I go back to the last time my children saw their Father, Christmas Day, 1982.
Denver had suffered a major blizzard starting the night before Christmas Eve and continuing through Christmas Eve Day. Denver was shut down and the roads were nearly impassable. But a friend of ours who was a doctor on staff at St Luke’s Hospital where Richie was hospitalized was on call that day and offered to take us with him when he went in to make rounds.
My brother in law, Larry, had come in to town from Pittsburg just as the first few flakes from the storm were starting to fall. We made the decision the next morning while the roads were still somewhat passable that he would go to the hospital and stay with Richie and I would stay at home with the girls. It wasn’t a decision my heart wanted to make, but for the girls sake it was the only sensible decision I could make. I couldn’t imagine not being there for them on Christmas morning if the roads became completely impassable as they were predicting. That would be something they would remember the rest of their lives, especially if Richie didn’t make it.
My mom was there, but I think it was all too much for her and overnight she had become old. She wasn’t coping well and to leave the girls with her if I couldn’t get back would not have been good. I was very thankful that Larry was now with us and could help me carry the load for a few days.
What was normally a twenty minute drive took us two hours. We weren’t able to spend much time with Richie. Don finished his rounds rather quickly and it was time to go. The ride home was long, quiet and somber. The girls’ eyes had seen what my eyes had seen, Richie wasn’t doing well.
Later at home I asked the girls to set the table for dinner and squabbling erupted. Mother turned to them and very sharply reprimanded them, “Stop it, your mother has enough on her mind.”
In turn I responded, “Mom, this affects them as much as it affects me. They are scared, I am scared, we are all scared.
The point of my story is this. Adults all too often brush the feelings of children aside as my mother did that day by trying, without realizing, to put my feelings above theirs.
While it is hard right now for you to think about, you may very well someday find a second love.
For your children though, they have lost the only real father or mother that they will ever have! That parent who loved them unconditionally, who thought they are the most wonderful, beautiful children ever created… that parent who would walk to the ends of the earth to help his or her child achieve their dreams.
For them to grow into happy well adjusted adults they need you now!! And believe me I understand all too well. I know it is asking a super human effort. But over the years I have witnessed people who were so engrossed in their own grief that the children were afraid to approach them: Afraid that they would upset them. Young kids don’t want to make Mommy or Daddy cry, and it becomes all too easy to shut them out.
They understand their vulnerability. Their biggest fear is losing you. You can’t tell them that nothing is going to happen to you, because they have just had a harsh lesson on how fragile life can be. Believe me after Richie died I can’t tell you how many calls I got from my youngest daughters’ school that she was in the nurses office with a tummy ache. She was the voice in some ways of all three of us.
Rather than making a big deal about it, the nurse would send her over to the school secretary, who was a sweetheart; she would take her onto her lap, give her a cookie or piece of candy and then let her call me. After she talked to me and was assured I was fine… back to class she would go. But that did go on for at least a year, not every day, but often, and even after that for years when she was at a friends’ house playing she would call me, Just checking” she would say.
In turn I checked in with both of them and kept them abreast of my plans and where I was going. The silver lining on that one that I didn’t anticipate at the time… it made the teenage years so much easier, as they were so used to calling me and letting me know where they were I never had to ask.
The best thing you can do for them right now is keep their routine and their activities as normal as possible. Don’t let them quit because you don’t feel up to taking them to practice, your example teaches them. Keep your house filled with kids.
Keep God in your life both for you and them. Despite the fact that we live in an information age, there are just some things we don’t have the answers to. God is your bridge over these troubled waters.
Let them know it is ok to cry, and it is ok for you to cry. Take turns crying or cry together, however it falls out.
Talk about the parent they just lost. Remind them when they do well on a school project, win a competition, or hit a home run how proud Daddy would be of them.
But let your talk be natural, try not to turn that person into something they weren’t. Richie always did the dishes for me when he was home. One night early on I was standing at the sink doing the dishes, I mentioned that “I hate doing the dishes.”
My older daughter said, “Yea, Daddy always did them for you.”
There was silence for a moment and then she added, “Of course he always hid the dirty pots and pans in the oven to soak.”
“Hmmm…That was his trick wasn’t it?” We looked at each other and started to laugh.
Conversations like that keep them alive.
You are in this together, stick together. The rewards down the road will be well worth it, and quite wonderful.
We understand backward, but we live forward.