Grief is multidimensional and has a unique way of leaving its fingerprint on every area of one’s life.
I had earlier written about the ripple effects that a loved one’s death brings, known as secondary losses. I’d like to share one dimension of grief in this post about my ongoing journey as a widowed parent.
Chidinma and I were parents to a toddler (two years) and a baby (five months) when she died. I’ll like to give you a brief insight of what life was like as parents before diving into what life as a widowed parent currently looks like including the challenges, adventures, lessons learnt etc.…
Like most young couples, we dreamt and spoke sincerely about our plans for our family and children. We fantasised about what life was going to be like as parents, who would play which role, who we believed was going to be the firmer parent, etc.
We didn’t realise that, like most couples, the birth of a child(ren) doesn’t come with a manual. Each child has their demand, and you learn on the job, mostly. I mean, you kind of know this, but when it’s your turn, it’s different. At least that’s what I found out.
We had fantasised about what the pregnancy journeys were going to be like. I was brought back to reality sharply, like when a DJ abruptly changes a song along with all the razzmatazz effects that they do.
Let me take a detour to share one of these reality checks with you.
The ‘association of dad’ (who had led the way) had informed me of pregnancy cravings, additional need for patience, etc. They told me that some requests, but especially the timing of the request, could sometimes be at odd times. I didn’t believe it until I experienced them.
I didn’t know that the pregnancy journey was filled with twists and turns. I now know first-hand that each journey is different and can be a life and death experience. We had two children two years apart. Our journey into parenthood had begun.
The Southern people of Nigeria, Yoruba’s, have a unique way of congratulating someone after the birth of a newborn baby with the greeting, “Eku owo lomi,” which literally translates as ‘congratulations for dipping your hands in water.”
Greetings like this originated before washing machines and disposable nappies. A new baby means a higher level of laundry, i.e. washing nappies and baby clothes. It also means a twice-daily bath for the baby.
Introducing disposable nappies hasn’t eliminated continuous washing of hands. As a result, the parents interact with water more often, hence the greeting.
We were learning to juggle and balance the additional parental responsibilities of life with the competing demands of work, family life, friends, personal passion, and volunteering. We were both hands on.
I don’t know if it was unique to us, but it felt like we were always on our toes, and life moved at a fast pace parenting, two children. Chidinma and I devoted our primary focus, energy and time to loving our growing family.
During this transition phase, Chidinma had also taken the additional role of being the family photographer. She was capturing moments we’ll reminisce on most weekends about the events of the past week. Sundays were family days where we looked back at the pictures and spent hours deciding which movies to watch before actually watching the movies.
Our hands were always in the water. It was from nappy changes or the never-ending cycle of house chores. Our toddler had also developed a love for water and would spend endless time in the bathroom, running the tap to wash her tiny hands. She gracefully left mini pools of water on the floor.
Sometimes, or should I say most times, I feel like adulting is a scam.
I often wonder why the rush to become an adult. I chuckle each time I watched the lion king animation movie when Simba sang, “I just can’t wait to be king.” I often remark out loud to the screen, “my friend, you better wait and enjoy yourself because once you grow…..”
Let me make a true confession because of this continuous cycle of adjusting to life as parents. Sometimes I want momentary peace, and it felt like I had found a cheat code. In those times, I would say to our eldest, “Anisa, please go to your mum.”
Our eldest is independent, loves exploring and helping us’ tidy’ the house that we as adults have ‘messed up’ by rearranging the location of her toys, etc. She enjoys chatting away, while observing the world before her.
One of my fondest memories of how observant she was, on one of many occasions when she decided to apply Chidinma’s make-up. Anisa must have been watching and planning in her head about her debut.
One Saturday afternoon, she had disappeared from us for a while and was quiet. Most of the time, my ‘guys’ (one name I call our children) are quiet. They are up to something. Chidinma and I were curious parents; we tiptoed around the house to find her.
Only to find that Anisa had opened Chidinma’s make-up bag meticulously laid them out as Chidinma would. She hummed away as she opened the blushers and other items and applied them on her little face. We watched for a little while and then chorused her name together in sync, “Aniiiiisssssssaaaaa.”
