I was lying in bed with both of my daughters and our dog as we all watched an episode of The Goldbergs. I stopped looking at the TV for a moment and appreciated the scene. I looked at each of my girls’ faces. They were both smiling and laughing. They looked happy, and I believe they were. I love these girls with all my heart and that is all that a mother could want for her children – to be happy.
As it always does, my heart ached for a moment when I thought about the person missing from this scene – their dad. It has been six years since he passed away and, no matter how much time has gone by, it always will strike me as sad that he is not here with us.
Looking at them in my bed with our adorable little dog that night, I thought about how well they have been doing despite their tragic loss. There have been bumps in the road, some more difficult than others, but they have both been able to weather each storm and have made it through. I am beyond proud of them for this.
Observing my daughters that night, I began to think of the future – their future. Today, they are doing well, but what about tomorrow? Next year? Ten years?
I am their mother so I worry. The future is unknown for all, but I often wonder how the loss of their father, at only 10 and 12 years old, will affect them throughout their lives.
I began to do a little research.
When googling this question, I found all kinds of research with many different results.
I learned that the effects on children may depend largely on how the surviving parent communicates with them. Not too much pressure on us surviving parents!
I read that parental loss could lead to adult depression in women.
One study says these children could exhibit antisocial behavior.
Then, another study says that all of these findings are inconsistent.
I decided to ask an expert in my own house. My brilliant daughter Lily is taking a science research class in high school. She would like to become a neuroscientist. For this class, she needed to pick one subject to study for three years. She chose Effects of Parental Loss on Cortisol Levels in the Brain. I guess she is researching something that she wants to know.
These are Lily’s results:
Cortisol is a steroidal hormone that is responsible for regulating blood sugar, the functioning of the immune system, and the anti-stress response. Studies have found that adults experiencing childhood parental death had elevated cortisol levels in comparison to other adults. The elevated cortisol levels in adults experiencing childhood parental death makes them more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse, and more likely to feel anxious, nervous, and irritable when in stressful situations.
Lily will be researching this much further over the next two years of high school. She is hoping to bring more attention to this subject. I am beyond proud of my daughter for using her own loss to research something that eventually may be used to help others in a similar situation to her own.
I must admit though, that this research worries me; PTSD, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse? Those are some frightening results. What can I, or anyone like me, do?
I wish there was a definitive answer to that question. All I can do is to be proactive when it is possible. I try to be sure that they get lots of love; from myself, as well as friends and family. I also truly believe that our dog is a huge help in the love area.
I have found amazing therapists who I take them to whenever they or I feel it is needed. Thankfully, the need has lessened over the years.
I try my best to keep a close eye on them without being too intrusive, which can be a difficult balance. I know that my mood sometimes depends on theirs, which is not a good thing.
I know that one day soon they will no longer be under my roof and I do not have control over their futures. Their loss has affected them greatly, I only hope that their lives are nothing but bright.
Who knows? Maybe Lily will discover a cure for elevated cortisol levels in the brain after parental loss. Then maybe she can explain to her mother what all of it means!
I finally finished the dishes. The kitchen was clean. My extended family had left my house and my kids had retreated to their rooms. I was exhausted from cooking, serving and cleaning up, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I host Mother’s Day every year and I love doing it. It is a lot of work but it is always such a nice day. I am happy to celebrate being a mom to my two fantastic teenage daughters.
Now that Mother’s Day is over, I dread what comes next: Father’s Day is in just a few weeks. My husband passed away five years ago, and since then it has become the most hated day of the year for my children and me.
All three of us are doing well now, but there are many very difficult days each year – his birthday, the anniversary of his death, my wedding anniversary – these are days that we think about him a little bit more, wishing that he was here with us. Father’s Day is the worst one of all.
We know the significance of those other difficult days, but the rest of the world does not. My girls and I, sometimes along with friends and family, recognize those days as we wish: a special dinner, visiting the cemetery, or even just taking the day for ourselves to remember him. It is never easy, but we have learned how to best get through it.
Father’s Day is a very different day. It is everywhere and we cannot get away from it no matter what we do. I put on the television and there it is – never ending ads for Father’s Day gifts. Every talk show constantly gives advice on how to make Dad’s day special – from the best presents, to barbecue and baking ideas – they talk about it all.
The hardest thing, especially for my daughters, is social media. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, our newsfeeds are inundated with Father’s Day messages and pictures. While it is so nice to celebrate the dad in your life, it can be hard for those who are not as fortunate. This also goes for those who find Mother’s Day difficult.
