My story . . . .
A FATHER’S EARLY DEATH CHANGES THE FAMILY CONFIGURATION FOREVER
By Deborah Levinson
I was widowed at age 44 on Memorial Day. My children were ages 15 and 17. My older son was preparing to go off to college and my younger son was about to get his learner's permit. Everyone was on the move but the dog and me. Sadly, the dog died a short time later. A Hopkins-trained psychotherapist and clinical social worker, my professional skills did not prepare me for this new uncharted world of widowhood and single parenthood into which I had been thrust. Now, a quarter century later, my husband's early death continues to impact my relationship with my adult children.
Both sons were deeply affected by the loss of their father, but each reacted differently. My older son checked out, while his younger brother appointed himself the "parent child," the one who worked to make sure his family re-stabilized. Unconsciously, he put his adolescent stage on hold, where it remained until his mid-thirties. At that point he had the time, energy and focus to deal with his father's death.
My older son stumbled along for years. He connected with a young woman whom he married. In joining closely with his wife's family, he received attention and validation from her father. Sadly, that connection required he give up his own family for all holidays. So my younger son and I were left to figure out holidays for ourselves. My older son found his footing in his career and personal life, especially after he found his calling as a model father. His parenting gave him a deeper sense of self.
My younger son is currently evolving. Very successful in his first career and sadly unsuccessful in a brief starter marriage (typically entered into by children who lose a parent early), he is exploring new career options and avocational dimensions he did not have the time, energy, or inclination to explore earlier. Still single, he has a wonderful dog, which has allowed him to experience currently his passion he had for our family bulldog while he was growing up.
My younger son, my significant other of 22-some-odd years, and my stepdaughter and I celebrate holidays together and have established rituals, such as doing 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, to foster the bond. We have created our own untraditional family, a blended family, which works for us. My older son very periodically will join this group.
Upon reflection the relationship each of my adult sons has had with me over time seems to have been based on how happy each child has been in his own life at that given moment. While I understood this concept professionally, accepting and living with it emotionally has not always been easy. Importantly, I look for a construct that conceptualizes my relationship with each grown son in a positive way. Thus with my older son we connect frequently about his children, my grandchildren. While I see the children infrequently they are bonded to me and know "my voice."
After a lot of hard work, patience, and many ups and downs, I am pleased to report that currently I have a good relationship with each of my adult sons and with my stepdaughter. Each relationship is based on the adult child's sphere, not mine. Helping my adult sons deal with an idealized memory of their dead father—and a family that changed way too early for my sons' nascent development—has had many challenges. Yet I kept at it, trying multiple approaches at difficult times. Persistence paid off. Recently my 6-year-old granddaughter, reflecting her father's wistfulness, asked whether I miss my late husband, her deceased grandfather. On the other hand, having finally sold the family home, my younger son noted sweetly, " Mom, home is where you are.