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Filling in the Gaps for a Grieving Child

Author’s note: Names and a few details have been changed to respect my children’s privacy.

I just clicked the “end” button on the phone and threw it clear across the room as hard as I could. I watched with immense satisfaction as it shattered into pieces and fell into a pile. It was a costly lapse of self-discipline and not a moment I’d typically revel in, but it felt so damn good to let out some of the pent up anger.

I gritted my teeth as I finished up a call from the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. It was their fourth “3-month wait list follow-up” call. They were calling to let me know they are still looking for a match for my son. They wanted to make sure we were still in need of their services. Much to my dismay, I had to tell them yes.

It’s officially been a year since my youngest son begged me for someone, anyone, just for him, “to hang out with and make him feel special.” We’ve just gotten through the second anniversary of the startling loss of my husband. Of our three children, my youngest son has undoubtedly had the most difficult time coping without his father.

One day my son overheard as another widow suggested the Big Brothers program to me, and he asked if I would please call and get him a big brother. At first, I was skeptical about sending my young and vulnerable son away on outings with a complete stranger, but after looking into the program, I figured we would give it a try and be prepared to abandon the idea the moment it no longer felt right. 

What I didn’t realize at the time, before my son became so emotionally attached to this idea of having a magical big brother, was that there aren’t enough volunteers for this organization. The program requires that a certain amount of time be spent with the “Little” and at least a one-year commitment that the “Big” won’t move or become unavailable to the child. Understandably, not too many people fit the bill, but I never expected to be waiting for a match a year later.

In my wildest dreams, I never supposed I would need a Big Brother for my kids. Especially given that, even though I was young and naïve, I always knew I had chosen the best potential father for my children I ever imagined would cross my path. Even after the stunning death of my husband, I still didn’t think I would ever be in search of a complete and total stranger to fill this role in their lives. That’s because in the immediate aftermath, like most widows, I was reassured over and over with each tearful hug that they’d “be there for us, for anything we needed, any time of day, always here.” Well, as it turned out “always” only lasted a few weeks.

While looking around during my husband’s memorial services, surrounded by hundreds of genuinely loving people, I felt reassured at that moment that I might be able to do this, that my kids and I would have that support for a lifetime. Well, it all goes away, and I’m not quite sure why it goes away, but it’s a sad fact that has been confirmed by every widow with whom I’ve ever had the discussion. I don’t believe it’s intentional, and it’s certainly not malicious, but as we struggle through each painful day, naturally, people just go on with their lives. I’m sure everyone has their reasons, but no matter the reason, it feels awful.

I’m angry about it. Actually, I’m furious about it. Eventually, my daughter and oldest son might ask for someone, and when the times comes, I guess we will add their names to the waitlist. The thought infuriates me.

I can only imagine my husband watching over us, as I know he always is. I imagine it’s painful for him as he sees us struggle, watching as I try my best to fill in the gaps, and seeing his son beg for that special bond he was so honored to share with him. I shudder to think what his thoughts are as all those people he loved are able to enjoy their lives, going on about their business as if nothing ever happened. It’s mind-boggling that I have to call an organization to hunt for a stranger to fill these shoes when there are so many able and capable people who could be stepping up and stepping in. 

If you are reading this and you are aware of a child who is hurting, it doesn’t matter the reason they are hurting, please don’t be too busy, or afraid or too uncomfortable to step into that child’s life and make a difference. On behalf of my husband, I beg you. You never know the difference a few hours a month could make for a child. If you don’t have kids in your life who need your help, consider calling your local mentoring program and find a kid that needs you. Sadly, I happen to know; there are too many waiting.

Image via Thinkstock.