On November 18, it was 14 years since my dad passed from leukemia.  The loss of my father devastated me. It is still painful to think about. We were very much alike and I looked up to him not only as a father figure but also the model of what a man should be-smart, loving, gruff, strong, well-spoken, a real family man.   I trusted his judgment and advice more often than I didn’t.  Our relationship wasn’t perfect but I loved him and I know I was his favorite. (sorry, sibs)  He will always be Daddy to me.

When my husband became ill, I remembered back when my father was sick and how I didn’t get to see him as often as I wanted to.  So I was determined the boys would spend as much time as possible with Tony as they could.  I hoped this would bring them closer and give my husband more incentive to fight for his health.  I wanted them to learn everything they could from him. Somewhere deep inside, I knew that even if he was cured, his life had been shortened by all he was going through.

Children their age never expect to lose a parent. With our boys, having to live without their father wasn’t even a consideration. Tony was very tough and stubborn…we all just knew he wasn’t going to die.  He had wanted a family since we met and now that we had one, he didn’t want to leave it. He promised to always be here for me and our child when I became pregnant with our first child.  He planned to be the best father he could be.  He wanted the boys to have all of the tools he didn’t get as a child.

Ask my boys. He was the best father to them. I believe no one can take his place in their eyes.

He and his boys had more to do. For example, my oldest was in his senior year of high school when Tony died. This was the time Dad was going to help him learn to be on his own…teach him to drive responsibly (he wasn’t going to learn that from me, sad to say!), help him make decisions about his life, teach him how to treat a good woman, teach him what it is to be a young Black man in America. Ultimately things I really can’t teach him.

Then there’s our youngest. We both knew he had learning disabilities but not much else. But Tony was a social worker and he would have begun to recognize what made our second son different from other children. He would have known what to do, and much sooner than I did.  My youngest’s final diagnosis was “intellectual disability”. Tony would have known what he needed as a pre-teen with disabilities. Things like how to do the “sex talk” or how to deal with bullying. He would have used his expertise as a social worker in helping our child grow into manhood and do it well while overcoming his disability.

These are things my boys should have been coping with, with their father here physically to guide them. Not learning how to do these things without him, with only their mother to help. Their mother, who was only doing the best she could with what she knew.  

My boys had a strong male influence in their father. Losing Tony erased that influence from their lives and I am sure they felt it from the first minute that he was gone.  At my husband’s funeral, many of my husband’s male family members pulled me aside to let me know they would be there for all of us, but especially our boys. I was so happy to hear that because I was truly at a loss at what to do next on all fronts.  This is something I know Tony would have expected them to do for us.

I don’t think I have to tell you how that turned out. Enough said about that.  

Children need their fathers…I still need mine. Even though I was a grown woman when he died, I miss him terribly. I wish he was still around to give me advice and his knowledge about things I still don’t know. It has been very hard to live without him. 

Imagine losing your father while you still really need him.  No child should ever have to suffer that.  It was hard enough for me as an adult!  But what’s worse…it seems that children get even less support through the grieving process than the widowed do.  Children appear resilient and able to go back to their normal activities. My husband died the Friday before Labor Day and both of my boys went back to school that following Tuesday because they wanted to. I let their teachers and school officials know what happened so that they could be on the lookout for any signs of trouble. But I never heard a word from anyone about anything. I wonder now if that is because the school thought they went back to normal (whatever that was) and weren’t really looking, or if the boys were able to mask their feelings. Or, maybe, they were coping much better than I was. I still am not certain.

I know that my oldest struggled from the very beginning. I could see it in his behavior. For example, hee started being more aggressive toward others – he even punched his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend after getting off of the school bus one day. His behavior became much riskier and defiant. I could see that something inside of him broke when Tony died.  I know it and he knows it even if he won’t admit it. He lost his rudder, his guide, his first friend, his partner in crime, his Dad.  Tony’s death extinguished the light in his eyes.

What makes it worse is all of the empty promises of his male relatives. He expected them to be there as much as I did.  When they weren’t, I am certain that their absence added to his disappointment and anger. I’m sure my deep grieving didn’t help either. He still refuses any counseling or for any of my male friends to “adopt” him. I am still keeping an eye on him though.

My youngest son is a different story. As I said before, he is intellectually disabled and certainly sees many things differently. He is the voice of comfort and reason, saying that his father will always be with us no matter what. He says it with such confidence and reassurance that I know he believes it to be fact. I can’t help but think Tony talks to him sometimes. But there is still something missing for him…his Dad’s firm and guiding hand. 

My boys miss their father. I can see it in their eyes and in their actions. My oldest especially. He is 22 now, and very bitter and angry to not to have had his father during those years he needed him the most. Worst of all, I don’t even think he knows who he is angry with. He just is.

We must be there for our children, even in the midst of our own grief. Children may not show their feelings about the loss for months, years or even decades after it.  So we all must be prepared for when it does.

I love those boys with all that I am and I wish I could have protected them from this hurt, this pain. But since I couldn’t, I will continue to watch over them and be there to help them through it if and when they need me to.

Simply put, I can’t ever forget how much I still need my father. So I know for sure that my boys still need theirs…and they know it too.  We’re in this together. 



Cheryl Barnes was born in Atlanta, Georgia and after several moves with her family, settled in Indianapolis, Indiana. She attended college at Indiana University Bloomington, majoring in Public and Environmental Affairs Management. While she attended college, she laid eyes on Martin “Tony” Barnes and was completely lost. They became inseparable and were married on December 24th, 1991. After five years of marriage, their first son, Malcolm, was born on New Year’s Eve, 1991. After Tony obtained his Master’s Degree in Social Work, the family moved to Orlando, Florida. Tony worked as a counselor, while Cheryl got her dream job working at Walt Disney World. Two years later, their second son, Miles, was born in July 2004. Cheryl left Disney and took a job in accounting at a property management company. Everything seemed to be going well for the family and Cheryl made plans to attend nursing school. However, in July 2011, Tony was diagnosed with end stage renal failure caused by lupus. For the next three years, Cheryl cared for her husband while taking care of the boys and working. Tony’s health deteriorated as a result of several complications until he passed away on August 29, 2014. Thus began her new journey as a widow and solo parent.
Cheryl was devastated at the loss of her beloved Tony, but continued to work and care for their sons as she had before. As a way to work through her grief, she started writing, at first, only for herself. But, being encouraged by others, she began publishing her blog, “Widowness and Light.” Along with writing and being involved with several widows groups on Facebook while raising her boys, she works as a training bookkeeper at an association management company.
She plans to go back to school and obtain a Master’s in Social Work so that she can help other widowed persons cope with their losses. She is also working on a book about her grief journey.
Her hobbies are reading, attending Orlando Magic games, yoga, going to the beach, and just chilling with her boys.
Additionally, she is also the founder of Black and Widowed: A Unique Journey, a Private Facebook group and a contributing author of the book, Widowed But Not Wounded: The Hustle and Flow of 13 Resilient Black Widowed Women.
You can also reach Cheryl through her public Facebook page, Widowness and Light, which is based on her widowed journey.