“...and do you feel scared? I do. But i won't stop and falter....things can only get better…”
- Howard Jones 1985
It’s been a long week and I’m tired. It’s the first week that the kids are out of school for summer and it has caught me off guard. It has me a bit overwhelmed in the awareness that I am a solo parent now. I knew this would happen when we were finally faced with the “all-day, every-day” of summer, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of it. Nor was I prepared for my impatience. When my kids aren’t engaged with their friends and loving teachers at school, it’s ALL on me.
No respite at six o’clock when another parent bursts through the door, ready and willing to let me pass them the baton. No other parent to send a text to when these beautiful hilarious kids do something amusing or heart-warming. It’s just me now. It’s okay. It’s just overwhelming sometimes. And lonely sometimes, too. Although my kids are fortunate to have countless people who love them, I am the only one walking this earth with this most intense vested interested in every tiny aspect of their lives. There used to be two of us. I valued that part of parenting together so much. This new reality is hard to take sometimes, and then other times, it's not too bad. I wouldn't have chosen this but sometimes it's easier to be the only one making family decisions. It just is.
So, I was in the backyard with the kids a few afternoons ago, just pondering all the incredible and capable solo parents I know. There are too many to count. Moms who were brave and trusted themselves enough to step into parenthood on their own without a partner, right from the get-go. Darcy’s mom was one of those moms. My sister is one of those moms. Incredible grit. I know a Dad who is solo-parenting because his baby-mama didn’t want to be a mom but he was ready, willing, able and excited to be a Dad so he took it on and, fifteen years in, both he and his teenage daughter are thriving. Incredible confidence. I know so many moms who had the courage to leave hard relationships that had taken unexpected turns for the worse and now solo-parent their kids while managing dire communication with their estranged partners and unnecessary amounts of lawyer interactions (and bills!) with smiles on their faces and free hearts. Incredible strength. I know Dads who solo-parent because their original partners have severe mental health issues that don’t allow them the stability to raise their kids in a safe environment. Incredible compassion. Solo parents are capable of loving enough for two. We are strong and resilient. Human hearts can expand infinitely. Anyone who has a child will tell you so. In fact, anyone who has wholly loved another human can confirm this.
As I gazed around the backyard, thinking about parenting and how I landed here alone, I saw the first raspberries coming to fruition on the renewed bush alongside the house and my heart skipped a beat. My stomach turned. I had to catch my breath. I had a vivid memory that I didn’t really feel ready to revisit. It was a painful one, but of course, because I am open to receiving it, the pain brought with it some welcome wisdom.
About ten days after Darcy left our home and the search for his body was in its full unsuccessful swing, the restlessness finally got to me and I told my friend Jill, who was here to support me, that I was ready to shift from my safe spot on the couch and move around a bit. It was barley October but the past week had started to show signs of the looming autumn and so we decided to cut back the dying garden and tend to the abrupt seasonal changes in the yard. I started with the raspberries.
I didn't really know it yet, but here I am, about 10 days into my life as a solo mom.
This day is about as painful as it gets.
I remember cutting them back, snapping the stems with my dull shears until I had blisters. Somehow those blisters felt better than my bleeding heart. There was relief in the transference of pain from my heart to my hands. These new stinging sores were nothing compared to the confusion and despair I was feeling as I slowly came to the realization that he was never coming home.
That chore in the yard marked my first step toward living my new life, alone. As I cut the brush back, my hands bled and I pulled out the dead roots. I cleared that space. I realize now that I was clearing it for something new to grow. And that is what I have been doing every day since… accepting each new level of restlessness and then digging in, often experiencing new pain in the process, to clear the space for something else to grow. And guess what?! New things HAVE grown. New things continue to grow. Not just in the actual garden, but all through the metaphorical garden that is our life now. It’s alive again.
Seeing the raspberry bushes starting to come back and bear fruit has been such a reminder to me that things have to die before new life and growth can occur. It’s pretty simple right? I know. But it’s more meaningful to me now. And the other thing that the raspberries are reminding me of, is that it will NEVER again be as hard and painful and I will NEVER again be as heartbroken about losing Darcy as I was on that day. While I cut those bushes back and took my first baby steps back toward living, I was truly enduring the absolute worst of it. I have had hard moments and hours and days since then, of course, but I lived through THAT day and I will never have to do that day again. Somehow it only gets better. So I keep looking forward.
I thought back to early parenthood when I would worry about Miller and his development. His brain injury at birth had me on high alert (Darcy was almost always calm and confident) and in the interest of helping my nervous systems continue to function, we devised a kind of practice to help calm my worried heart when I was stewing about whether he’d reach the next milestone. Would he ever be able to feed himself successfully? Would he learn to walk and talk? Whatever the current flavour of fear was, it was clear I needed a strategy.
Me & Miller, circa 2012.
So, we would think back to the LAST time I was worried about something that he had inevitably accomplished, say, whether he’d ever say “Mama” or not. We’d find a picture or some video footage from when I had been deep in fear about that…and I’d allow myself to remember that anxiety. I would consciously feel it in my body, how we had waited so desperately for him to show that he’d developed the motor skills necessary to utter my name…and then, sure enough, he’d come crawling up in real time with a confident “Mama!” A solid reminder of how far he’d come. A solid reminder that we never had to live through that particular struggle again. It was so encouraging. Somehow things just kept getting better. So we kept looking forward.
I’ve adapted and adopted this practice for myself again. Now, every time I look at those glorious raspberries, I am reminded that the experience of losing Darcy will never feel that hard, that new, that foreign, that terrifying again. It simply cannot. Because that was then, and this…this is the now. And the now, is all that is. And so, I sit for a minute, pop a sweet raspberry in my mouth and honour myself for how far I’ve come...
And then I keep looking forward.
Me and Jill, post-gardening. Somehow, looking forward.
Til Next Time,
Heal & Be Healed.