‘Do you remember your dad?’ She responded, ‘Which one?’ Our family dynamic changed completely.’: Widow shares ‘beautiful and complicated’ journey after loss

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“Blending (verb): to mix smoothly and inseparably together.

When Dustin and I got married, it wasn’t just about our marriage. Our children were simultaneously gaining a dad and siblings overnight. Both of our family dynamics completely changed. Life as my kids knew it was with each other, with me as their sole parent and missing their dad in heaven. Dustin and his daughter, who prayed for siblings. Dustin and Elliott, an awesome duo. Me and my three kids, a strong team who longed for a father and husband.

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

Combining our families has been one of the most rewarding experiences we have encountered. Two families becoming one, blending into a seamless family unit. It has been beautiful and complicated, and has taken a lot of intentionality from all parents. Like the dictionary states, it means our two families are coming together in a way they will never separate. Smoothly, but not necessarily quickly. There will be a lot of lumps and bumps to work through, but always for the intention of consistency and uniformity.

As parents, we have to foster a spirit of inclusivity. Every sibling is involved – no favorites. Our children are 7, 6, 5, and 4, so sometimes a couple favor each other. We found two of the girls gravitated toward each other and excluded our youngest, calling each other siblings and Eloise a cousin. While the game wasn’t meant to be harmful, it did hurt Eloise’s feelings. We wanted to make sure everyone felt equal from the start, even though naturally as they get older, personalities would influence how close each child was. It may have been a silly game, but we take our family dynamic very seriously and don’t want to risk anyone feeling left out.

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

We are careful about our language. We tell the children they are best friends, they love each other, basically speaking the words we want the children to think to themselves. Now, we are a family and they are siblings. We want them to know, unequivocally, having siblings is one of the greatest gifts in life, and to treat each other accordingly, no matter who their birth parents are. We refer to them as siblings and not just their names, furthering the verbiage and consecrating that bond and permanence of the new family unit. They pray for each other every night and work together as a team in chores or activities.

Blended. Forever.

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

Respecting the child’s parent who is not in our family is extremely important. It validates the child’s feelings toward the other parent and their importance in their life. It also shows the children all the parents are on the same page. It takes maturity from all parties to show respect beyond feelings for the sake of the children. Being accommodating, casual encounters and conversations, or including in holidays/family events. Elliott asks questions about the other kids’ dad, what he was like, what his favorite color is, or how he died. These questions might make adults uncomfortable, but are actually really healthy conversations. It helps them know each other and what makes them who they are. Their dad is a part of our family, even though he isn’t here anymore.

Activities as a family are important, but so are individual dates. One-on-one time with each child has been vital because it strengthens the bond with each parent, which in turn increases their confidence in the new family dynamic. The more comfortable a child is, the less they will have to fight to feel heard or struggle to find their place.

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen
Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

Hearing Elliott refer to her siblings, something she had been praying for since she could talk, is so heartwarming as a parent. To see our efforts validated and see all the children act as though they were never without each other is a beautiful thing.

Hearing my children refer to both their daddies now is so incredible, especially after everything we went through and the pain of losing their birth daddy. The kids understand they have their birth dad, who always loves them, but so does their daddy here on earth, who has stepped up to love and raise them in his absence.

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

I asked Eloise on the way home from school last week if she remembered her dad, who died when she was only 2 and a half. After insisting she show me her ‘daddy book,’ I asked her if she remembered specifically what he felt like or if she remembered being around him. To which she responded with the simple question of, ‘Which…?’ And then ‘no.’ She doesn’t remember him. To see her already loving and seeing Dustin as a dad figure to her is the sweetest thing, but to realize she legitimately doesn’t remember her dad breaks my heart. I am thankful, too, because Dustin so sweetly stepped up in a way these children consider him a dad to them as well. This doesn’t happen on accident.

Courtesy of Nicole Fergesen

I am so thankful for Dustin and his willingness to graciously love our family in Marcus’ absence. I am thankful for his daughter and for loving on my kids as if they were her blood siblings. I am thankful for this new family and for coming together as we have, through brokenness, hope, and inseparable love.”

Photography by Lindsey Hirschler

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole Fergesen of West Des Moines, IA. You can follow her journey on InstagramFacebook, and her blogDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more stories from Nicole:

‘Your dad would be so proud of you.’ He honors their father and tells them he loves them too.’: Widow details helping kids adjust to bonus dad, ‘It’s okay to love both’

‘At 20, people judged our choice to get married. ‘You have to experience your single years and party it up.’ I didn’t want it. I wanted Marcus.’: Widow remarries after loss, ‘I love two incredible men’

‘I came downstairs to 3 missed calls from my dad. The hotel staff found my husband unconscious. He was 32. No warning. My love was there one second, and gone the next.’: Wife suddenly loses husband to heart disease after collapsing on treadmill

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