I Was a Messed Up Martyr Mommy

“I just FEEL SO GUILTY.”  This was me sometime last fall sitting on the soft couch in counseling.  Why did I feel guilty?  Well my kids didn’t have their Daddy and it made me feel guilt unlike any other I’d ever experienced.  I had reached a place where I was stumbling along as a human but couldn’t begin to process the fact that I was a single mother.  That this life with only one parent was the hand of cards that had been dealt to my children.  As one of my favorite bloggers One Fit Widow puts it, our family had changed from “a strong square of 4 to an awkward triangle of 3.”

Single parenthood may be exceedingly common but it is also exceedingly hard.  Add the layers of loss, shock and grief as well as the fact that I didn’t want ANY of this and you wind up with one messed up Mommy.  In those early months I can only describe myself as a martyr.  It was as though I felt that by taking all of the burden squarely on my physically small shoulders, I could somehow make up for my kids being fatherless.  Fun? Rest? Self care? Joy?  Not for this girl.  Part of me truly thought if I gave every bit of what little I had then MAYBE my kids wouldn’t hurt so much.  As though a depleted, physically wrecked, emotionally unstable mother was what they so desperately needed.  I was a mess.

Over time (I’m talking months) I began to see how incredibly stupid that entire thought process was.  I began reading books about single parenting.  I confided in friends who lifted me up with love, prayers and scripture.  I began to schedule time for myself, not because I was selfish, but because I was human.  I realized that because I spend my weekdays with 20+ of other people’s children (and the rest of my waking hours with my own children) that perhaps adult conversation WAS important to my well being. 

My soul sister Sheryl Sandberg says in her book Option B that “Allowing ourselves to be happy- accepting that it is ok to push through the guilt and seek joy- is a triumph over permanence.  Having fun is a form of self compassion.”  There was no prize for being miserable.  However, through seeking joy, having fun and kicking that stinking guilt to the curb, I was giving my children and myself a gift that could transcend the pain of loss. 

I CANNOT change what happened to my family.  I CANNOT change the ripples of grief that come after loss.  I CAN change and shape my attitude, reactions and life choices.   I CAN release all the guilt and allow joy into my life and into the lives of my children.  

The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  Psalms 34:18.

A Letter About God’s Love

Dear Friends, 

When I started this blog I really only did it for me.  (Sounds really selfish but it’s true.) It was a place to unload all the swirling thoughts in my head.  I didn’t know if anyone would read it and I don’t really think I cared one bit.  

Over the past few weeks I’ve started to receive messages from people and speak a bit more to folks about my faith and relationship with God through my grief journey.  I want to take a minute to respond in general to some of the raw, difficult things others have shared.  I am not a pastor, I don’t have a Masters of Divinity degree, I am far from a religious writer but here is what I know for sure.  

God loves YOU!  He loves you if you haven’t prayed for 15 years and haven’t darkened the door of a church for even longer.  God is right there ready to work in your life- all the parts of your life.  Even the little things.  God loves you and your story.  It might be one big sucky mess of a story but he loves you and wants to see you thrive.

God has great big shoulders.  He can take your anger, your questions and your fear.  He is right there in that horrid, darkest, darkness at 2am and also beside you when you’re sitting in a stupid meeting ready to smack the person beside you.  (Sit on your hands Heather.  Close your mouth Heather.)  Your faith may falter but he is unwavering in his love and care for you. 

There’s a song we sometimes sing in worship that goes “He knows my name, he knows my every thought. He sees each tear that falls and he hears me when I call.”  God REALLY does hear you.  He wants to talk to you and if he can handle my volume of tears this past year then I promise he’s up to the challenge of yours. 

Much love,                                                                Heather 

Grace, Forgiveness and Naptime

I’ve always been hard on myself which is not terribly surprising since I’m a first born, type A female.  I can actually hear Patrick laughing from heaven as I describe myself saying “Heather you are probably more like type A+.” I like high grades, lists, plans, the organization aisle at Target and order.  I meal plan a month at a time, put all small pieces in Ziploc bags and I love filing things.  At this point you are either nodding your head and smiling because you ARE me, are married to someone like me OR you have begun twitching and think people like me should be smacked.  I get it.  We aren’t easy to love sometimes (or maybe a lot of the time depending who you talk to).  

My “type A behavior” had always caused me to be hard on myself when life didn’t fit neatly into my fantastic plans.  Infertility, job loss, job changes, kid issues, the weather…there was always something.  I would berate myself for things not working out as I thought they should.  To say I tried to “get ahead” of God is a massive understatement.  It is also quite safe to say that my fears were often greater than my faith. 

Suddenly becoming a single parent was not on any of my legal pad lists or the family calendar last summer.  It was a like one massive explosion followed by small fires that had to be constantly put out.  My kids went from two super involved parents to one parent who was barely limping through.  I often felt like I was watching a slow motion video of my own life and boy it wasn’t pretty. 

