Being Widowed as a Young Mom Inspired One Woman To Create Community for Others

Losing a partner is particularly challenging for Black mothers, who are often expected to be the backbones of their communities. Widows Do Bounce Back supports them instead.

A Black mother embraces, and is embraced by, two young sons.

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At 27, Maya Tyler’s life looked like the average married woman in her late 20s with two kids. Then her husband died suddenly, leaving her a widow before she turned 30. Not only was the journey unexpected, but it was lonely—27-year-old widows aren’t exactly the majority in a grief or loss group.

“More seasoned widows have different problems that are more expected by the programs that are set up for widowed people,” she said in an interview with Kindred by Parents. “I was just looking to be able to pay the bills after becoming a suddenly solo parent. I was looking to support grieving children.” 

So Tyler forged a path of her own to help those coming behind her. In 2015, she published her first book, Bounce Back Better: How to Win After Great Loss. Then she started her coaching company, Widows Do Bounce Back, where she works with widows to help them, as she puts it, “bounce back.”

Not to be confused with the toxic idea of women “snapping back” after giving birth, bouncing back accepts that managing life after grief is a process. 

“A huge thing for me about bouncing back is to iterate that it is a continuous journey,” she says. “If we embrace grief as a normal part of life—because it absolutely is, everything passes away—then maybe we would realize we are growing and changing (after a loss), not seeking to become what we were before.”

As a society, death isn’t something we talk about openly, and a widow moving forward with her life after loss is regarded simultaneously as a spectacle and something to fear. There are some small public steps happening to change that. 

Creating Awareness

Lauren London recently talked openly with Angie Martinez for a podcast episode aptly titled, We’re All Going to Die about what London’s process of picking up the pieces after her partner, Nipsey Hussle, was murdered has looked like. Real Housewife Nene Leakes has been dating publicly since her husband Gregg died in 2021. Vanessa Bryant has been working to actively honor the memory of her late husband, Kobe Bryant, and daughter, Gianna.

Watching public figures deal with loss chips away at the stigma and fear of death, Tyler says. 

“Like anything else—any other advocacy or awareness—it's gonna take some time. It's gonna take people having open conversations…I think it's getting there," she says. "It's got a long way to go. Even with things happening to celebrities, even with conversations, there's still expectations, there's still blame about certain things. There's still that fishbowl that widowed women live in.”

Tyler talks about her own experiences in the “widow fishbowl.” As someone who has been in a long-term relationship, she’s regularly scrutinized about the way she remembers her late husband and why she shouldn't be “over it” because she found a new love.

Like most things, race and culture play a role in the way grief and loss are experienced—at least from what Tyler has seen as a widow and a coach. There’s an extra layer of expectation because Black women are so often the backbones of their communities. There’s an expectation to “just move on and carry on.” Once a Black widow shows signs of beginning to heal from the loss, she loses a lot of the support she had from her community, Tyler says. 

Maya Tyler, Widows Do Bounce Back

I think it makes me probably more hopeful than most people, more positive than most people because when I talk about the journey of somebody grieving we're talking about living again.

— Maya Tyler, Widows Do Bounce Back

Becoming a Single Parent

Tyler didn’t just become a widow when her husband died, she also became a single parent to two young children who were 6 years old and 18 months old. Because of that, one of her first steps was to get professional grief counseling for her 6-year-old. 

“I did not have the tools, the language, or the courage to talk to him about (the death) and what it meant to me, much less what he should think of it,” she says. 

Not every child will require counseling, but it can be very helpful for those who seek it, The Widowed Parent Project, a program within the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, explains.  

They advise newly widowed parents to practice self-care, which will help the entire family. Communicate and be emotionally available to children. Try to establish a routine and consistency as much as possible. 

Experts recommend that newly widowed parents do not try to pretend that nothing’s wrong or to minimize the deceased parent’s significance. 

“All the expectations that (their dad) had for them, I hold them in my memory and in my heart,” Tyler says. “I'm the only one that knows all the things that he wanted for them. So that's something that I share with them constantly to keep his memory alive, to keep his name in my mouth. He's definitely still a part of them.”

Another significant aspect of parenting as a widow is more logistical but just as important: finances. One of the first things Tyler recommends is that the widow assesses her core values and who she is. Right behind that, she tells widows to shore up their financial support systems. Some benefits are time-limited and must be accessed quickly and going from, theoretically, a two-income household to a single-income household will be a major adjustment for all parties involved. 

When it comes to dating and considering the possibility of new love, Tyler personally believes in moving slowly, not only for the sake of the children but also for her own sake. She says her children didn’t know she was dating until she had become serious with her current partner. Introducing her children to him was very similar to the idea of blending two families into one, she says. 

Tyler’s work is commonly misconceived as being depressing, but she says it’s regularly the opposite.

“We talk about life all day,” she says. “We talk about living and using what you have now to be what you want next, and there really isn't very much dwelling on what you lost.”

“I think it makes me probably more hopeful than most people, more positive than most people because when I talk about the journey of somebody grieving we're talking about living again," says Tyler.

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