Being a widowed single mother of three boys, I have found that every moment of my life is spent taking care of someone else. In fact it was that way even before Pat died because I was Pat’s caregiver for two years prior to his death. There is little time for self-care as a solo parent. I feel guilty when I don’t put my kids needs or my families needs, or anybody else’s needs before mine.
When Pat died I met a fellow widower whom I hardly knew at the time. We met to discuss our common situation and perhaps provide support to one another during this horrible time in our lives. At this meeting, he told me how his focus had to be on his kids. They were the most important thing and it had to be all about them. I thought he was the most selfless person I had ever met. He was willing to give his life to his children after losing their mother.
I admired this.
I envied his dedication.
I felt like the worst mother on earth.
I felt I a bit selfish because I felt the need to take care of me. I couldn’t make it ALL about the kids. I just couldn’t. I asked him, it has to be a little bit about you too, doesn’t it? Because I couldn’t imagine my whole life…my whole life revolving around my kids
. My theory was that you can’t be your best for them if you aren’t your best for you. You have to take care of you too.
I think perhaps it just takes time to realize the need for self-care. We as widows have a lot to deal with. Grief is just the starting point. When there are children involved it is a whole other level of pressure that is put on us. But this can be
true without kids. Taking care of others ends up being part of the job description. It
begins early on.
I found myself comforting others after Pat died, and even today I find myself trying to make others feel better. I feel like I often find myself in the position of convincing others I am okay and we are doing alright, which we are by the way, in order to make them feel better. In my story the focus has been about my kids. I want them to be okay. I want them to survive this loss and still live a normal healthy life. I want to be the best mom and dad for them. I think that is what anyone would want. But I wasn’t doing this so well in the beginning. I was a mess.
I think it was because I was always thinking about them first. I would take care of whatever they needed and comfort them whenever they needed, or did whatever it took for them to be okay… even when I was falling apart. I would pull myself together and do what I had to do. I did this for others too. I did this because I wanted people to see that I was going to be okay. I didn’t want pity and the pathetic head tilting “how are yous?” I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I wanted them to know that yes I am in a horrible situation right now and I just lost the love of my life, but I am strong and I will survive. And so for them as well, I would pull myself together and put on a happy show. I never wanted to make people feel uncomfortable or awkward around me. But this began to wear on me. Having to always keep it together and be strong in front of everyone started to become too much. I was no good for me…I was no good for my kids…basically I was no good.
I wasn’t dealing with what I had to deal with. Without taking care of my grief, I was keeping my kids stuck in a bad place too. It’s like when you are on an airplane and the
fight attendants tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help others. I had to give myself a moment to heal before I could be any good to anyone else.
This didn’t take me long to figure out. I was struggling from the get go. Within two weeks after Pat’s funeral I realized this need of mine. A good friend of mine, who was also widowed herself, told me that this was “My Year of Grace”. It was okay for me to do what I had to do in order to get through the loss. It was okay not to worry about what others thought. It wasn’t selfish…it was healthy.
She was right.
Once I started taking time for me, I was a bit better for others. It wasn’t instantaneous, but it happened. A morning walk, or coffee with a friend…I actually took a trip to California on my own for a few days. These things all helped me by allowing me to focus on where I was, what I was feeling, and what I wanted to do next. When the grief would hit hard, which it did often, I allowed myself to feel the pain so that i could work through it. I could process it. I didn’t always have the answers, or figure things out. It was tough. It was painful. It was some of the most difficulty days and nights of
my life…But it gave me a chance to face my grief head on. I had a lot of work to do in order to get out of the fog. The tunnel of darkness can last a long time and it is lonely and it is scary and is overwhelming. But I knew that I someday I wanted out. I couldn’t live one day longer than necessary in that place. And the fastest way to get out of the darkness and back into the light, is to just go through it. You can’t run from it or think it is just going to pass you by. You have to stare it down and work your way through one baby step at a time. It is the toughest work I have personally ever had to do. But I did it. Every day. I’m
still doing it. Eventually the darkness becomes a light shade of gray and soon there is a light and you find that life is waiting for you once again. Perhaps we simply have to absorb the darkness and make it apart of us before we can begin to see the light again.
But, in order
to do this, we widows have to recognize that we are just as important as everyone else around us. We have to see that although we are the caregivers for our friends and family, we have to be the caregivers for ourselves too. A moment out of the day for ourselves does not make us selfish. Some time for what we want to do, or watch, or eat, or listen to, or whatever, does not make us horrible people. It makes us human.
So I am asking you to make yourself a priority so that you can be the best you can be at this place and time. It may not be the BEST you of your life, but in the chapter that you are in with your grief and in your life, you will see that a moment just for you can do wonders for your soul. It takes time to find our way. But each day brings another opportunity for us to heal and to grow and to take another step forward. One step…no matter how small it is, brings us one step out of the darkness…and maybe, just maybe, one day the fog will life, and the light will shine on us yet again.