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Losing a Spouse: Moving Forward as an Only Parent

After the death of your partner, how do you grieve for yourself, comfort your kids, make ends meet – and imagine a day when you won't feel so alone? Widowed southeast Michigan parents open up.

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For her part, Thorp is absolutely open to finding love again and even remarrying, though her older daughter has struggled with the idea.

"I've told Regan that the reality is I'm a young person, and I'm not going to spend the rest of my life alone," she says. "I reinforce to her that that doesn't mean that I don't love her dad. I will move on, and when I do, she'll be OK with it."

Parenting with mom or dad in mind

Shireen Johnson admits to having a hard time making decisions in general. But when it comes to her girls, she says, she'll have flashes of perfect clarity.

"It's at those moments that I know it's him," she says of her late husband. "Matt loved fishing. He was a big outdoors person. I knew soccer was important to him, so I signed the girls up for soccer."

Similarly, Johnson bought Leanne a bike for her birthday.

"Matt always wanted the girls to be outside playing," she explains. "I could have easily given in and gotten her something else. But I knew it is something he would have wanted her to have. It's unbelievable how much clarity I have about certain things that I know he would have wanted for the girls."

Before Kristen Ross died, some of the most tender conversations she had were about her faith and her love for Christ, Gunnar Ross recalls.

"That was her whole hope for her two girls," Ross notes: "That they'd have that same faith. That, and good manners!" And it's his goal to continue to nurture a strong faith within his daughters while making new memories with them.

"So we now make homemade marshmallows," Ross says. "As an engineer, I like to try new things in the kitchen. This is our new tradition."

Following her husband's death, Kelly Thorp found a company that takes a deceased loved one's thumbprint and makes it into a charm. She purchased one for each of her girls as a physical memento of their dad.

"Regan always wears hers," Thorp says. "I see her holding on to it when she is nervous or wants to feel comforted."

And every day, Thorp gathers her girls and they pray, asking God to bless daddy in heaven. Sometimes they'll also flip through the memory books mom created for each of them, featuring 90 pages of photos of dad.

"This is especially important for Ryan, who has no memories of him," Thorp says.

Thorp does occasionally think ahead to the life milestones that the girls' father won't witness.

"I think about graduation, college," she says. "I wonder who will be the stand-in for their dad on their wedding day. If I am with somebody, would it be him? Would it be my dad? Or me? I know they'll make those decisions in a way to honor their dad. And I, of course, will respect whatever they decide to do."

Johnson recognizes that her daughters are still young, and while many significant milestones lie ahead, she doesn't get too far ahead of herself.

"I learned the hard way from what happened to Matt that you never know when your time will be," she says. "So many people want more money, the bigger house. There are way more important things."

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