A couple months after Greg’s death, a family member offered to take the kids for the weekend. I was hit with anxiety I didn’t understand. While the thought of having a kid-free weekend seemed like it should be appealing, I couldn’t do it. It was terrifying to think of having them away from me. I was confused by this reaction and talked to my therapist about it. She explained that this is actually very normal. My brain learned that when someone leaves, they might die, and it will take some time to be okay with being separated from the kids or for them to do something that feels dangerous.
The kids have also had separation anxiety that is probably worse than the anxiety I feel about being separated from them, especially the younger ones. When the kids learned about the war in Ukraine, they were terrified. They were of course concerned about the people affected by the war, but their minds jumped to how their lives could be affected in the future. Their biggest concern was that I would be drafted and die in the war. I couldn’t reason with them on this. They then thought about everyone they know who could possibly have to go to war. They are terrified of more loss, and so am I.
The kids’ biggest fear is that I will die too. If their dad died, why couldn’t their mom? Some of my kids stay up at night worrying about this. I have had many conversations with them about this. I tell them that of course I can’t promise that I won’t die, but that I’ll do my best to stay healthy. I also promise them that if I do die, they will be taken care of. I have made sure of it, and I find it even more important to be prepared for that possibility. I’m their only parent. That’s a big load for me and for them. They know that I can die too, and there is no protecting them from this knowledge.
The world doesn’t feel safe for them anymore. As a parent, that is difficult. We all want our kids to have happy, carefree childhoods and to not have to bear such heavy burdens. We want our kids to feel safe, and we want them to be protected from things that could hurt them.
My kids understand the fragility of life. They know that someone can be fine one minute and gone the next. They have experienced this first-hand at very young ages. It makes me sad that these sweet kids have had to go through so much. I can only hope that they will be stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate because of the things they have been through.
For now, we stick together. We honor the fact that our brains have been through a lot of trauma, and we say no to spending time apart if it causes anxiety. Hopefully this fear will fade for all of us, but I’m sure some of it will always be present, especially for the kids.