust me again. I have been very mindful of her needs. I joke that she is my little shadow and I look for her now everywhere I go, even when I know she is not around. I believe that even though Bella doesn’t know her dad died, she knows he’s gone and she is fearful that if he can leave so suddenly and not come back, the same can happen to mom and that is why she is so attached and keeps close to me.
We live everyday on the tips of our toes not knowing what to expect or if there will be a new challenge we have yet to face. But I keep my kids close, we comfort each other, and they out everyone else know how hard this adjustment has been.