When we are going out, I would often hear the debate between Chidinma and Anisa over lip gloss and lipstick, etc. I found those debates entertaining, and most times, it would end with “Tee, please come and take your daughter.”
Chidinma and Anisa had a splendid mother and daughter relationship. Chidinma rarely had privacy in the bathroom. It was like each time she went to the toilet, Anisa had something to discuss with her. They spent a long time in there chatting away. We had by now developed a way we call each other’s name that means ‘come and take your daughter.’
The decibels in our house went up if Chidinma mistakenly locked the toilet and did not allow their ‘toilet meetings’ to be held. The reverse is true for me. I often said, “Anisa, please go to your mum”, or called for my back-up, Chidinma.
‘Man, like Josiah’ was still an infant and did what most if not all babies do. Look cute, eat, sleep, stay awake for most of the night, poop, occasionally smile and repeat. Josiah had a loud beaming voice, he exercised his lungs and voice mostly at night. I took some night shifts so that Chidinma could get some rest.
He has a ferocious appetite and doesn’t joke about his food. The best way to his heart was through his belly. Josiah often rewarded us with the most handsome smile when he was full.
Chidinma and I had agreed that our children would be exclusively breastfed for the first six months before introducing formula milk. However, we introduced formula milk to Josiah when he was four months old to supplement his meal.
My goodness, he didn’t like the idea. He protested vehemently and resisted, mostly. He felt betrayed by introducing this alternative meal, as if he heard our conversation about not weaning him until he was six months old. I remember the first few weeks as if it was yesterday.
We had no way of knowing that this early process of weaning by introducing powdered formula would be his only source of feed by the following month. We had barely begun the weaning process four weeks before my wife died.
I was preparing their breakfast on the morning of 30th March 2020 when I received ‘the phone call’ that completely change my life as I knew it from the hospital to inform me that my wife had died.
Minutes earlier, before the phone call, the children and I were chatting, making noise and laughing.
My mind became foggy with increased confusion about the future. I saw our hopes and dreams about our children’s future forcefully snatched from me. I felt like opening the cupboard and smashing all the plates, cups, and ceramics. I wanted to smash and break things, but remembered that I didn’t want to startle or make our children afraid.
I can’t remember how long I stayed in the kitchen to compose myself. It was the children’s cry for their breakfast or when I had an enough strength that led me through the corridor of our house to the living room.
It felt as though the news about my wife’s death had tied a progressively heavy lead to my legs as I made my way to them while carrying their breakfast in my hands. I don’t remember how I fed them. But my mind was in a riot mode, with several competing thoughts demanding my attention.
I saw their mouths moving, with occasional bursts of giggle and laughter. I couldn’t relate to the happy emotions of our children; it felt like sorrow had begun to dig its deep depths in my heart with heavy machinery.
I thought, how do I break the news to our children that their mother has died? How do I tell them they have suddenly become motherless? Will they even understand? Should I tell them? How do I tell them in a way they understand? These are some of the internal conflicts I had as my introduction to widowed parenthood.
I can’t cover my journey so far as a widowed parent in one post. I Will share the challenges; lessons learnt, and best practices in a series of posts.
I have reached out to some friends I have made along this grief journey, who have kindly accepted sharing their journey with you. I will share their posts along with this widowed parenting series.
Can I ask you for the following?
- Let me know if you have any areas or topics you’d like to see covered on the blog.
- The blog isn’t limited to those widowed alone; it’s open to anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one. Would you please let me know if you would like to share your journey and write for Balanced Wheel?
Balanced Wheel’s Bereavement support groups support anyone who has lost a loved one. This includes the loss of a parent, spouse/partner, child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling/relative, or friend.
Grieving is a highly personal experience. Losing a loved one is a painful experience. Support is available if you have lost someone close to you. Support is available from Balanced Wheel.
You can eventually cope with your loss by getting the proper support. Sharing your experience of grief with others who are experiencing similar things can be more helpful than trying to cope alone.
So, I invite you to join our peer-to-peer bereavement support group.
Are you grieving the loss of someone you loved and would like to join our support group? We will start with two bereavement support groups in September.
Would you please complete this registration form for any of the next bereavement support groups.
I would also like you to forward it to someone who could benefit from a bereavement support group.
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.