Over the years we have tried many ways to spend this day. We have spent it with family, with friends, or just the three of us at a restaurant. None of these things have been enjoyable. All that we feel is the huge void in our family.
As this dreaded day approaches this year, someone very close to me said that my girls “should be used to it by now”. My response was, “it is something you never get used to”.
I have a friend who lost her father when she was 12. This friend is now a married mother of two and she still finds Father’s Day difficult. I am sure my girls will always feel the same way.
You cannot possibly get used to losing your father at a young age. This is a devastating loss that my daughters will carry with them through their whole lives. After a lot of trial and error, we have learned that we need to do what feels right and what works for us on Father’s Day. It does not matter what we “should” do or what anyone wants us to do.
Everyone handles loss in their own way. We all have good days and bad days. Some may choose to spend a day such as Father’s Day amongst family and friends. My girls and I have found doing that too difficult.
Father’s Day in our house will be celebrated much differently that Mother’s Day was. There will no big celebration with family. If anyone is looking for me or my girls on Sunday, June 18, you will not find us on social media, or at a barbecue, or in a restaurant. You will probably find the three of us cuddling on the couch while watching Netflix. The only person who might see us is the pizza delivery guy. We will keep breathing until the day is over and we can start the new week on Monday.
Today is March 27th. It would have been Howie’s 54th birthday.
This is the first March 27th since I began writing.
I often wonder what Howie would think of all this. I, of course, hope he would be proud that I am achieving some level of success with it.
But, let’s face it, I knew my husband. What he probably would have said is “Peanut, are you kidding me? If you’re going to start a new career, can you start one where you at least make some money??”.
I am sure that anyone who knew him is laughing right now because they can hear him saying this 🙂
There are many times when I need to make a decision on my own, and I think to myself, “What would Howie have done?”.
Sometimes these questions concern me personally, but most of the time they are decisions about our girls.
What would he have told Amanda about choosing a college?
How would he have helped Lily when she gets so stressed about her schoolwork?
What would he have done every morning when they fight about what time to leave for school?
Oops I forgot – he never would have heard those fights in the morning – he would have been fast asleep!
One thing I know he would be proud of – how far each of our daughters have come, and what great people they are becoming in spite of what happened to them. I know I am.
Strangely, I have felt his presence a little more in the past few weeks, possibly because his birthday was coming up. I hope this means he is happy about how we are all doing.
He is missed every day by all three of us. I wonder all the time what life would be like if he was still here. I hope he somehow knows that we try to honor him as best we can as often as we can.
My in-laws came over for brunch the other day. As happens often when we are with them, the conversation turned to Howie. His parents talk about when he was a child, my girls talk about him as a dad, and I usually end up telling stories from when we were dating or newly married.
This does not make any of us sad. I know for my girls, it makes them happy. They both laugh when we talk about the silly things he used to do, and it is so nice for them to remember what a great father he was.
I remember talking with a woman in the first few months after Howie died. She had lost her father at a young age, and sadly, years later also lost her husband. She told me that she was only seven years old when her dad died, and that her mother remarried a few years later. She then said that her stepfather would not allow pictures of her father in the house. Granted, when she was a child it was a different time, she is probably 20 years older than I am. Even so, I remember looking at her in disbelief.
She believed that because of not seeing those pictures, plus not speaking of her dad that often, she had a hard time remembering him. I am sure that she was correct.
My girls were young when Howie died, especially Lily who was only 10. I want their memories of him to be as vivid as possible. I still have many family pictures up in our house. I also have boxes and boxes of pictures put away, which they do look at often.
His name and stories about him come up in conversation all the time, not just with my in-laws. I am always telling them which traits of theirs came from him. Lily looks exactly like him, and Amanda has more of his personality.
They are smart girls and they know how to use this against me. I get mad when they are messy, or complain too much, among other things. They always come back with “I got that from Daddy”. They think it will soften me. I have to admit, sometimes it does.
I believe it is so important for all of us to keep his memory alive. The more we talk, the more we seem to remember. My father in law mentioned the name of a candy store by his office the other day. Howie used to bring me the best chocolate from there for any special occasion. I hadn’t thought about it in years. The minute he said it, tons of memories came back, along with wanting the candy! It was nice for thoughts to come up that hadn’t been on my mind for so long.
Memories can keep someone a part of you after they are gone. As time goes on and they are no longer in every thought, it is nice to keep a place in your mind for them. I hope that my girls can always hold on to special memories of their father. He will always be a part of all of us.
