When my 44-year-old husband died of brain cancer, leaving me a widowed parent of our 9- and 11-year-olds, I did what seemed logical to me: I went looking for the book that would tell me what to do. How to raise grieving kids while grieving myself. How to support them and – hopefully – not completely ruin their lives. How to do this thing called “widowed parenting.”
I found out that such a book does not exist. And I felt lost.
After all, if your kid goes to a therapist weekly, a peer grief group monthly, and a grief camp for a few days in the summer – and frankly, that would be a lot of grief work – there are still somewhere around 300 days in the year where it’s all on you, the widowed parent, to figure out what to do. And it’s not easy.
So, I started the Widowed Parent Podcast to look for answers -- and to share what I was learning with other widowed parents. Through the podcast I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many “Everyday Heroes” -- people who are working hard every day with and for kids who are grieving, and their surviving parents. I’d like to highlight a few of them here, in honor of Children’s Grief Awareness Month.
Hamilton’s Academy of Grief and Loss in Des Moines, Iowa, is part of Hamilton’s Funeral Home. In additional to local in-person grief support services, they have developed an extensive online resource library with printable information sheets on many grief and loss-related topics. Examples of the resources available include: children’s understanding of death at different developmental stages, how to tell if a child needs extra help, avoiding the clichés of grief, explaining cremation to children, basic needs of grieving teens, and so much more. For their work to make this extensive resource library available – for free – to widowed parents and grieving people everywhere, Sasha Mudlaff and Buffy Peters at Hamilton’s are “Everyday Heroes.”
Sometimes we, as widowed parents, need ideas of how we can keep the memories of our loved ones alive for ourselves and our kids. Because let’s face it – we’re busy, and likely don’t have the time or energy to come up with creative ideas for remembering. Enter Allison Gilbert’s book, “Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.” In her book, Allison gives us 85 ideas for how to do this. Some are crafty, some use tech or social media, and for some, she suggests vendors and artists – all researched and vetted by her – who can transform artifacts into beautiful keepsakes for us. For her work to help us help our kids remember their deceased parents, Allison Gilbert is an “Everyday Hero.”
One of the questions I get all the time from widowed parents is this: “How do I know if something is a grief issue or a normal teen issue?” Dr. Lisa Damour’s book, “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood” is the best parenting book I’ve read in a long time. In it she details the seven developmental strands that teenagers are going through as they transition from children into adults, and describes what might be considered “normal” behavior for each of those strands. It turns out that “normal” is actually all over the map, so she also outlines examples of what would be cause for concern in each strand. For her work to help all parents -- including widowed parents – better understand their teens, Dr. Lisa Damour is an “Everyday Hero.”
Believe it or not, there’s a real shortage of academic research into the needs and struggles of widowed parents. Dr. Justin Yopp and his colleague at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Don Rosenstein, created a support group for widowed dads; ultimately, they realized that much more work is needed in this area, and have embarked on some significant research to fill this gap. They also wrote extensively about the journeys of the original seven guys in their program in the book, “The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life.” For his work to advance the field of support for widowed parents and families, Dr. Justin Yopp is an “Everyday Hero.”
When I interviewed Maria Collins of the New York Life Foundation, I learned that they are the biggest corporate funder of childhood bereavement work. They’ve put millions of dollars into this work over the years. They’ve funded work that many of my guests are doing – StoryCorps, Judi’s House, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, and the National Alliance for Grieving Children, to name a few – and numerous other initiatives and programs as well. Maria explained when we talked that, as a life insurance company, they want to deliver more than a check when they handle a death claim. They want to provide information and resources to grieving families, too. Their commitment to this work is making the good work of many others possible, and for this, the New York Life Foundation is an “Everyday Hero.”
I started The Widowed Parent Podcast to help widowed parents increase their family’s well-being. Because all kids should have a chance to thrive – even if their parent has died. I’m grateful to the “Everyday Heroes” who have shared their wisdom with my listeners, and look forward to highlighting the good work of many more in the future.
Host, The Widowed Parent Podcast