Loss of Spouse and Single Parenting
Four and a half years ago, Marsha Cuttill-Price's first husband died at the age of 45. Marsha was plunged into the difficult journey of grief, widowhood, and single parenting. Part of her journey was creating her
Breathings of the Heart blog.
She tells about what she has learned along the way in the interview below.
You say in your first blog entry that healing became a deliberate choice. At that point, it had been 11 months since Don died. What can you tell us about how you chose to heal up to that point and since then?
I have never been one to be “depressed” for very long, but losing my husband, best friend and father of my children was the darkest time of my life. I have a strong faith and though I questioned, I never lost the hope of my convictions. I also have a very supportive family who gathered around to support my healing. Fortunately I had created a cocoon of supportive friends who allowed me to grieve and also provided outlets to find some sort of “normal” in my new role. My best friend and her husband often included me in social activities and held me accountable to continue to live. Much of my “choice” was natural. I was the mother of two sons who still needed parenting. I couldn't “lose it” or they would become victims twice. Looking back, I had no choice. I had to choose to live.
Tell us about how you connected with the young widow’s group that you met with on occasion. How did this group help you in ways others couldn’t?
Almost immediately, I was looking for a connection with others who had lost a spouse. I am fairly “techo-savvy” and began searching the Internet for support. I ran across the Young Widow Bulletin Board early in my journey. For months I read other's entries and responses—never responding myself. When I felt safe and comfortable I began posting and responding myself. It was the one place where I felt I had met others who understood my plight. Evenings alone were less lonely when I could read and respond to others on the same journey.
In your blog you often refer to Henri Nouwen’s Turn My Mourning into Dancing. How did this book help you heal?
I have great admiration for Henri Nouwen's life and ministry, but will have to be honest that I had never heard of him until I was looking for books on grief. I think I read a book on grief every few days after Don died. I found comfort in Nouwen's writing. He spoke of the consistency of God even through pain. He challenged me to look at my pain not as despair, but as an opportunity to live fully even in the midst of pain, and that by doing so I could find the peace I longed for. He put into words what I knew in my heart. I have since bought multiple copies of this book for those who travel the road of grief.
What have you learned about helping children through the loss of a parent?
I have learned that single parenting is difficult and single parenting after the lose of a mate is even more so. With my children I had to become the consistency they lacked. I learned to be open to their grief and to the ways they chose to deal with grief. At first, we participated in family counseling which helped greatly. I also learned that you can't “preach” to children, you simply must be ready to listen whenever the children are ready to talk. There aren't any great books or checklist to make things “better”. Children need to know that you are there for them. Giving your children permission to talk about their dad is the best gift that only you can give as the surviving parent.
At different times you talk about how one of your sons has taught you something along the way. What is one of the biggest things you learned from them about loss/life?
Children are extremely resilient. I remember riding in the car and talking to my youngest son, who was 13 at the time. He was talking about a friend whose parents were divorcing. He said, “Wow mom, that would really stink—to have your parents split up.” It struck me as odd that he would think this child's life would “stink”, but not his. I said, “Do you think people look at you and think, that your life stinks because your father is no longer with us?” He said he never thought of it that way. My children have taught me that to honor their father's life, means to live this one with purpose and contentment.
You are obviously passionate about writing, how did writing help you heal from grief? Do you have any recommendations to offer to others who are interested in writing to heal?
I have been a teacher of writing in one capacity or another for years. It has been a passion in my profession, but not in my personal life. I had written a bit up to the point of Don's death, but not in any consistancy. When I found myself at grief's door it only seemed natural to pick up the “pen” again. In my loneliest moment or when I experienced the occasional victory, my computer was there to get the words down on paper. Friends suggested that I begin publishing on a blog so that others could read what I was writing. I took their advice and began my blog, Breathings of the Heart in 2006. Surprisingly, the blog became another outlet of meeting and ministering to people who experienced the loss of a spouse.
What advice would you have for other people that now find themselves in an unexpected single parent role?
I have an new and powerful respect for single parents. It is the most difficult job one will ever have to perform. It is exhausting, lonely and at times more rewarding that anything you will ever do. If I could give some advice it would start with:
- Take care of yourself. You can not be an effective parent if you are emotionally or physically unprepared.
- Give yourself a break. You do not have to be the one and only. Accept help from others in your life when they offer. Understand that it is ok—even healthy—to say “no” sometimes.
- Know that you will make mistakes—you would have even if your partner were parenting with you.
- Know your family's limitations. Sometimes the good of the family DOES outweigh the good of one single member.
You say that reaching out to those who have lost a spouse is still a passion of yours. What are some ways you reach out to these folks?
I have been fortunate enough to have found love again following my loss. My husband lost his wife a year before Don's death, so we both feel that we have experiences to share with others in grief. We have lead a “GriefShare” group at our church in the past, but have since decided to spend our energies in a more personal manner. We are often called to mentor others in our area who have lost a spouse. We also have hosted several YWBB dinners in Central Illinois. These are dinners where young widows can connect with others in their area who have been through loss. We often laugh and cry in the same evening, but most leave glad to have, for at least one evening, found others who “get it”. A large part of my healing has been in helping others.
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