A question I have been asked about being a widowed parent is how has the transition been and how life has been during the early months after the passing of my wife?
My social support network of family and friends were solid. They practically put their lives on hold so that I could find my feet and learn to walk again.
In this post, I intend to share the various ways they have cushioned me as a widowed parent, some challenges I have learned to navigate, and my coping strategies.
The simple answer is that family and friends’ social support was a massive help to me during my transition into widowed parenting.
I imagine that you are interested in finding out how our social support has helped. So, let’s dive straight in.
I’ll give a quick summary, especially if you’re reading Balanced Wheel’s blog for the first time.
My wife and I began our parenting journey in 2017. We had two children, a 2-year-old and a five-month-old. Like most new parents, we were learning and adjusting to the rudiments of the parenting lifestyle.
Unexpectedly, my wife died, and I went to bed on the 30th March 2020 as a widowed parent. With no fault of my wife, I now have the sole responsibility of raising our dependent children alone.
I am incredibly grateful to our social support network of family and friends who took endless shifts to be present in our lives. Their selflessness will remain in my heart forever.
The loss of my spouse resulted in many other secondary losses, including the loss of shared parental responsibilities. No one can indeed fill the gap of my late wife, Chidinma.
Our social support network of family and friends cushioned and cared for our children beyond their best ability, and here’s how they did it.
My brother and his family moved in with us for at least two months. My sister extended her stay till six months. Grand mums took turns to visit, and friends filled the gaps to allow the family to have some breaks.
Their coordination was superb; I only had little input. Our families and friends’ presence and support allowed me to grieve properly because I knew that our children were in the proper care of our loving family and friends. They lightened my burden in ways they could not imagine.
Their presence allowed me to gradually dip my toes into what my new life as a widowed parent would look like. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that our circle of family and friends love Chidinma, our children and me. I know that they would give anything to see us happy.
You see, life is always in motion. No one can pause their lives forever.
I think when life is paused, outstanding conflicting priorities pile up. It reminds me of when you go on holiday from work only to return to find your work email inbox filled with more endless tasks, which sometimes makes you question why you took a holiday in the first place.
Life became busier as many important conflicting priorities competed for their time, energy and resources. They had work deliverables, family commitments, personal goals etc. In addition to these, family and friends responded equally to other family members or friends who were newly bereaved and required compassionate care.
- Grief, Burnout, and Compassion Fatigue
- Friend, How are You Mourning and Grieving the Death of Your Loved One?
Each time I thought back on the magnitude, quality, and compassion that our support network of family and friends poured on us, I felt thankful even in the depths of grief.
Let me take you on a tour of how they lightened my burden as I transitioned into my widowed parenting lifestyle.
I had an ongoing conflict with my inner self, especially during the months when I had a great deal of support. I felt like a failure. I felt like a burden. The thought that I made people pause their lives to care for us depressed me even more.
I found myself on a downward spiral, like one free-falling into another bottomless pit. I felt like I needed to get over my grief as quickly as possible so that our support network of family and friends could quickly return to their lives.
It wasn’t what they said or did that triggered these emotions or thoughts. I felt the need to compel myself to get some ‘grip’ and get on with this part of life as a widowed parent.
I instructed, condemned, challenged myself on many occasions by saying, “Tolu, get a grip, be strong, relieve these people. How much longer do they need to put their lives on hold for you?”
I felt that the debt of gratitude I owed was insurmountable, so I better get “grief fixed up” as soon as possible to grasp the horns of widowed parenting.
Let me let you in on some of the thoughts and raging internal conflicts.
Because our social support network of family and friends cared so much, they asked me all types of questions so that they knew how and where to help. That I know they genuinely cared didn’t stop me from feeling exposed and vulnerable to some of their questions.
They were careful, sensitive and compassionate in their approach. The questions were about my whole life. They asked about finance, childcare, work, health etc.
Though they were careful, sensitive, and compassionate in their approach, the conversations were still difficult for me.
It’s like when you bruise your leg; you’re most likely to react even with the most tender care to treating the wound. The questions from my social support network of family and friends felt like that. They made me do internal “ouch and ooouhs.”
I felt vulnerable, weak, and exposed because of their support and questions. I somehow felt that they might use this moment against me someday and felt the need to hide and guard myself.
