Besides missing Niecie and trying to hold myself together, I was learning how to be a single parent. The kids were patient and as helpful as they could be, but they were dealing with their own pain. Loads of it. We were making progress as a changed family, but I was wearing down.
For one thing, I was sleep deprived. For the last several months of Niecie’s life, she required multiple breathing treatments throughout the night. And then, after she passed, sleep still only came to me in two- or three-hour stretches. All in all, I went over ten months without sleeping through the night.
In the fog of fatigue, I tried to adjust to being the lone parent—including the cooking, cleaning, shopping, planning, and errand running that came with it. (Single parents: I feel your pain.) Tiredness crept beyond the physical part of me into the emotional part. I’ve never second-guessed myself as much as I did in that first year. Am I doing enough for the kids? Are they eating okay? Did I put them in the right school? Are they being honest about how sad they are? Are they scared? Would they be better off if I had died and she had lived? My questions weren’t all rational, but losing my partner also meant losing my balance. It took a while to get it back.
And then there were the self-appointed advisors who kept reminding me that my kids really needed me and I should give them all of my attention. This was usually stated something like: “I know you’re sad about losing your wife, but your kids lost their mother. They need to know you’re okay and that they can depend on you.” Those words weren’t affirming at all and they rarely came with any offers of help. I remember thinking, I know my kids need me. My life revolves around them right now. I probably put twice the effort into parenting as you do.
That was petty of me I admit, and thank God I only said it inside my head and never out loud. But, good grief, I just needed a break.
Fortunately, Mike realized that and he made it happen.
Mike called one Friday evening and said, “You’ve got to get some down time. Your kids will be fine for a few hours without you.” He then invited me to his house the next afternoon to “just hang out and talk.”
He was right, of course. Anna, my oldest, was almost fourteen, and she was fully capable of taking care of her sisters and brother. So, I took Mike up on his offer. The following day, after lunch, I backed out of my driveway and headed to Mike’s house—without any passengers.
Mike was a single dad, too. He knew the challenges and the loneliness, so he was able to not only sympathize with me but also to empathize. And empathy compelled him to come alongside me. I actually felt some hope rising up inside me while sitting with Mike on his front porch that day.
Here’s my point in the form of a request: If you have it in you, be somebody’s Mike. Please. Don’t just feel empathy, do empathy. Be the person who is willing to relive some of your pain in order to share some of your strength.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
© 2022 by Tim Grissom. All rights reserved.