(I skipped Day 7 because the prompt didn’t quite work for me.)
In the early days of grief, I kept thinking about Lorelai Gilmore from The Gilmore Girls. She wasn’t a single mom because she was widowed, so the circumstances are wildly different. But, I think about her living her life, mostly happily, successfully, fully, and I have some version of a role model for all of this. But she’s still not quite it. The circumstances of single parents are often out of pain, but my circumstances aren’t a choice. My circumstances were thrust upon me.
There are lots of images of parents raising kids as widows and widowers, but they’re usually somewhat of an antagonist to the child’s protagonist. Think parents in Disney movies or other fairy tales.
So, maybe it’s conceited, or maybe it’s practical, but my north star, my guide through grief, is me.
There’s no one I know who is navigating this as holistically and healthily as I am. There’s no one else with a small child and a small business. There’s no one with enough overlap that I feel I have a path ahead of me. So I’m forging my own.
And I’m happy to do that. I’ve done a lot of bushwhacking in my time and being a guide for others is what I do for a living.
Some days it can get hard. Some days it can get scary. The metaphorical looming cliff is when I’m in the middle of a massive showdown with my toddler over toy clean up and I wonder if this is the moment I create irreversible damage to his psyche and he becomes a serial killer.
But, more likely, I’m navigating it as well as my loved ones with partners. Even with the handicap of the grief and the life I didn’t ask for, I’m somehow making lemonade out of lemons. Or at least lemon water.
The thing that I didn’t have an example for is the ebb and flow of grief. I always thought it was a constant thing. Either you were in mourning forever, on the verge of tears, not eat or sleeping, staring despondently out the window. Or, you were “recovered” and living your life, occasionally reflecting on your loved one’s death with sadness, but the kind of sadness that is pretty and unobtrusive. The kind that would be painted by a Renaissance artist. “Portrait of a widow in the parlor” or something.
In reality, I never forget Andy has died. But I feel it more or less depending upon the circumstances. Right now, while my son is happy and my cat is splayed across my arms and my cup of tea is warm by my side, it’s a gentle day at the beach, it’s low tide and we can walk relatively easily and see all the beautiful shells beneath us. “Us” in this case is me and my son. I rarely think about my grief without him in the picture.
But last night, after an epic 2 hour fight with my kiddo about putting toys away that resulted in the harshest consequences I’ve ever doled out (I took his fire truck away for a day!), the sea was suddenly stormy and I was drowning and I laid on my bed afterwards and sobbed. And it was scary sadness. The kind that you see people do when they’ve been involuntarily locked up. In that moment, the situation felt involuntary. Sure, I signed up for temper tantrums, but I didn’t sign up to do it alone. I signed up for a partner and confidante and tag-teamer. To have to check in with myself that many times about whether I was doing it “right” was exhausting. Fortunately, I believe that Andy was hanging out with us, so I felt a gentle nudge every time I felt unsure and kept to my course. But that creates decision fatigue. And decision fatigue is, well, fatiguing.
In the course of this new pandemic paradigm, I’ve had to make a lot of choices by myself. I got more used to the level of decision making I had after Andy’s death, but now having to make a ton of choices akin to newborn days where it was all new and it could all be right or wrong and I was alone, it’s a lot and it’s fatiguing. And the hardest part is that there isn’t a point where my favorite person comes home. There isn’t a point where I feel relief to have a partner again. It’s just endless hours and days and months and years ahead of me.
And no one I know, no one I see is experiencing this. So, I’m my role model. Or at least the idealized version of me that is handling all of this relatively gracefully and realistically is my role model. And she is not all that different from me, it turns out.