I walked through the glass doors of my office. I went straight into the kitchen to put my yogurt in the refrigerator. I looked down at my hand and it wasn’t there. I carry a red Lululemon bag with my yogurt, granola bar, and and a few other things that I bring to eat at work every day. It was not hanging off my arm like it usually was.
I thought I had it with me but I must have left it in my car. I ran down the three flights of stairs and out into the freezing cold and looked inside my car. It wasn’t there either. I jumped into the driver’s seat and drove the five minute commute back to my house. I need food during the day or I don’t function well.
I ran into my house and there it was on my kitchen counter – my red bag. I totally thought I had taken it.
I know what you’re thinking – we all do that. We misplace our keys, look for our phones while they are in our hands, and sunglasses that are on our heads. I’m not unusual.
For me it is not just those typical things.
My boyfriend tells me that we have spoken about something that I just cannot remember. My boss asks if I had taken care of something 24 hours earlier, and I have to think for a minute whether I did or not (thankfully I write everything down). Friends call me and I don’t remember to call back. I have a very hard time multi-tasking.
No, I don’t think I have some dreaded disease (I will not allow my mind to wander like that).
What I do think I have is memory loss due to grief. I have read articles on it and they all say the same thing. It is very common. Going through a tragedy and grieving can affect your short term memory. They say it can last up to a few years.
In the beginning, I did not know that this was typical. My brain did not seem to be working the way it used to, and that was scary. I didn’t understand it. But I knew that I had so much on my mind that it was difficult to keep it all straight.
I am past the five year mark, and no longer in the grieving stage. My memory has come back to some extent over the last few years, but I am still quite forgetful. Those who know me best will say that I have always been a little scattered (don’t think I don’t know that you say it behind my back :)-) . I admit that they are partially correct. But during those first few years I couldn’t keep anything straight. Right now I still think my memory is worse than it was before Howie died.
It is comforting to know that I am not alone. That others have felt this, and still feel it. I wanted to share my experience in the hopes of bringing comfort to someone else who may be feeling this. You are not going crazy. It happens to many of us.
If the worst thing is having to drive back home for my yogurt – I’ll take it.
Last Sunday I picked Lily up from a camp friend’s house 20 minutes away. The night before, I drove her to a different friend an hour away. After I dropped her off at home, I went to Shop Rite, which took me over an hour. Shop Rite by me on a Sunday is a little like an insane asylum. Every time I make it through, I feel as if I’ve been through a war. I came home, put away the packages, and walked the dog. All of this took up more than half of my day.
Two things happened after that.
First, Amanda had made herself pasta while I was gone. Now I believe she may have thought that she cleaned up. But Amanda’s version of cleaning up is putting her dirty bowl (with food in it) and the strainer in the sink. Not the dishwasher, the sink. There was a dirty pot and an empty box of pasta on the counter, and she would never think to wipe down anything.
Right after I saw this, Lily asked me if I had bought the ingredients to make her the potato latkes I promised her over Hanukkah a month earlier but never made. Mind you, it’s not as if the poor deprived child did not have any potato latkes over Hanukkah. My mother in law made us delicious ones on the first night. But she wanted me to make them. When I told her that I had forgotten about them and I was exhausted from running around all day, she got very upset with me.
I thought about all of this for a few minutes.
Right after Howie died, I made a promise to myself. I swore that I was going to do everything in my power to make sure my girls did not always feel like they only had one parent. I would drive them around as much as possible when they needed me to. I would make dinners – I did not want to be the mom that made frozen pizzas and ate over the sink every night. I would be as involved in their lives as much as they would allow me to be. I would do whatever I could for them.
I have tried very hard to keep this promise. But I am realizing now that this promise has turned into me doing everything, and this may not always be such a good thing.
My girls are great daughters, and I know that is hard to say about teenage girls. I think I have an amazing relationship with each of them, and they have a pretty good relationship with each other – as far as sisters go. They are nice and respectful to me, and for the most part do not give me a hard time. I am very thankful for them.
BUT I think I have turned them into the two laziest girls on the face of the planet. I do everything for them – laundry, dinners, dishes, cleaning up. taking care of the dog (and they wonder why he loves me best). Plus the fact that they are the two messiest girls in the world, so cleaning up after them is no easy task.
I thought about the fact that when I made this promise to myself, the girls were 10 and 12 years old and grieving the loss of their father. They are now just about 16 and 18. I think it might be time to make a change.
I sat them both down and told them how I felt. Their reaction could not have been better. They apologized to me and said they would try to help out more. My fear is that these were just words – it is five days later and you should see what their rooms looks like.
