“As school starts up and all the fall activities begin, so a new season without our beloved husband and father, Albert, begins. On my morning run, I see the children in our neighborhood walking to their bus stops, and while my son Theo is still a ways off from that, the reality hits me. One day very soon, I will be walking Theo to his bus stop. Alone. I will watch as he walks up the bus steps and I will wave a little ‘See you later’ wave. Alone. I will walk back to our house with tears streaming down my face. Alone. While other mothers may find respite in their children heading off to school, I truly don’t know if I will. Theo and I are two adventurers taking on the world. We are fried chicken and waffles (our favorite meal to share together). We are a mother and son bonded by our grief. As the years pass on our bond will continue to grow. I know that as he gets older, we may be at odds from time to time and the ever-pressing questions from his peers will wear on him as well. There will be many conversations about his dad with him, as with many others. This is just a fact I will have to face as Theo becomes school age.
I know many will make assumptions based on a first glance. I have no ring on, I have a visible tattoo, I like to have fun with makeup and clothes and hair. They will look at me and assume I am a single mother, that maybe I had Theo outside marriage. Or that maybe I am divorced (And let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of these. We are all amazing women trying to do our best). They will look at me either with disgust or pity. Possibly both. And while I know these may sound like wild assumptions, I know they are real because I have been that married mom out with my son who saw a woman with her child that wasn’t wearing a ring, or looked a certain way, and judged. I honestly hate to even admit that. The amount of growth I have endured over these last seven months is insane and one of my biggest areas of growth has been judgement. Less of it and more acceptance and understanding. I have had more moments of uncomfortable conversations and moments of weird body language and ‘I’m so sorry’ with looks of pity than I can count in the past seven months. While I understand people truly don’t know what to say sometimes, it can be maddening when they choose to say nothing, or simply walk away from the conversation, which has happened.
About four months after Albert’s death from pneumonia complications, I ventured to a kid’s birthday party with Theo in tow. I was nervous and kept thinking the whole time if I should even go. The thought of being surrounded by all these ‘happy families’ was enough to make me want to just drive on past and take Theo to get pizza. Our perfect little twosome eating pizza at our favorite local spot sounded perfect right about then. But, I put on my big girl pants and we pulled up to the party. As I started mingling with people and being introduced, I felt this overwhelming feeling that I had been invited out of pity. Whether that is true I don’t know, and maybe it was me just feeling out of place or overly sensitive. I got the gusto to start talking a bit more with a few of the moms. And well, things got weird. Because I am weird and can be very blunt. And I sometimes just blurt things out.
As I was talking with one of the moms, I not so casually slid into the conversation that I was a widow. She had asked about what my husband did for work because at that time I was still wearing my rings, so obviously, there is an assumption that I am married. Which in many ways I do still feel married, it’s just that my husband isn’t here on Earth. So there I am being the weird, quirky girl I have always been, blurting out that I am a widow – and this poor woman standing in front of me just looks dumbfounded. She then says, ‘I am so sorry,’ meanwhile having the most horrified look on her face. I honestly wanted to laugh. Which sounds so awful but I am in the business of speaking truth these days so, yes. I wanted to laugh.
In my head I was thinking, ‘This poor, unsuspecting woman just had a truth bomb dropped on her and she has no idea how to cope.’ Then, of course, our conversation is quickly ended as she steps in closer to her own family. Now, I know that her face and words and body language weren’t meant to come off how they did. This is just a reality when you are a young widow or even a single parent for that matter. People don’t know what to say or do, and their first reaction is to either pity or shun you. I never blame anyone for how they act. Well, I at least try not to. We as a society don’t know how to express ourselves in these situations. We have learned at a very young age to not confront these types of emotions and honestly it is stunting. Death is something we all will face and we don’t talk about it. So, when the time comes or you meet someone who has experienced a traumatic loss, we don’t know how to react. We have not been equipped with the knowledge to know what to say or do. And that in itself is a tragedy.
Leaving that party I felt a mix of emotions. While it was fun, it was also very enlightening. I kept thinking, ‘Should I have done this differently?’ or ‘Maybe I should just be quiet and try to blend in,’ or my final thought, ‘No. I am going to be myself. I am who I am. I am a widow. And there is nothing wrong with me.’ I came to the conclusion that I cannot pretend that my husband didn’t die just to placate people around me. If they are uncomfortable with how I approach things, that is their problem. I am just a woman bearing my soul and grieving and doing the best that I can. I will not hide what has happened to me and my son. It is not something to pity. It is not something to shun. It is not something to be ashamed of. It is unblinkingly our reality. And if you can’t handle it, then you don’t deserve a seat at my table. Point blank.
