This is the 4th blog in the Mothering Matters Spring 2017 Blog Series:
Putting Grief on Hold – a Candid Account of Raising a Child After Death of Spouse
“Looking back, it’s like everyone else around me was falling apart and I was stoic. I feared that if I did let my guard down, I wouldn’t be able to stop – and then in what capacity could I look after a child, if I couldn’t look after myself?”
– Rebecca Orr
For today’s Mothering Matters blog, I interviewed Rebecca Orr about her experience and perspective on raising a child on her own. Rebecca’s husband, Lance, passed away when Rebecca was expecting their daughter, Caitlin. Rebecca and Caitlin live in Olds, AB.
Question #1: Thank you for being interviewed for Mothering Matters. How old is your daughter now?
Caitlin will be 8 at the end of August.
Question #2: How far along were you in your pregnancy when your husband passed away? Can you tell me about how your husband died?
I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter, Caitlin, when my husband, Lance, died. I was 26 at the time. Lance died in a work-related incident. He worked in construction and was a rigger at the job site they were on. He had been working long days for quite a while. We believed fatigue was a factor in his death…and corners were possibly cut.
They were moving a load of concrete forms from one place to another on the site. He had hooked up the load – but for some reason he had used 2 different lengths of chains and didn’t tie down the load. Then he gave the okay to move the load. Then for whatever reason, Lance walked underneath the concrete forms. They fell from the slings and he was killed instantly, crushed under the load. There were more questions than answers.
The weather that day was all over the place, so weather also played a part.
I found over the years that getting up caught in the “Whys?” made me go even more crazier. For sure fatigue played a factor. He was very dedicated to his work and wanted to get the job done. But he didn’t want to go to work that day. He wanted to go with me instead to start a baby registry. He was hoping to get home early.
And he didn’t like to talk to me from work – but that day he talked on the phone with me for a good 10 minutes…about 2 to 3 hours before his death. He told me he was looking forward to being done.
I don’t know why he chose to clear the deck of everyone but him and the load operator. And I don’t know why he chose to walk under the load when it was dangerous to do so.
Question #3: What was the impact on you and your baby when you heard the news and in the months to come, as that must have been extremely traumatic?
If you asked the police officer who talked to me that day, she would tell you I was strangely calm. I reconnected with her again not too long ago.
At the time when the police first contacted me, I thought Lance had got himself into trouble with the law because he was a “live on the edge” kind of guy. So when the police called to speak to me the first time, I panicked and called Lance’s phone. And when he didn’t pick up, I really started to panic and left a harsh message on my phone asking him why the police were contacting me.
The police finally found me at Toys R Us, where I was setting up the baby registry. They told me there was an accident at the job site and Lance had been killed. I was actually quite calm. I asked the police officer what had happened. She said it had something to do with concrete forms. And I said, “That sounds about right.”
Then she asked me if I needed anything…if I needed to go the hospital?
I asked her, “Why would I go to the hospital?”
And the police officer said, “Because you are 6 months pregnant.”
I was incredibly calm when I heard the news. I called members of my family and said, “Apparently, Lance died on the job.”
But then when I was talking to Lance’s cousin, I began to have a panic attack. Then after that I was calm again. I think I was in shock and in denial. Deep down, I knew I needed to keep this child alive.
In all honesty, my calmness and denial pretty much lasted until the last year or so. And then I started crying all the time over the weirdest things.
In my view, looking back it wasn’t about “being strong.” I had to do whatever I had to do to keep this child alive…including lying to myself. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, in a fog.
Looking back, it’s like everyone else around me was falling apart and I was stoic. I feared that if I did let my guard down, I wouldn’t be able to stop – and then in what capacity could I look after a child, if I couldn’t look after myself?
I didn’t allow myself to feel any emotions – except for one all-out breakdown. Even at the gravesite, I was doing everything I could to not show what I was feeling. I fooled a lot of people, alongside myself.
I also wondered if, since I was so calm and focused, maybe I didn’t love him as much as I thought I did?
People would say to me that I was handling it so well. But I was so young…how else was I supposed to be handling it?
I was very disjointed for multiple years.
Question #4 Tell me about your experience raising your daughter on your own? What have some of the challenges been?