Now we will see if they actually do make the effort. Old habits are hard to break. This may be harder for me than it is for them. I know that I need to stop doing everything for them. They need to not only do more for themselves, but also help me out a little. It is time. I am hoping we can all make a positive change.
There is something I think about often. It is the same thing I didn’t like to think about before Howie died. Thankfully Howie not only thought about it, but did something about it.
That something is life insurance.Who wants to think about that? Who would think that they may really need it one day? I certainly didn’t.
I vaguely remember Howie telling me that he was getting life insurance. I think my eyes glazed over while he was talking. I was probably watching “The Bachelor” or something like that when he was speaking, which seemed much more important at the time, so I didn’t pay attention. I do remember telling him that I didn’t want to think about anything like that, and nothing was going to happen to him anyway.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. A few years later Howie passed away, and because his death was so sudden, there was no time to talk about things like that. While I did remember having that quick conversation about life insurance years earlier, I didn’t know anything about it. What company was it with? Where was the policy? How much was it for? I was clueless.
Luckily, Howie had told other people about the policy. Since they weren’t watching reality TV while he explained it, they were able to help point me in the right direction to file my claim.
I was very lucky. If Howie had thought like I did, that “nothing is going to happen”, I would be in a very unfortunate situation today.
Things do happen. I know this better than anyone. It completely sucks, but they do. I always thought it happened to other people. You know – a college friend’s cousin’s uncle, a neighbor of your brother’s in-laws, someone in your town that you met once at a party. I never would have thought it could happen to us.
Chances are, something like that will not happen to most families. It really is pretty rare. But now I know that it is really important to be prepared, just in case.
I can say a lot of things about Howie. He was far from perfect – he left his dirty clothes ALL over the house, he was not the least bit handy, he was always late – I could go on :). But he thankfully did good on something terribly important, which I will always be grateful for.
Just something to think about.
I remember in the first few weeks after Howie died, a close friend said to me “I don’t know how you are doing it. I don’t think I could get out of bed if I was in your place.”
I also remember my response being “Yes you would. You are no different than I am. You are a mother and we do what we have to do for our kids.”
I meant it then and I still mean it now. For most of the women that I know. We do what we have to do.
So in those first few weeks, I wanted to stay in bed under the covers and not get up all day. Who wouldn’t? But if I did that, how would my kids get up? How would they go to school? How would they know that we had to move forward, even if we didn’t want to? So I got up, got them up, and made them go to school. And I either went to work or did whatever needed to get done that day.
Believe me, this was no easy task. For myself, as well as for them. Once I would get them to school. I worried all day. And on about half of those days, I would get a call from the middle school saying that Amanda wanted to come home. Some days I was able to talk her into staying. But on the others, I would go pick her up because she just couldn’t be there.
Now, I myself look back on that time and don’t understand how I did it either. But the truth is, I was almost robotic. I got up and did whatever I had to do on any given day because I didn’t have a choice. We needed to live so that’s what we did. But living and being alive are two different things. Everything I did was because I had to, not because I wanted to.
Weeks turned to months, and months to years. Of course time makes things better. There were plenty of happy moments in that time. But I was not this pillar of strength that I tried to pretend to be. The smile on my face was sometimes so fake that it hurt. I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it and believe me, I made some very big mistakes.
Now I can truly say that I feel strong. I have become my own person in the past year and I love that. It didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual. My life is far from perfect – I still have plenty of bad moments, but they are much fewer and more far between.
In the past couple of weeks I ran into two different women that I know. One is just starting to go through a divorce and one is very recently divorced. I also had a conversation with a widow that I am friendly with. All three of these women are going through a difficult time at the moment, each for different reasons. I could see myself in all of them. I was where they all are for a very long time, probably too long.
I wish that none of us had to go through that pain. But as much as I was faking that strength for so long, it must have been in me somewhere because it eventually came out. I know it will come out for each of them also. Sometimes it appears when you least expect it.
I am so very proud to say that everything I have been through has brought me to my writing and now being published. Check out my articles
Even after all this time I still cannot fathom the words I am about to write – my sister-in law, Howie’s sister Jeri, died almost exactly two years before Howie did.
Their deaths were not at all related, two completely different tragedies. But Jeri’s death, along with Amanda’s struggle, have made me very much aware of how horrible it is to suffer from depression.
The first time I met Jeri was when Howie and I were dating. He said he wanted me to meet his sister, who happened to live right near me in the city. She had a boyfriend at the time so the four of us made plans to go out for dinner. We met at her apartment first. I walked in and could not believe that this girl was his sister – she was absolutely beautiful – stunning. She had a fabulous apartment, a great job working in a beautiful hotel in Manhattan, and her boyfriend seemed like a great guy. This girl seemed to have it all. To say I was intimidated is an understatement.
