I never want them to grow up and say, “Because my brother died, I also lost my mom.”
The words left her lips, and a golf-ball sized lump arose within my throat. Her words were mine, but I had never spoken them aloud. But there we sat, the breeze gently scooting our crumpled napkins across the metal table outside of our favorite coffee shop. There were people around, but we didn’t seem to notice. There we sat, two hearts who know the pain too well, tears glossing our eyes over as we spoke our greatest fears. Well actually, our second greatest fears. The first ones already happened.
We both had been through our own versions of hell. She lost two sons. I lost one and a marriage. We both were given the duty, the privilege, the burden, and the blessing of pulling our britches up through the heartache and parenting our other children, even when we felt barely able to breathe.
The words she spoke were ones that had crossed my mind hundreds of times in that first year, and I, out of fear, dismissed them as quickly as they came. What if I’m not being present enough for him? What if he were to grow up and say he not only lost his brother, but also his mom? What if I miss this?
In the light of the day, in the presence of a safe person, a safe place, we spoke of fears and heartache, and it freed me in the way that happens when someone reaches out, grabs your hand, and whispers, “Me too.” I didn’t leave feeling an ounce of guilt, fear, or shame. Instead, I felt peace. I felt capable.
Parenting through heartache can feel impossible. There’s a variety of circumstances that can enter into our lives: divorce, death of a loved one, sickness, mental health issues, extreme stress, disaster, etc. The more time that passes, the more I realize that we’re all a little broken, and we all have our giants to face. Mine might look different from yours, but the underlying principles can still remain true. While I am in no way an expert, there are three lessons I’ve learned in the past couple of years that I want to share with you.
When you’re going through difficult situations and circumstances, if you’re anything like me, you’re too stubborn to want others to help. Maybe you fear pity like me, and you never want others to see you through that lens. Maybe you feel like if you take from others, that you’ll have to repay them. Regardless of your feelings, the truth is that now is the time to accept help. Whether this means allowing someone to deliver you dinner, to watch your kids, to give you gas money. Whether this means seeing a doctor and getting a prescribed medication or opening up to a friend, family member, or even a counselor and letting someone share the emotional burden of it all. Whether it means any of those things, now is the time for you to accept help.
Give yourself grace.
When you’re in extreme or catastrophic situations, it will take time for you to mend. Know that your limits will probably be a lot lower than normal. In the early months for me, I was constantly surprised by how low my capacity was. I could always carry so much, push through so much, but now? I could barely make it through each day without passing out by my son’s bedtime. I needed to give myself time and grace to not meet my own expectations. I needed to realize that I didn’t have as much to give, and to be content with what I had. I needed to realize that I wouldn’t be this way forever, but in the meantime, I needed to be patient with myself as I waded through the thickest of the waters.
Remember that it’s love that matters most.
We can never give our children everything. That’s not our job to do. What we can give them is love. Deep, unconditional, unending love. We can give them goodnight kisses, and we can tell them stories and sing them songs till our voices go weak. We can give them time and energy, and we can give them the assurance that we’ll never leave.
We can give them love, and at the end of the day, that is what matters most.
So, if you’re in a tough place, and you’re barely staying afloat, don’t be ruled by fear or worry. It’s simpler than that. Let yourself mend and remember these things… Remember to accept help, to give yourself grace, and to remember that it’s love that matters most.
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