Thankfully, I have an incredibly supportive family who, especially in those first two years, really stepped in to become stable adults in Caitlin’s life. But I have felt a lot of guilt about Caitlin not having a father in her life.
There are pros and cons to raising a child on my own. To be honest, I have more anger and frustration now than I did in the early years.
The first year of Caitlin’s life was a blur. She spent the first week of her life in NICU. I had this horrible sense of panic that since my husband was dead, I was also going to lose my child. I think I held on to her for dear life…versus the last couple of years, when I have begun to let her go.
My mom used to say that although I have bounced back from losing Lance, she honestly didn’t think I would bounce back from losing my child.
In the first couple of years, one challenge I faced was that I really battled between being a mom and dad. Caitlin got whatever she wanted. Now I battle with her thinking she deserves everything under the sun.
For the longest time, Lance was on a pedestal for Caitlin. When she was 3 or 4, if she was angry at me, she would sit on her bed and cry that she wanted her dad.
However, in the last few months she has been angry at her dad – that it is his fault for going to work and dying. She is also angry that she doesn’t have siblings. Now I am not only trying to figure out my own emotions, I am also trying to help Caitlin sort out hers. It breaks my heart to see Caitlin struggle. It bothers me more than my own grief, for sure.
We live with my mom. Caitlin and my mom have the most remarkable relationship. But at the end of the day, I am the only parent. There is nobody else to consult with. It is difficult not having someone to consult with. And there is a loneliness there. There is a frustration that I didn’t ask for this. I had no intention of being a single parent. I have a lot of frustration that this isn’t what I asked for. I am also exhausted…beyond exhausted on any given day. Parenting alone sucks when you don’t plan it that way.
But there are also the pro’s: I get to decide on everything…where my kid goes to school, how I spend my money, etc.. I don’t have to consult with anyone.
And there are some experiences that Caitlin and I are having, such as traveling to interesting places, that likely wouldn’t have been possible had Lance still been alive. How different life would have been had Lance was still around. I find it difficult to imagine.
I am very blessed for the remarkable family unit that my family has. It doesn’t replace having a dad – that missing piece is still missing. Caitlin wants a dad and it is tough to explain to a child that it is not that simple. There are challenges that come with her desire of wanting a father.
Question #5 Have you met anyone else in terms of a mate/partner?
No. If that ever did happen that would be fine but there is nobody at this point.
Question #6 You have mentioned a bit about your support system. Is there anything else you would like to add?
My family is awesome! I am very blessed. I also have great church support. Faith is a huge part of my life. I don’t know how it is with people who don’t have the support. I am so lucky, then and now, that I have that support.
After Lance’s death, my family really stepped in – especially my mom and brother – and took over. I was in no state to be handling all the affairs on my own at that time. My brother handled the media. My brother and my mom helped me with the finances. My brother stepped in as a father figure and role model for Caitlin…and he still is. He has his own kids, too.
I do realize how blessed I am – and that God put those people in place at the time to help out. I could never repay that back. I am incredibly blessed and grateful for my support system. It is huge.
Question #7 Do you have any words of wisdom for women or who may in a similar situation i.e. raising a child on their own due to the death of a partner?
Don’t let anybody tell you how to feel – that’s the biggest thing. Everyone is going to have an opinion on how you should grieve. But the only person who knows how is you.
Just put one foot in front of the other. You can’t live in fear.
I am finally going to counselling now, 8 years after Lance’s death. I kept thinking, “I should be past this.” We are always such critics on ourselves. I mean, I wouldn’t say to someone else who was grieving, “You should be past this.” So why would I say it to myself? But I did.
Grief has no timeline. It could hit you right off the bat or it could hit you 10 years down the road. I am incredibly harsh on myself. So that’s what I would tell others: you need to be gentle on yourself. You have to do what you have to do to get through – and that will look different for every single person.
May 8th was the 8th anniversary of Lance’s death. My counsellor asked me what I was planning on doing that day. I said to her, “I don’t want to be a burden to other people.”
She looked at me and said, “If a friend called you up and said that to you, what would you say?”
In other words, you would never say that to someone else, why would you say that to yourself? We are often a lot harsher on ourselves than we are on other people.
