Grief Is Individual, As Are Our Continued Motivations For Survival
Single Parenting Is Tough - Doing It After Loss Even Tougher
I had a brief taste of being a single parent when my husband left for two and a half months to go on a course a couple of provinces away from us - me and our two daughters. Our youngest was an infant at the time and our oldest around 5 years of age. It was one of the most challenging times of my life, and one that gave me just a little bit more empathy than I already had for parents facing the challenge of raising children alone.
I could not imagine trying to single parent while coping with my grief over the loss of a spouse.
I've got a friend who had to face that challenge, and while she has since found a partner, I can only imagine the devastation she faced after the death of her husband. Their son, now almost 18, was only a toddler when he died, and I know in the months and years that followed his passing there were great challenges to go along with the equally significant celebrations.
Comedian Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille) has been openly discussing how he's been coping following the death of his wife, Michelle McNamara, in April 2016. They had a young daughter together, Alice, whom Oswalt credits with helping him get through the days.
Some might argue that you have to keep going following a spouse's death for your own sake and sanity, yet what do those people know of the inner anguish that the new widow or widower is facing? How difficult it is to get out of bed, shower, or even get back to work following such loss?
I'm just a teacher, writer, friend, and so forth. I can only speculate about the depth of grief people face in the wake of this sort of loss, and even in speculation, I shudder. In his recent essay for GQ, Oswalt discusses the terror of having to walk this road without his wife at his side, and while he acknowledged that there were days in the beginning where he said he couldn't even fathom continuing without her, he's doing it for Alice because he has to.
Some might look at those who pin such hope and will to live on young children as a terrible burden for these kids to face, but in reality, parent and child are quite likely working together to get through. It's hard to envision young kids lifting a parent when they're at their absolute lowest, but isn't that what happens daily? You could have the roughest day ever at work and all it takes is your child to give you a hug or a sloppy kiss and tell you that they love you and all of a sudden you feel awesome again.
Kids are magical in that way, and while they might be lost in their own worlds at times, including when they are grieving hard, they have a knack for helping their parents bring themselves out of their own fogs. It strikes me that the biggest example of life going on after a loss is a parent trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered life to show their kids that it has to go on.
A New Sort Of Normal
What Happens Now?
Life has a way about showing you what paths lie ahead. There's no question to that. All of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, are on some sort of journey where we never quite know where we're going or even how we're getting there, and any sort of huge upset to this can really derail everything you've known.
Patton Oswalt has admitted as much. "It sucked and it was a hassle every time, but the world kept turning. I said, “Whoops, my bad,” and fixed it and kept stumbling forward," he says.
These are not easy admissions. As grown ups, we often hate to acknowledge we make mistakes, and when the mistakes we make involve our own kids, the admission becomes even more difficult. However, the kids can learn something from us and our daily fumbles. Grace under pressure is not something that comes easily or comfortably - it's inherent in the name. Without pressure or stress, there can be no opportunity to rise to any given occasion.
Grieving parents know there is no off switch to kids. Even when the kids are sleeping, there's always something imprinted on a parent's DNA that keeps them alert for night terrors, vomiting, or just the desire to cuddle with Mom or Dad. Kids are unpredictable humans and only add to the adventure, but when a parent is grieving the loss of a partner, it likely feels impossible to continue parenting.
"I want to tune out the world and hide under the covers and never leave my house again and send our daughter, Alice, off to live with her cousins in Chicago, because they won't screw her up the way I know I will," Oswalt admits in one of the most heartbreaking and heartfelt passages in his essay.
But he keeps going. For her. And again, while some might question putting one's will to keep going on a young child, there is no better reason.
"I'm moving forward—clumsily, stupidly, blindly—because of the kind of person Alice is," he writes. "She's got so much of Michelle in her. And Michelle was living her life moving forward. And she took me forward with her. Just like I know Alice will. So I'm going to keep moving forward. So I can be there with you if you need me, Alice. Because I'll need you."
To all those who keep moving forward: you got this.