Dear Widowed Parent,
Your world turned upside down, inside out, ripped apart—anything but normal. The support of a parenting partner feels so far away. Or maybe, life with your spouse and co-parent seems as close as yesterday. Whatever the reason, timing, or other aspects of your spouse’s death, you now parent alone. In widowed terms, you became an only parent. The single aspect did not occur by choice or acceptance; there is no child support or weekend relief. The death of your loved one relegated you to the rank of only parent. Precious parent, whose life has been seared by death and grief, try to enter into your child’s world of play. For those of you in the trenches of only-parenting, I offer this advice in the form of a challenge: join your children in the joy of their play and allow yourself to be temporarily distracted from your grief.
Kids & Grief
For children, grief comes in stages that progress along with the the child’s development. At age eleven when my father died in a plane crash, my initial grief focused only on the present. I felt sad for my Dad, because he would never find out that our dog failed to pass obedience training on the night of the plane crash. My childhood brain could not imagine future sorrows. As I grew older, grief revisited me during events in middle school: my first band concert, getting braces, and confirmation. As a child, much of my life remained to be experienced, so the absence of my dad caused new waves of grief whenever I grew and changed. Only later when my own children grieved, did I realize how my grief had changed through the years as my child-centered awareness of the world expanded.
One surprising aspect of children’s grief is their ability to transition in and out of grief. Adults often find this disconcerting, as children may seem unaffected by the death. For example, at their father’s funeral, my sad children became excited to see friends and relatives. They bounced back and forth between family members, collecting hugs and attention during the somber service. As an adult, I felt numb and shocked as I zombied through the funeral and reception. While adults understand and mourn the implications of a person’s death, a child cannot. This protective mechanism, whether due to situational filtering or developmental distractibility, provides a necessary respite for a grieving child. My children may have felt sadness at conversations about Daddy’s death, but at the funeral reception, they ran outside to play with friends. In contrast, the adults remained inside, unable to focus on anything but death and loss.
Join Your Child’s Play
A wise widower recommended that I play with my children as they played. Months after my husband died, as I lay crying with suicidal thoughts, I remembered that widower’s advice. I forced myself out of my room, determined to spend time with my kids. My six-year-old son Ben sat at the piano practicing, so I joined him on the piano bench. He soon had me laughing, which distracted me from my grief and pain. Ben had the ability to bring joy to the situation, a blessing I recognized as a gift from God.
Of course my grief persisted, but I resolved to purposefully enter my children’s world of play. I learned to join them in the joy of their play, experiencing a refreshing break from the reality of my widowed life and the ongoing grief. A child’s play is their creative laboratory, a safe place for them to experiment and learn about their world. Consider it a privilege to enter a child’s play for a glimpse of their perspective. My favorite play activity became our afternoon sessions of jumping on the trampoline. The usual game featured my two kids versus me in the “Let’s bounce Mom higher” contest. That is not a game you can play with a straight face or while crying. We often dropped onto our backs in giggles, relaxing as we let the trampoline bounce us back to stability.
My Prayer for You
My dear widowed parent, please consider my challenge to join your child as they experience joy in their play. I pray that God will give you opportunities and insight on how to play with your children. May our precious God provide a reprieve in your grief and help you savor time with your children in whatever activities they enjoy. I pray for God’s blessings on you: beauty for ashes, His oil of joy for your mourning, and His garment of praise for your despairing spirit. May our dear Lord plant you securely in His righteousness as you process your grief.
God’s Grief Therapy
And provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:3 NIV
[Originally posted January 2022]