Don’t put on the façade that you are okay when you’re not. I wanted people to think that I was okay even thought I wasn’t. I felt like Jeckyll & Hyde! And that’s not healthy.
Also, find people that you can trust.
People tell you that they will always be there for you…they mean well, but not everyone is always going to be there for you.
And hold on for this crazy roller coaster of a life!
Although people don’t tend to be mean, they do say stupid things…most of the time because they don’t know any better. But sometimes it is best to say nothing. The night Lance died, someone told me, “You’re young, you will find someone else to marry.”
I said to my mom the other day that I was exhausted from all the crying. My mom looked at me and said “You are only just getting started. In 7 and a half years, you have never cried. Did you honestly think you weren’t ever going to cry?”
I cry over everything now. I find it infuriating. But it is completely normal. I am incredibly hard on myself with this grief process…I would like it be over by now!
But now that my daughter is 8 and in school, maybe subconsciously I am finally giving myself permission to really grieve? Because in the midst of all this there is a lot of peace….a lot of good that will come out of it when I get to the other side.
I was only 22 when I got married. I thought I knew everything. Looking back 10 years later, I knew nothing! I have grown so much over the past 8 years. But how much would I have grown if Lance was still alive?
I have grown up so much, learning to live without Lance and raising a child on my own. My perspective on life has changed an awful lot in the last 8 years. I had to learn how stand on my own. Lance was the protector and took care of everything. I was the people pleaser. Lance was who he was and if you didn’t like it, that was your problem. Caitlin is very much a similar personality. If you don’t like me, that is your problem, not mine.
I, on the other hand, am a people-pleaser. In the last 8 years, I had to learn how to stand on my own. I had to learn how to build my life as a one-person universe. It is a very different life than what I thought my life would be.
Lance was super excited to raise a child. Caitlin looks like me but she is her father’s daughter. She is so similar to Lance. I am curious as to whether or not they would have gotten along or would they have clashed? Caitlin is a very matter of fact child…very literal. It fascinates me that without even knowing her dad, she is through and through her father’s daughter.
It is a fascinating and infuriating journey to be on.
There are times when I wouldn’t take back what I had before. I have been a single mom far longer than I was married. It’s what I know. People ask me if I ever want to get married again. I say sure, I would love to. But at the same time, the longer I stay a single mom, the more used to this life I have become.
Question #9 How old are you now? What are your hopes for the future?
I am 33. Obviously, in the future I want to be in a better place emotionally. I am not against getting married again. But any guy in my life would have to be good with being a dad from the get go. I just want to be the happiest mom I can be for my child.
I want to be a good role model for my daughter. If I find someone great. If not, that doesn’t define me as a person. God clearly has a direction that I am going to be heading in. I have no idea where this crazy ride is headed. I am confident that I can raise my kid and be happy and healthy in whatever happens.
I am super picky about guys. Caitlin wants a dad but at the end of the day, I have to pick up the pieces of her broken heart if it doesn’t work out. There has been the odd guy, that Lance knew, in our lives. They stuck around for awhile and then they just vanished. And Caitlin blamed me.
Finally, I had to sit her down and say: although people say they will always be there for you…that isn’t always the case. If a person chooses to not stick around, that is their choice – not mine. Mom is not always to blame.
A year ago, I really hit rock bottom emotionally and my mom told me I needed to go see someone. It was a very good idea. Looking back now, I realize I wasn’t in a good place.
The other day, I was bawling my eyes out in the parking lot of Caitlin’s school. Caitlin asked me why I was crying and I told her I was tired. I’m not one to show emotions, so this is a whole new ball game for me. This is new territory.
But you know what? There is something freeing in all this. Why, as women, can’t we be broken – and admit that we are broken? When did it happen that women can’t admit to being a crappy place?
I am incredibly grateful for my mom (and my best friend) who nudged me, a year ago, in the right direction of seeking help. Who knows where I would be right now if I didn’t get help?
Thank you, Rebecca, for being interviewed for Mothering Matters. Your honesty will really resonate with readers. Take care!
Rebecca Orr was interviewed by Maryanne Pope. Maryanne is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here.
Mothering Matters is an initiative of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc.
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