Looking at her, I expected her to be the biggest bitch. Many girls who looked like that would have been. But she was the exact opposite. She was so warm and inviting to me and I could see how she absolutely adored her brother.
For a while I only saw this perfect girl, as I’m sure the rest of the world also did. But little by little, I got to know the real Jeri. Still beautiful, and still sweet and loving. But she wasn’t the perfect, happy girl that she appeared to be. There was a sadness in her. At first it was hard to see, but as time went on it became more apparent. It was almost like this tiny little sadness inside her got bigger and bigger over the years until it took over. It was a horrible thing to see.
I am certainly not a doctor, and I knew much less about depression back then than I do now. I could not understand how or why this amazing girl was so sad. Now I know that she didn’t want to be, she just was. She did get help, but I guess it wasn’t enough.
But Jeri of course had great moments and that is what I like to remember about her. I remember sitting on her couch, drinking wine and laughing with her when I still lived in Manhattan. I remember her as a bridesmaid at my wedding. I remember this amazing friendship that she and my sister formed on their own – they had a connection that had nothing to do with me and I loved that. I remember the way she and Howie argued – like any brother and sister do – always with love. But what I mostly remember was the amazing aunt she was to my daughters. She adored them and they adored her. When Amanda was born, she quoted Monica from “Friends” and said to her, “I will always have gum”. She always had more than gum for both of them.
Jeri’s birthday is December 24th – Christmas Eve. I will always picture all of us out in some restaurant in the city to celebrate her. As bad as she may have been feeling, she always seemed to have fun. I think of her all the time, but especially at this time of year. I like to imagine that she and Howie are celebrating together somewhere.
Depression is an illness. I know that many people don’t see it that way but it is. I am not going to try to give advice on it because I am certainly not knowledgeable enough. But if someone you love shows any signs, please urge them to get help. Even if it’s someone you would least expect.
Last December was one of the hardest times of my life. I felt like I was really falling apart after four very difficult years. I knew that either I had to get myself together and try to move forward or I was going to have a real breakdown. I have to say – it came pretty close to the breakdown.
I was lucky – I had a great therapist who tells it like it is. I also had support from friends and family. I also thankfully have a will inside of me that was not going to let that happen.
I think that the timing that I almost fell apart is very telling – December, holidays, school break, New Year’s Eve. We always hear how the holidays are hard for some people, how more suicides happen at this time, how we should feel for those who are alone, etc.. People make lovely posts about this on Facebook, and they try to say the “right” things – they mean well when they do this. But actually going through it is a whole other story.
We look on TV and social media and see joy and happiness. Some celebrate with beautiful family gatherings around beautiful tables and amazingly decorated trees. Others fly off to exotic islands and gorgeous beaches. Then there are those who do neither.
I disliked this time of year even before Howie passed away. But not always. Growing up, Christmas break was fun even though we didn’t travel that week. I had two weeks off from school, and back then most of my friends were not away either. It was a great time to just hang out. And there was of course always a special New Year’s Eve celebration that I would attend. At one point, I had a boyfriend who celebrated Christmas and I really enjoyed celebrating it with him, something I had never had before. But it changed once I was married and the girls were born. Not depressing, nothing bad – just not my favorite week. We never went away during that break and it was always a little hard when it seemed like everyone else was away. There was one year when Amanda had mouth surgery during break – and she ended up developing an infection and a fever. Now that was a fun week!
After Howie died, December became beyond depressing. Holidays are always a reminder that someone is missing. Plus, New Year’s Eve completely sucks when you are alone. There was one year that for the first time in my life I was home alone. I spent the night watching a “Shark Tank” marathon because I didn’t want to notice when it turned midnight. I am not trying to have a pity party – just want to show how this time of year can be really tough.
So last year I almost lost it – but I am grateful that I didn’t. Things have turned around for me, partly because I did what I could to make that happen. This December will still sort of suck. We will still be in NJ and endure the beautiful, happy pictures of other’s fabulous holiday seasons. But for me it will go back to “regular sucks” instead of “ultra sucks”. I do have much more happiness this year – this year I am good.
Speaking from my own experience, this month can be very depressing. I am not making a blanket statement “the holidays can be hard for some”. The holidays ARE hard for some. I’ve been there, others have been there and still may be. Not everyone’s life is a perfect Facebook picture.