You guessed it – I had to pull off the road to take this photo. I knew this hay barn in western Massachusetts would become a blog post. I have gone back and forth between the title Shelter and Still Standing. Both titles work. I saw myself when I saw that hay barn. I offer shelter and I am still standing.
And sometimes I feel alone and empty out in a field.
Parenting is hard. Parenting grieving kids is harder. Parenting grieving kids while you are grieving is well, you get the idea. Early on at a grief support group a few people commented that I was lucky to have kids still at home – they were going home to empty houses. I politely disagreed, that just means I have kids too young to have lost a dad.
And it meant my parenting job was still Big.
My kids were teens when their dad died. Some families are hit much much younger. I can’t know how Big that job must feel.
In the beginning, in those fractured first months, I just wanted to offer comfort. Shelter. When you look up the word you find protect, shield, save, preserve, cushion…. I wanted to do all that and more for my kids. They needed it. When you lose a parent the world can feel less safe. I wanted to give them a place to grieve and I wanted to ease their pain. Watching your kids suffer sucks.
It is pretty obvious that the loss of a parent and the loss of a partner will restructure the whole family. I guess what I still can’t get used to is the idea that I am a single parent. I wonder out loud sometimes – how the hell did that happen? You also become the CEO and CFO of the family. For well past the first year, I would wake every morning with a rush of adrenaline – so much to do. Anxiety and worry with a side of stress was on the menu. Sometimes I felt there wasn’t time for my own grief.
The tricky part is when the grief gets in the way of parenting. When all you can see is the sad kid and you lose track of day to day parenting like making someone do their homework. It is a complicated balance. I am still learning. When to push and when to offer shelter? I wonder about this all the time. Sometimes you are a bunch of sad people living together and so you bake cookies and watch funny TV. Sometimes you are the mom and a rule is a rule and clean up your room and put your phone away now.
But this is clear – the job is Big and you can’t do it alone. You need to gather your village. Aunts and uncles, teachers, grief support therapists, friends, school administrators, tutors, neighbors – you might need them. I was open and outspoken and it was still a challenge to get all the support we needed.
If you are the friend, teacher or neighbor to a family going through this – reach in. Offer alternative shelter. I am thankful to all the people who have stepped in and stepped up to help us. Something as simple as offering a ride can be a huge help.
When I feel like a bare bones structure standing out in the middle of the field – weathered, waiting, worrying, whatever – I try to remember to lean on the supports holding me up. My instincts, my will, my determination, my confidence, I have to connect to all of these.
Our children have their own beautiful wisdom and determination. Sometimes we just get to watch.
And I am counting on the foundation our family was built on to shelter us all.
For Z, N, and K who are gifts