In my head, I heard endless echoes of maybe someday, they will mock me and remind me of the sacrifices they made with statements like “if not for the part I played when your wife died….”
I also thought that because our social support network of family and friends had seen me in my most vulnerable moment, they would never look at me the same. I felt like they’d continue to pity me and look at me ‘one kind ‘ or in a certain light.
I wondered what type of conversations they were having when I wasn’t present. Even though they never exhibited any of these characteristics, I couldn’t escape these feelings.
I became insecure and threatened by their support. These thoughts and emotions played on endless loops for most of my waking moments.
What did I do?
I decided they had seen enough of my weak and vulnerable moments. I felt I needed some control to regulate the extent of weakness I shared or what they saw. I began to close myself in.
Outwardly, I appeared to be coping well. I gradually and intentionally stopped asking for and accepting help. Being overwhelmed by grief and the impending responsibility of parenting two dependents on my own was drowning me.
I kept this to myself for many months and didn’t share it with anyone.
A few months passed, mum and I had watched a movie together. We were discussing the movie when she bent her head to the left to chuckle as she did.
I heard her say a proverb in Yoruba dialect, Southwestern part of Nigeria, “Lord have mercy o, oku kii fara pamo feni to ba ma sin.” Literal translation, “The dead does not hide from the one that will bury him/her.”
The proverb wasn’t directed at me, but it caught my attention, mum was still talking, and by now, her voice had faded into the background as my mind wandered off to ponder on the proverb. It pulled my heartstrings.
My heart tugged for days, like a toddler asking for a packet of crisps, and I knew why it did. I eventually caved in to pay attention to my thoughts and emotions. I invited them to an evening meal so that we could have a heart-to-heart conversation.
I found it helpful to journey down the memory lane of our social support network of family and inner circle of friends. I had a few chuckles as I remembered the various adventures of life we had been on, and I arrived at the following conclusion.
I know that the world can be a cruel place, and to survive it, we need people in our corner. I reminded myself that not everyone was out to get me. Our social support network of family and friends are in my corner, championing me and fighting to see life’s fullness return to me.
My mentor taught me about perspective, one of the many things she’s taught me, even before my wife’s death, is to always focus on what’s within my control. I found this especially helpful in navigating through this challenging period.
What was within my control was that I needed help and could not control what anyone could or could not do in the future.
I thought to myself, “Right now, Tolu, you need help, and if you don’t accept help, your children may end up suffering from the consequences. I am confident that our circle of friends won’t intentionally hurt us, and if they do, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Focusing on their kindness and the history we have helped me break out of the endless loop. In the same manner that I gradually retracted, I slowly began to open up again.
At the time, I didn’t realise I was putting excessive pressure on my grief, like putting excessive pressure on an injured leg, hoping that it would make it heal faster and better.
Anyone who has gone through that kind of pain knows that it doesn’t make it heal faster; it makes it worse.
A book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3, shares about “a time for everything.” I am still learning that there’s a time to be helped, and in that season of life, we should allow ourselves to receive help.
It reminds me of the first few swimming lessons I had. The best way to swim is to relax the muscles and allow yourself to be carried and float. Otherwise, you’re likely to sink.
Ps. It doesn’t matter if you use a floater. You still have to relax those muscles. So that you don’t sink.
If you don’t know how to swim, remember when you had your first swimming lesson!
The desire of almost every social support network of bereaved family members and friends is to see their bereaved friends, family members bounce back to life again.
On behalf of everyone who has lost a loved one and has had support from family and friends, May I say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has stood by us. You’ll never know how much of a lifeline you have been to us.
Support is available from Balanced Wheel.
Balanced Wheel’s Bereavement support groups support anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one. Sharing your experience of grief with others who are experiencing similar things can be more helpful than trying to cope alone.
I’d love to share your coping with grief story too.
I intend to expand the blog and resources on the website to include stories of other people who have lost a loved one, not limited to losing a spouse. I’d love to hear about how you handled grief. Would you please let me know if you would like to share your story?
I am also open to having anyone anonymised if that’s your preferred option. Complete the contact us form with the text “I would like to share my story.”
To Be Continued Next Wednesday…
I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments, and reflections below? Thank you.