In light of Children’s Grief Awareness Day I thought I would share my story about how I learned to mother alone and build a new life for my hurting boys. My boys were quite small when their daddy died of a rare form of cancer in late 2013. Just a few short months earlier we had gotten the news of the diagnosis and at the time it had already metastasized to several parts of his body. Benji was only 32 at the time. He had a successful career in IT and two young boys that yelled “daddy’s home” when he walked through the door every night. Isaac turned 5 and was finishing up his last year of preschool and Jonah was 6, kicking butt in kinder. The grieving began not when he died but when he got sick. He was different. No more wrestling, no more rough housing. The first round of chemo was tolerable, the 2nd starting taking him away from us. By summer, we had gotten news that chemo wasn’t working and we spent a week away from our babies to visit a renowned Oncologist in Houston, Texas. This was the first time the reality of daddy’s disease started to sink in for their small hearts. After half of a round of the new chemo, we found ourselves in the hospital yet again with a blockage, emergency surgery and a colostomy bag. Benji and I spent 2 full weeks at LDS hospital. I stayed with him the entire time…away from my boys. Thankfully we had family surrounding us and they were cared for and loved on every moment. They would come visit daddy. Isaac was the silly one and wasn’t able to grasp it…but Jonah knew the weight of it. We celebrated Benji’s 33rd birthday on the hospital terrace on a hot summer evening, the last day of July. We knew it would be his last and we all savored every moment.
During that week we got word that the new chemo wasn’t working, the tumors were continuing to grow and that his body was too weak and sick to continue treatment. So we were referred to hospice as he would live out his last days…or weeks or months, we didn’t know then. We knew the hard conversation was coming. Benji was very intentional about everything he did so he made it a point to have one on one conversations with these young souls. I remember sitting in the boys bedroom and listening to Benji, in the living room, explain to Jonah that he was going to die. When I tell this story it seems like I’m telling the story of a stranger. People actually go through hell like his? I did. I listened as Jonah’s innocent heart grasped onto the devastation of his life. His daddy….was leaving. He sobbed in confusion. I took him back to his room and rocked him as he cried and in the background I heard Benji telling Isaac the same thing. He didn’t understand like Jonah but the heartbreak was there as he heard sobs from his brother. That evening I lay in bed with both of them snuggled into me….the first of many, many, many nights snuggling. Benji was in the other room and it was almost as if it was already happening. He was backing away. Allowing me to begin to mother alone.
6 weeks later Benji was almost comatose. I took him to a hospice facility so that he wouldn’t die in our house. Later that day, I came home to tell the boys that he was no longer at home and asked if they wanted to see him. As we sat under the tree where many mini softball games were played Isaas said “ No way” and Jonah replied with a simple “yes, I want to say bye to daddy”.
I took Jonah to see him. Benji was unaware of Jonah’s presence, but sweet Jonah just rubbed his arm to assure him he was there. Jonah was so mature for his little 6 year old mind. He was sweet and understanding and precious in those last minutes with his daddy. I took him home and Benji died the next morning.
So began my journey as a mothering widow. I could recount countless details of those devastating days. Jonah started twirling the front of his long hair as a coping device. He twisted it so much that he formed a bald spot. I was concerned but reassured that it was normal and would pass. Isaac didn’t have a significant reaction accept innocence and perhaps denial. I was now mothering alone. After the whirlwind of family, flowers, a wake and a funeral, a 7 year old birthday celebration and a trip to Disney, I landed on the first Monday morning as a widow. I was alone. Jonah refused to go into his 1st grade classroom. It was a charade every morning. I got to the point of taking him to the principal. I no longer wanted to make a scene in the classroom. The principal was more than understanding and she would hold Jonah down with her whole body as I left….every morning for weeks. I knew it was the best thing for him….to force him to find his new normal. It paid off. He adjusted over time.
I was grieving intensely and I had to still get up, make breakfast, get my kiddos to school, grocery shop, and prepare dinner. It is all a blur. I was living in devastation but also relief and I know by boys felt that too. We had lost daddy but he was no longer sick. We didn’t need to worry. We didn’t have to wonder about the next trip to the ER. Now we just needed to form a pact, the 3 musketeers we called ourselves and we had a life to live. I traveled 11 times during that first year, many times with the kids. We went to Disney twice, a Caribbean cruise and Cali several times. As a widow I found myself with a strange, new self confidence. Like, I went through Hell and now I can conquer the world. I was determined to grieve hard and find new life. The boys were in therapy a lot, even as our first session was Jonah hiding under a chair with the sweet therapist crawling under there with him. Isaac would play dead every night and want me to “revive” him. The therapist watched them through play and assured me that as strange and terrible as it was, they were healing normally, acting as normal as any child who loses a parent. It was torture to my mama soul but I pushed through it. We found a children’s grief group, and it was a God send. I met with grieving parents as the kids gathered with other children of loss. They would go crazy in the pillow covered volcano room, they would rip up phone books to express their anger and make their “person”, crafts and memory holders. Still to this day I have two necklaces made out of duct tape and each strip signifies a memory they have of their daddy, they are hanging on my rear view mirror and always will.
The therapist told me that they will grieve at every age. So we are on a constant cycle of grief. It is 6 years later and there have been many tears and many questions about what happened and I expect it to happen until they are grown, mature adults, until they realize the full impact it had on me and all of their family. But I will be here. I will listen to every cry, every question, every longing. Although new life has enveloped them, their daddy will always be so ingrained in them, in them to the very core. They are my little Benji’s, right down to their stance, facial expressions and mannerisms, and I cherish each and every day with these little humans.
If you have grieving children, or even if you don’t but want to learn more about this special day please visit the website: