Tomorrow I send my babies back to school….again.

It’s an exciting night for homes across the country, as kids prepare for a new year and parents trust their chosen school and teachers to help guide their children for a few hours each day. Outfits are laid out by the bed; school supplies purchased, and anticipation looms for both kids and their parents.

For many, however, it’s a night of mixed emotions as the duality of life beyond loss cuts deeply and the solo parents, tackle another year of doing it alone, without the person who was meant to help raise and shape their children.

For the family, the parents, the children, living beyond the death of a parent, the hardship, grief, and challenges don’t end at the funeral or after the first year. Instead, these difficult moments continue for a lifetime and some of the happiest days for the majority of parents can be the hardest for others.

Here are the top 5 things I wish everyone understood about sending kids back to school after the loss of a parent.

#1 – Relief

Grief is a beast that can’t be explained with any word, paragraph or phrase. Grief is the hardest of all human emotions and grieving with small kids in the house is challenging at best and horrific at worst. Parents are often selfless and worry more about their children than they do about themselves, and so many grieving parents forgo their grief in order care for their young kids. When the kids go back to school, it gives the grieving parent a chance to participate in their own grief, which can mean anything from sitting at home to cry, hitting the gym to work it out, going for a much-needed hike, or even a chance to work without the additional expense of childcare. This may seem silly to those who don’t understand solo parenting and how difficult it is for a grieving mom or dad to process their loss, but it’s critical time that is needed to work through the challenges of life after loss. We all have to grieve in our own time and our way. Often that grieving process requires lots of ALONE time. We need to think, cry, write, breathe and find who we are without that other key person in our lives. Grief is not an overnight process and the few hours that parents get alone during the day may provide the only respite for those in need.

#2 – Fear

When you have already lost a spouse, it can be scary to let your children out into the big world without your constant supervision.

What if the other kids are mean to them?
What if they get hurt?
What if someone says something about their dead dad?
What if I’m not there to catch them when they fall?

I think all parents have those kinds of fears, but they become compounded with a loss. Over time, we learn that we can’t protect them, but it can be ripe with anxiety when you and your kids have already lived through so much pain. You want to save their little souls from any additional hurt, and you can’t even entertain the thought of something ever happening to them too.

#3 – Dread

I felt so relieved this year because I only had to have that dreaded conversation with one teacher. What conversation am I referring to you ask? The one where I tell them that my daughter/son lost their Dad at the tender age of 1 and 2. My son had a teacher this year that my daughter has already had, so I got to skip that talk with her. A teacher talk might not seem like a big deal to a person who has never had to have it, but it’s a conversation that every parent of loss dreads all summer long.

It always starts so innocently as I try to find a quiet corner of the room to inform the teacher of our loss. I notify the teacher that my kid may mention her/his deceased dad and sometimes they may even feel sad and need a hug. I reassure the teacher that I encourage them to talk about their Dad should they feel the need to do so.

Typically the teacher looks way more uncomfortable than I do as the conversation progresses!!

As I say the words that I dread saying, the teacher tilts their head, looks mortified and isn’t sure what to say. I always end up reassuring them that it’s okay, that WE ARE OKAY, but I don’t want them to feel blindsided if my child mentions their deceased parent. I continue to tell the teacher that I never want my kid to use their loss as an excuse for bad behavior, but I do want them to feel comfortable to grieve as they need.

#4 – Anticipation

Many solo parents find themselves asking thousands of questions for the upcoming school year.

Can I do it all alone?
Can we get the homework done?
Sports practices?
Birthday parties?

Again, I acknowledge that this can be challenging for any set of parents. I was personally blessed to remarry a wonderful man three years ago, and between us, we share four kids, and even we struggle to get it all done. I remember the days of doing it all alone, and it can be overwhelming, daunting and full of anticipation. I simply tried to remind myself daily, that as long as my kids were loved, fed and had a roof over their head, we were doing okay. Sometimes we have to celebrate the small victories in life.

#5 – Pride

All parents are proud of their kids, but I can assure you that children of loss are incredible, unique souls. These kids are touched with a sensibility and empathy that makes them wise beyond their years. They are kind and, like their parent, gifted with a perspective on life that many never get the chance to understand. To have that kind of extensive knowledge at such a young age is a gift that should be nurtured and valued. My children make me proud in ways I can’t even explain. They are extraordinary humans who have been asked to live nearly their entire life without a man who loved them and wanted to see them grow. Watching them become the people they are, fills me with a level of pride that sometimes brings me to tears. Seeing them go back to school, year after year, and not only do their best but become happy, fulfilled and useful human beings is more than this mom could ever ask.

So tomorrow we embrace another year, and like parents everywhere we are full of mixed emotions heightened by a path that wasn’t planned and can’t be changed.

What I tell my kids every single day I remind you tonight.

We can’t change what has happened in our past, but we can choose to live for our future. We all struggle, and we all hurt, but the choice to find happiness and gratitude in each day will define how high we rise after the fall.

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