Two years has come and gone and it seems like it has been so quick but in other ways it seems like time has just inched by. It seems crazy that two years have gone by since my children's father passed away but time likes to remind us of the moments it's unfairly robbed of us.
If you haven't followed our story, are new here or just happened to fall across this article I'll provide links for you to all the past articles at the end of this article.
In 2001, I married my first husband and together we had three children. My husband had Type 1 diabetes and Addison's disease which was always an extra layer in our marriage. But I brought my layers too. We worked hard in our marriage utilizing what tools we had when things got tough. We had an amazing army of his doctors and nurses supporting not only him but our family through the years. His diabetes doctors and nurses got to know the kids just as well as they knew my husband. When things got tough our marriage and family counselors were huge in helping myself and us to work through some of the hardships I was having in the past and present and help us as a couple move and navigate through the present and future. In 2016 just prior to our 15th anniversary I found some horrific news. News that led me to a crossroads in our marriage. I could either allow myself to continue to ignore some of the things happening in our marriage and allow the behaviors to continue... or I needed to make the decision to leave.
I made the decision to stand up and not allow myself to continue to be treated in the manner I had been quietly doing for years. And things spiraled after that. It just got worse and I found myself and our kids in what only could be described as a nightmare.
A couple of years ago it ended when my ex husband passed away and while I am grateful that my ex husband is no longer suffering physically, emotionally and mentally with the challenges he had in this life, it doesn't lessen the pain that I see in my children's eyes, nor the complicated grief I have gone through these past years. Here is what two years out looks like for our own family and please feel free to share your own experience either privately or here for others to share and learn from:
They say that the second year is actually the hardest after someone passes and I would say that is completely true. This year was definetely harder for various reasons.
In some ways I feel like the kids had a much more difficult time. I think the reality has set in. The help and support has all but disappeared and I think they sometimes feel they should just be okay. I think the pandemic also brought a whole layer of new challenges. In some ways it forced them to learn to get through those difficult times in ways they never had to before and in other ways it caused them setbacks in their healing process and caused a lot of their mental health issues they deal with to resurface. I am grateful for a strong support team of their doctors and counselors who were still there during the pandemic to keep the kids healthy mentally and make them feel that it was okay that they were feeling the way they were and were there with solutions and people to help them.
Children and teenagers who face the death of a parent is an unimaginable thing for me as the surviving parent to understand. I can't imagine what my kids are going through and their experience through this is different from my experience. While we can empathize and identify with each other on the deeper levels the things we deal with day to day are different. The first year after my exes passing I felt like the kids were more vocal about how they were feeling. This year I've had to wait for those breadcrumbs they give me and find those moments I can connect with them and talk to them on a deeper level. This year both teenagers seemed to stop talking about how they were feeling and "I'm fine" gets thrown around a lot more. They seem to be trying to grapple with how they are feeling versus how they are supposed to feel. I think sometimes they feel the pressure of what society says they should think or feel at this point. With hormones and emotions all over the place sometimes I find their grief comes out in the form of anger and other times it may come in the form of depression. Other times, I call it the zombie syndrome. I can tell they are just muscling through putting one foot in front of the other in a numbed state much like a zombie.
But there are also some wonderful things that have come this year. I see those moments they just allow themselves to be the carefree and crazy kids they are. It's one of the things that is the most heartbreaking through all of this--that as a child or teen they have been robbed of some of the things that they should enjoy and be doing at their age. That life has made them grow up in unimaginable and unfair ways. So when you get these moments it is so precious to watch as a parent. Because a lot of times when they come the kids feel that they shouldn't feel that way and they put their guard back up. I think sometimes they feel guilty for feeling happy or being proud of the milestones they go through--milestones their parent who isn't there won't ever see. It's very easy to see when they feel this way. One minute they are carefree and then that wall just goes up immediately and their whole demeanor changes.
I've also found that my kids are starting to feel out their purpose and new normal this year. I hope that this develops more this coming year but it was the interesting thing to watch and talk to the kids about. My son's football season was a rough one. He dealt with the anniversary of his dad's passing during the middle of the season and then his grandfather also passed away causing a lot of emotions to come up and causing some setbacks in his mental game on the field. At the end of the season he was able to dominate again on the field but a lot of that came with his ability to change his purpose and mindset. I can't tell you how much as a parent it hurts to hold your son on the football field after his last game as he sobs. He kept telling me how much it helped him to just have his moment after that last game this season but as a parent it brings so many complicated emotions from hurt that he has to feel that way to relief that he is showing emotion and allowing himself to feel.
I've also noticed that this year the kids have either struggled or found deeper purpose in their friendships, religion, extended or close family member relationships or their mental health. While some of this is normal teenage behavior it is interesting to hear some of the things they struggle or find deeper meaning with to be tied to some of the situations they have gone through.
I've also noticed that some traditions are popping back in. The kids for my exes birthday this year wanted to go to one of his favorite eateries. My son who didn't want to eat a lot of the foods he and his Dad liked to eat this past year just recently requested to have recipes like chipped ham and taco salad added to the menu--some of his Dad's favorites. I hope that in time the kids are able to bring back some of the traditions they enjoy and remember as the most meaningful while also developing new ones.
This year was definetely a tough one for me as well.
It was moving on and then being thrown back into the past.
