Today started out pretty much like any other day.
Except that it isn’t.
It is Mothers Day.
Generally speaking, being a widowed person, Mothers Day normally doesn’t land in the Top 3 “very difficult” days for me. Those would be July 13th (the day of my husband’s sudden death), October 27th (our wedding day), and Christmas. In a close tie for second place would include both of our birthdays, the day of his funeral, followed by many other holidays and important days. Hell, who am I kidding? Every day is difficult. It’s just that holidays and “special” days usually put a ginormous exclamation point right on top of the pain.
But Mothers Day is different. I am not supposed to be in pain on Mothers Day, right? I have an amazing mom, and she is alive and well, and incredibly supportive and wonderful to me. Mothers Day is supposed to be difficult and painful for people that lost their mom long ago or recently, and they are missing them greatly. Or women who are divorced, or single, and are raising their child alone. Or women that have lost a baby or lost a child. Or women and couples who are facing infertility, and are unable to have a child at all. Or widowed parents; the solo dads who have to also be the mom, or the solo mom who now has to double as the dad. But not me. Why should I feel hurt and depressed on Mothers Day?
I am a childless widow. My husband was suddenly taken from me, early on in our marriage, before we got the chance to have a family together. His massive heart-attack, which had no symptoms and no warning, happened just 4 months shy of our 5 year wedding anniversary. I was working part-time as an Adjunct Professor, and he was a paramedic. He had picked up a second job, stocking shelves at the local Petsmart. He also volunteered there, helping out with animal adoptions at their rescue shelter. We had just begun talking, over that last couple years or so, about a possible timeline for our future plans, which included having children. Don wanted us to be in a much better place financially, and so did I. We were going to save up some money from his second job to buy a better car, and eventually, move into a less crappy apartment or condo. I was 35 years old when we got married, and he was 42. By the time our discussions of future kids became serious, I was around 38 years old. We agreed that we would either attempt to have biological children before I turned 40, (because the idea of being too much over 40 and pregnant didn’t really thrill me), or that we would choose the adoption route instead. My husband always loved the idea of giving a child that is already here in the world, a home and a family. I loved the idea of having a family with my husband, however that ended up happening. Just like I never sat around fantasizing about my wedding day or pictured myself getting married, until I met Don – I also never pictured myself having kids, until I met the man that made me crave and need the honor of creating our family together. Love changes everything.
There were many nights those last couple of years where my husband and I sat awake in bed, dreaming out loud and laughing and making silly predictions about our future children. The arrival of my brothers first child, Brian, in 2009, is what really made our talks of kids go from “maybe someday” to “let’s see how we can make this happen for us.” For me, seeing how amazing and loving my husband was with our little nephew, was inspiring and beautiful. It made me long to see him as a dad – the dad he never got to have in his own childhood. It made me really want a family with my wonderful husband. So we talked about it, and he did some research online about adoption, just to get a head-start on what the process might be like. The actual happening of us possibly having kids of our own was still far away for us, but the idea was in the center of our hearts, like a happy little secret that we kept between us and daydreamed about often.
Then on July 13, 2011, my husband went and died on me.
Love changes everything. So does death.
Most of the time, in my “after” life without my husband here on earth with me, I am able to stay in pretty good denial about feeling the pain associated with our family that never existed. Most of the time, I can shove the hurt and the stabbing somewhere far away, and just pretend it isn’t there. This is something I have gotten really good at – because there are so many other parts of losing my husband that I need to grieve, and somehow, invisible children fall by the wayside. It is a very confusing state of mind to be in. There are so many questions to ask, such as: Can you really grieve something that you never had in the first place? Is it really possible to hold so much hurt and pain, over a family that only existed in your hearts and imaginations? Do I have a right to feel robbed of what never was, and what will never be, and can I find a way to process and grieve for that very specific loss, which is seperate; yet attached to; the loss of my husband?
The answers are all yes.
The reason that I feel the need to even ask these questions, is because this type of loss is not recognized or acknowledged by anyone. Not ever. Not really. Nobody comprehends that days like Mothers Day might hurt like hell for someone who not only lost their life partner, but also lost the dreams of their future together – the family they had in their mind. There is no support group or counseling for people that never actually became parents, because the opportunity was ripped away by death. Whenever I dare mention my very real pain over this topic, I get comments such as: “Well, did you two even want kids anyway?”, or “You could still adopt or be a mom if you wanted to!”, or “Maybe you will meet somebody and have kids later on!” I could spend an entire seperate blog-post explaining why each of these comments is totally off-base and hurtful, but I won’t. Instead, I will add that the widowed community, in general, is geared toward widowed people with children. Us widowed folk who are childless, happen to be the minority. This is just the way it is, probably because we are a parent-heavy society as it is. We focus a lot of our attention on families and people with children. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the comment from a total stranger, upon finding out I am a widow: “Oh, well it’s a good thing you didn’t have children.” Or, they ask directly: “Did you have children?” When I say no, it is as if my pain is no longer quite as valid as it was just three seconds ago. There is a general overall attitude and tone toward widowed people without kids, that seems to say: “You’re young. You’ll be fine. You weren’t a real family. You don’t need help. Figure it out.” Even amongst other widowed people, I often find myself “going silent”, the minute they all begin talking about their kids. They havent done anything wrong, of course. They are simply speaking their experience, which involves their children. But for someone like me, it is easy to go from fitting in to feeling completely alienated, very quickly. What am I supposed to say? Not only do I have nothing to add to the conversation, but the conversation in itself is a trigger that brings on pain.
There are a lot of pain triggers, and they usually come out of nowhere, on an absolutely ordinary day. Being with my own family, and my brother and his now two children, is a big one. Staring into the eye of what will never be, and recalling all the many times lying in bed at night that Don would say: “It would be so cool to have a son and give Brian someone to play with. That poor kid has enough sadness in his life being forced to be a Red Sox fan by your brother!” Sometimes, I will be walking along the street, or out and about – and I will see a husband and wife with their child or children, and it will hit me suddenly that they look about the same age as me and Don would have been, and that should have been us. Weddings. Baby showers. Friends who are having families, friends who are adopting. Seeing grandparents with their grandkids is one of my biggest pain triggers, actually. It is like a triple whammy. I’m instantly reminded with the fact that my husband will never get to grow old, I will not get to grow old with him, and I will never have children; therefore, I will never have grandchildren. Sometimes I think about what will happen to me when I am old and sick. Who will care? Who will take care of me? My husband was supposed to do that, and he always used to tell me that if we ended up not having kids, that would be okay too, because we would always have each other.
Death changes everything.
To be honest, Fathers Day is even more painful than Mothers Day, for me, personally. Because as much as it hurts me to my core to sit with the knowledge that I will never get to experience parenthood with my husband, it hurts a million times more knowing that not only will my husband never get to be a father, he also doesn’t get to live. At least I get to be alive. He had a childhood with no father in his life, and an adulthood that got rudely chopped off after only 46 years. The pain of knowing that my husband will never know fatherhood or life as an older person, hurts in a way that is impossible to describe.
The endless stream of parent pictures and new life and new children and dreams realized, all over my Facebook page, made today extremely hard. After writing up a well-deserved dedication to my own mother, I found myself lying in bed and silently sobbing, about all the things that will never be. I grieve the children that I may have had. I hurt from the pain of the future that died. I cry for the life I might have known.
It hurts today.
And sometimes, it hurts on ordinary days.
It just does.
And to all the other widowed moms and dads that never were out there – I feel your pain.
Your hurt is real.
Your pain is real.
And it matters.