The Grief Journey and My Adult Children

Author: Linda Ambard

One of the most difficult aspects of losing Phil was I could barely help myself.  I couldn’t fix my own hurts and I couldn’t fix the hurts in my children.  It wasn’t that we invented things to implode the closeness we had once shared, but we couldn’t make our way out of the darkness.  Nobody wanted anyone else to feel worse if they were having a hard day, so we kept in our own lanes.  The collateral damage was we all ached and hurt alone.  That pain scarred some of us more than others and as a mom there is an incredible sense of having let my children down.  It took most of us about three years to want to figure out how we could come back together to celebrate our family and to try to figure out new traditions and practices while honoring the memories.  This past week, though, I have come to realize we are all on a different trajectory and all five of my children are navigating another aspect of the loss of their father—my letting another man in to my life.

Holding Hands

It is easy to say the words and to even to believe and know the words that dad would want mom to move on, but it is a whole other thing to consider and watch mom letting someone in.  I made one of my sons cry this evening.  He asked questions about the man I have slowly let in.  At a certain point, I heard the sniffles and he asked me to stop for the evening.  He said it was all he could take for the night.  He asked me if I remembered his father and if I would love another like I loved his dad.  Well, first, it is too early to define where this relationship is going, but I am comfortable enough to make plans months out. In terms of loving? That is the part that made my son weep.

This conversation wouldn’t be a thought had Phil lived.  Had Phil lived, I would still have been the same girl who quietly stood in her family’s shadows.  I liked it there and it was comfortable.  None of my life is comfortable now.  I am different and I am who I am because Phil did love me well and because I had no choice but to change when Phil was assassinated.  The person standing in front of the guy I am letting in is different and the relationship is nothing like the one I had with Phil.  I don’t see Phil or think of Phil when I am with him.  While the relationship is still unfolding, I recognize I behave differently and I need different things than I once needed with Phil.  While I feel vulnerable and incapable, I am not running scared.  My children see that and as they grope with accepting that there is going to be a man who is not their father around me must be hard.  I know that it has ripped off some of the bandaids they thought they had on.

As for me, my children do not see the woman who blushes and giggles because she has no idea how to be in a relationship and how to start.  I have nightmares because I am afraid of losing another person through death or through the relationship ending.  It is hard to go home after my race weekends now because I recognize how nice it is to have another person to lean on, who believes in me, and who makes me happy.  It is hard not to put expectations on the relationship or not to be too vulnerable, but even as I navigate my own self-doubt, it made my heart hurt to see my children struggling. It was a defining moment to recognize that while I am in a good place, my children might not be as they navigate anew what the loss of their father might mean.

Is it enough to end the budding relationship?  I can’t.  I have started to dream again—not just the nightmares, but of depth and growth.  Maybe this relationship will end and if it does, I will cry like crazy, but I have been through worse.  Maybe this relationship will continue to flourish.  I hope that is the case, but it will never negate what I had before.  It will just mean that I have been doubly blessed.  it isn’t a replacement or a substitution.  It is just magical.  I recognize my children need time to process this relationship—or any relationship.  I acknowledge they might have mixed feelings watching me with another man even as they accept him into the fold.  I also see the day is coming where they need to meet him so that they can see that he isn’t asking them to call him dad nor is he trying to replace their father.  He is just trying to care for me.  It is in this facet that I believe my children can allow him in. My children love me and they will like anyone who is good to me and loves me well.  Sure there will be those moments of strangeness and of grief realizing that someone else is in mom’s life, but it is in these moments, I will be strong and I will be the mother they need.  I will simply give them some space, reassure them of my love, their father’s love, and I will allow the difficult conversations to come.