5 Things I Learned After Becoming a Single Mother and Widow at 40

Time has passed and the journey hasn’t gotten much easier. Still, I’ve learned a lot about parenting through grief as a Black mother since my husband passed.

Black mother embraces child
Parenting though grief. Photo:

Getty: skynesher

On December 23, 2019, at 40 years old, I became a widow with a 4-year-old son. Two days before one of the happiest days of the year, I would lose my husband and best friend. Our closest friends and their kids were just over baking cookies and decorating gingerbread houses. I thought, "this couldn't be real." Time has passed, and the journey still has its challenges. Still, I've learned a lot about parenting through grief as a Black mother since my husband died.

Of course, I knew parenting wouldn't be easy, but no one taught me how to parent while grieving. And nothing prepared me for parenthood as a widowed Black parent.

Here are five things that I learned over the last three years:

Be prepared.

 Whenever I tell someone that I am a widow, after giving their condolences, their response is always, "you are so young." Sure, I never thought I would be a "young" widow with a child. But here I am, and it's more common than you'd think. My husband wasn't terminally ill; he had a heart attack at 43. There was no time to prepare. Our story is more common than you'd think. I advise having those discussions about death early because natural and non-nation causes leave Black families processing death.

Research shows Black Americans are less likely to have advance directives, and we're often left making hard decisions while trying to process loss. Make sure that final wishes are known, insurance policies are sufficient, and please have a will. 

You can do hard things.

 Losing my husband right before Christmas was devasting. As a mother, I didn't want to take away the joy that my 4-year-old son had left, so I made a tough decision. One of the hardest things I have ever done was not to tell my son that his father was deceased. We celebrated Christmas with family and friends while my heart was breaking.

It was at that moment that I realized my faith was strong. The next day, I sat my son down and read "Something Very Sad Happened: A Toddler's Guide to Understanding Death." Then, my heart shattered. I planned a funeral and returned to work because my job only offered three bereavement days. For Black employees, bereavement pay and support are often limited or nonexistent. 

“To be a good mother while my heart was breaking was one of the hardest roles I’ve ever had to play.”

I don't always have to be a strong Black woman.

As a Black woman, I don't know how often I have been told that I will be OK because I'm "strong." Who said that? We need to break the generational curse of the strong Black woman. With time, I've learned I do not have to "do it all" to prove my worth. At a time when mental illness is more prevalent than ever—especially in Black communities—it is "OK to not be OK." 

I learned to ask my support network for help and let others know when I need a break from everything happening in my life—without feeling guilty. Waving the "white flag" and letting others know that I'm exhausted or overwhelmed, let's challenge a false narrative that I always have to be a strong Black woman. Asking for help also allows me to acknowledge that I don't have to struggle and proves that sometimes the best way to show strength is by taking a break.

My son needed to see me cry to know it's ok to grieve.

 I remember the first time my son saw me cry. It wasn't when I told him his dad died or at the funeral that I was desperately trying to hide my emotions from him. Instead, I broke down when we were packing up our house. My 4-year-old walked over, hugged me, and said, "Mommy, it will be OK." A part of me felt relieved because I couldn't hold it in any longer. But when I looked up and saw my son's tears, I wondered if he held them in because he didn't want me to be sad.

Children need to know grief is a normal part of life. It's OK to miss loved ones, and sometimes it's even OK to cry when you remember them. I want other grieving parents to know you have not failed as a parent because of your sadness. I want my son to grow up knowing it is OK to display his emotions and have big feelings, especially as a Black male. Therapy plays a huge role in our grief journey. Grief counseling is invaluable for helping children process their feelings and develop healthy coping skills.

Loved one's lives will go on, and so will mine

 As the months, then years passed by, I learned one thing is sure, life will go regardless of whether you're ready. The phone calls, text messages, and visits will stop. Your friends will return to their normal routines, and you will have to adjust to your new life. A new life that you didn't choose. 

It took some time, but I learned to embrace our new life. I've decided to think of life as a blank canvas where I hold the brushes to create whatever masterpiece I desire. Some will say, "that is what your spouse would want." I say it's about what I want. I took the time to rediscover myself and figure out what I enjoyed. It was time to make new memories. 

But the biggest lesson I've learned is that grief changes you forever.

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