Looking back, I was tremendously hard on myself those early months.  I silently beat myself up every time we had to eat fast food, return home for forgotten items or be late somewhere.  (Type A me does NOT like to ever be late- anywhere, ever.)  I would berate myself when I misplaced something, forgot an event, had to ask for help or just simply wasn’t my best self.  My kids had one parent and THIS was what they got?  

Over time and through A LOT of reading, praying and continued counseling, I began to see that I really wasn’t all that bad.  In fact I was doing pretty ok considering all of the heartbreak and changes.  God extended grace to me everyday and yet I couldn’t extend it to myself?  God forgave me when I messed up but it was next to impossible for me to forgive myself?  I was imperfect and stumbling but somehow surviving.  Finding my own way had to include huge doses of grace and forgiveness- from me to me.  I had to see my own successes (everyone ate today, was loved and got from point A to point B then point C then back to B).  I also could acknowledge my missteps and look for ways to do better the next time (get up earlier or take a breath before growling at small children).  However, after that acknowledgement, I needed to pray for peace, patience and then MOVE ON-not wallow in my mistakes.  

Jennifer Maggio, who writes for single mothers, calls this “handing over your bags.” You give those bags…those heavy, sucky bags to God and then they are gone.  It is then your responsibility to move forward with God’s help.  Learning to do this has certainly taken me a lot of time and focus.  I still have a ways to go but I’m definitely getting better at it. 

I’ve also learned to take care of myself.  For me that meant taking naps some Saturdays and nearly every Sunday during the school year when I’m teaching.  Sleep is a luxury for all parents especially full time, single parents.  There were many weekends this past spring when I laid down to take a nap with a washer full of wet clothes and roughly 276 cars, trucks and tractors all over my family room floor.  It didn’t matter though, my body needed the rest and the magical thing was- it was all there when I woke up an hour later.  (Fun fact- small children and teenagers are amazingly capable of cleaning up their own messes but that’s another story.) 

I recently read a Facebook post about how we “move through” grief.  We don’t move on but through.  I think a key to this- to moving through any life altering change- has to be offering kindness to ourselves.  Extending the grace and forgiveness that God gives so abundelty to ourselves.  We have to release ourselves from the negative talk and hand those sucky bags to God.  Once you’ve handed over those bags- I mean really handed them over…go grab a nap!  

In order to heal we must first forgive…and sometimes the person we must forgive is ourself.  ~Mila Bron 

A Lesson in Resiliency- “Choose Happy”

Up until the past year I don’t know that I’d ever given much thought to the word resiliency.  I’d hummed along pretty well with a ridiculously normal childhood, great college experience and 17 stable years of marriage.  I’d certainly suffered setbacks, disappointments and heartache but nothing that was truly insurmountable to recover from.  Until last summer…then the “r” word started appearing. 

“Children are so resilient” people would tell me.  “Your tougher than you know.”  “You’ll be amazed at where you are in a year.”  At the time those words were well…words.  Hollow, empty, useless words. Words that people say to “dress up the suck”. I was sad, lost and so very broken.   I didn’t care about any of it- at least not at first.  

Then I started watching my children and you know what?  Children ARE resilient.  They can have something terrible happen to them but they find a way to play, to laugh to continue being children.  They still make messes, belly laugh, push their Mommy’s buttons and sing loudly in the car.  They still are wide eyed at Christmas, go crazy with party poppers at their New Year’s party and wake you up at 6:30am by poking you in the face to tell you they love you (why must it always be the face??)  Their resiliency left me amazed.  

One spring evening I asked my daughter about her year (she was absolutely amazing in handling her busy life despite the loss of her Daddy.)  We talked about how she was feeling and where she was emotionally (rare, special moments with a teenager). Without missing a beat she told me “I know that each morning I can choose to be sad or I can choose to be happy.  I choose happy.”  BAM!  Choose happy.  

Now I’m NOT going to go all Pollyanna on you.  There have been and will continue to be some ROUGH days for all 3 people in this household.  We get tired, overstressed, overwhelmed and cranky somedays.  There are nights that my bedtime prayer is “Dear God help me be better tomorrow because I totally screwed up today.  Amen”.  I lash out, I make mistakes and I cry.  However, I’m working more and more at choosing happy…to channel the resilience of my children.  I’m trying to let the little junk go to focus on the big things- the things that really matter.  It’s not a perfect recipe for success but more than once choosing happy has pushed me out of a funk and toward a funky dance party with my kids or a fun night out with my friends.   Choosing happy has allowed me to focus on the beauty of the sky and not the vast number of weeds in my flower bed.  Choosing happy has meant more runs, more laughs, a heart that is healing and less worry about tomorrow.  

Elizabeth Edwards once said “Resilience is accepting your new reality even if it’s less good than the one you had before.  You can fight it, you can do nothing except scream about what you’ve lost or you can accept that and put together something that’s good.”  We human beings are wired for resiliency.  It comes from deep within, from unwavering faith and belief in a future that we can’t yet see.  

Choose happy on the days you can and pray extra hard on the days you can’t.  Be resilient.