As Theo and I walk hand-in-hand down the street we are unstoppable, no matter what others think of us. Going into unknown situations can be scary. People see us laughing and having a good time and have no idea what we have been through and will continue to go through. I’ve had people ask me, ‘Are you feeling better?’ ‘Loaded question,’ I want to reply. But, I know the answer they want. ‘Yes,’ I reply. But in my mind… ‘Well. Let’s see. This morning Theo tripped on the stairs and I lost it because my mind goes to terrible places. And I ate a pint of ice cream while sobbing in my bedroom last night. Oh! And then I yelled at the dog because she wanted to be fed and the thought of getting up from my couch was too much.’ Too real? Well, this is my reality. The people who know me and accept me, know all facets. They get a front-row seat to the ‘Brianna is a Widow’ show. Also, the question, ‘Are you feeling better?’ is probably one of my least favorite because it’s not like I can go to the store and buy some medicine called ‘Grief Be Gone’ and I’m magically cured. Nope, not a thing. I will grieve forever. So. Welcome.
There are many times out in public where I will notice Theo watching dads with their children. I don’t know if he is just watching to watch or he is seeing something that he is missing. I know Theo understands in a very real way that Albert is never coming back. I see him opening his heart up to so many people. He instantly wants to be your friend and will take your hand and show you his favorite toy. And maybe this is his own response to the trauma he is enduring and will continue to endure. I cannot say for sure. As Theo grows there will be so many questions I will have to answer and so many tears shed over the loss of his dad. As we slowly enter the school stage, I think about entering the classroom filled with parents. Most of them probably still married, some divorced, but most likely none of them are widowed. It can be a heavy burden to bear when you feel so isolated by something that you did not choose. I will have to make his teacher aware of the absence of his dad. To ask her to be please be kind when Father’s Day comes around. It’s not that I think he needs special treatment, I just think that starting school will be a big step. A huge step into independence, and while I know he will be strong, I also know that children can be cruel. They will talk about how their dad throws a baseball with them or reads them a bedtime story. How over summer vacation their dad carried them on his shoulders through Disney World. Theo may shy away from such conversations and feel less than. I hate the thought of that. I hate the thought of him shying away from anything, and maybe he won’t. Maybe he will tell stories of his dad and maybe the other kids will feel strange, but if that is how Theo can find connection with that part of himself, I will encourage it.
When you have children with someone you are hoping to spend the rest of your life with, you never imagine them growing up without you or your partner. I think our brains and hearts are somehow wired to never let those thoughts enter our space, because if they did, we may never take the huge leaps of faith that we do. So, when faced with the reality of raising a child alone after a traumatic loss you feel lost as well. You see your sweet child and wonder how they will ever be right. You wonder if their lives will be impacted negatively by this horrific event. You wonder if they will ever be able to love or trust. You wonder if they will blame you for what happened. You see them trying to figure it out, and in all reality, you know that you can never make it ok. Experiencing trauma like that at such a young age is devastating. You hope that they will rise above and be the shining star they have always been. You hope that others will not be too harsh on them, even though you know that won’t happen. You hope that they will live a full and amazing life. One filled with adventures and stories and love. And you know that YOU will do everything within your power to help them achieve all they want in life because you are their mom and you have been through hell together.
If you know a child who has been through a traumatic loss of a parent. Be kind. Please. While they are little, they are now filled with wisdom beyond their years. They are now filled with a longing that will never be quenched. They are now filled with a fear they didn’t know existed until that day their beloved parent was taken from them. None of us in this community wanted our children to grow up without their other parent. And from a widowed mother, understand that I may be overprotective of my child. He is all I have in this world that connects me purely to my husband. Like any mother, I would do anything to protect my child. But my protectiveness comes from a place of knowing death at an all too real and up-close level, and it is terrifying. As we enter this new school year and a new season, let us show each other kindness and grace. Let us show our children that while we are all different, we are so very much the same. And that we have so much we can learn from one another if we only listen and are present in the lives of others.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brianna Simpson of Fredericksburg, Virginia. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do 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.
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