Several of my exes bills continued to come to the house this year. For awhile I ignored them, or put return to sender and sent them back thinking the companies would figure it out after over a year. After several more came my husband asked if maybe I should call them and talk to the companies instead. I smiled and took them into the office and plunked them on my desk, that sickening feeling of dread starting to well up in the pit of my stomach. I didn't want to open them because I didn't want the reminders of what I would find back then when I did. Of what had been hiding for years that I hadn't seen. When more bills came with his name on them my husband then became a little exasperated with me. "Did you call them?" I broke down. "No, I can't do it. I don't want to." He lovingly explained how he felt and how the kids felt when mail showed up with my exes name on it. "I can't imagine how this feels for you, but I can't imagine what this does to the kids." I called, sent in divorce and death certificates where needed and went on a long run afterward, allowing myself to feel all the emotions that came with it.
I still find myself in a yo yo of emotions at times. I can find myself guarded with my husband, not wanting myself to get hurt again like I did and trying to protect myself. The next minute I'm finding myself coming out more vocal about issues than I was in my past marriage. I want to be assertive, I want my husband to know when I'm upset because maybe that was why my first marriage failed. Maybe I trusted too much or was just "fine" too many times, not showing or telling him how I was feeling. Other times I'm ready to throw in the towel and be done so I can just live and be alone. Other times I am so grateful and love this man so fiercely--this man who has chosen to take on such an incredibly difficult situation and who chooses everyday to show up and love my kids and myself. Who has gone in several years from one child and quieter condo living to a never quiet house, three dogs, four kids, a wife and a fish. And don't forget a pandemic and homeschooling during a pandemic.
This year I've also found myself to feel more guilty. I mostly find myself feeling more guilty for not reading my kids emotions better when they are struggling. I'm relying more on others for help. This might be that I'm on overload with the pandemic, work, and home life but I find myself kicking myself at times for not always catching all those moments my kids need me. At those moments I try to remind myself that I can't and won't always be able to be there for them and sometimes the reason I didn't read that they were upset may be because it was something they needed to be allowed to go through or work through on their own. But I feel that incredible load of being Mom and Dad for them and feel that when my kids (the teens especially!) talk about me, they are always referring to me as the worrier. I am always worried about them and for them.
I am astonished by the growth that the kids and I have gone through. Watching some of the kids milestones and breakthroughs through this incredibly tough journey is awe inspiring as a parent. There are so many times that tears just well up as I think my children will respond one way to a situation and then I just see them go through it with so much maturity and strength in a completely opposite direction from what I had allowed myself to worry about the way they may go through it.
I don't know that I communicate with my kids how much I have struggled. I worry about that too. To them, I've always had to and will continue to be the rock for them. The stable island in the center of everything. That's who I am and my personality. It's also what I do for a job so it's probably become habit now. But I don't know if the kids know that there were (and are) a lot of times that I had/have to fight to stay here with them. Postpartum depression, depression through the divorce, the death, dealing with illness, remarriage, etc. There are so many times I can't figure out why I'm being asked to continue moving forward in this life when all I should be allowed to do is just lay down and be done. It's exhausting to keep plowing forward but I keep telling them until someone with a bright light, angel wings and lot's of heavenly gluten filled calorie-free goodies that won't hurt my stomach or my waistline comes my way I guess it's my job to continue to figure out why I'm here and who needs my help through the experiences I've been through. It's tough though. I still find I don't like talking about my own deeper personal emotions. Too many walls I guess.
This year brought some profound changes. I actually opened up more and shared my story on a podcast. I've found others who are going through divorce and then the death of an ex spouse. There is a group of us and we are dealing with some unique incredible things that others haven't. And the best thing to find is that our kids are thriving. THRIVING. Beating the negative statistics that everyone likes to throw our way. Our kids are making mistakes just like every other kid but they are moving on to graduate, enjoy positive partnerships and relationships, have families and careers in time--just like everyone else. I see the highs and lows our kids are having and going through and I think how much sweeter they are because of what they have gone through and how much harder they have had to work to get there.
My greatest worry is that they never forget that their Dad is there for them. I've had some deep conversations with each of my kids about this this year along with several friends who have gone through the same situation. One friend put it so elegantly to her daughter. Her daughter got upset that her "Dad was supposed to be here to teach her this important milestone in her life!" She was mad and angry that he wasn't there. She quietly told her daughter, "sweetheart, he is but you have to allow him to be here too." I often remind my kids of that. To allow him to be there for him. He still is and always will be even if we can't see or hear him anymore. But while we may have moments we are angry that some of his choices led us here where we are today, we can't go back. I was just thinking that this weekend! I was telling the kids that if I could've just bottled that moment from their great grandparents house up during our last family picture there at their house before everything exploded and unraveled I would give anything to do so. But just as I caught myself saying that I felt horrible for saying that too. Life doesn't stay still in one spot. Our memories can. But we can't. We evolve, grow, experience amazing things in life while also experiencing incredible trials. That's life. And it begins to shape and mold us into this amazing person if we allow it to or we can allow our choices and hesitation to move forward hold us back. We are always allowed to hold onto those beautiful memories and moments in life. But if I had just stayed in that moment, I would've also missed out on an amazing relationship, learning to love again, opening my heart and home up to my beautiful stepdaughter, learning how strong of a person and woman I really was and all the other wonderful things that life still held and holds for myself and our family.