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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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New day-to-day routine

Kelly Thorp returned to work three weeks after Ed's death. Like Ross, routine is very important to her.

"Being Type A, I am a project manager by career; I'm focused on tasks to get to the end goal," she says. "I run my life like that. That's why I am able to juggle everything."

Her always-on, always-moving lifestyle doesn't afford much time to curl up and feel sorry for herself. "To me, that's not an option," she says. "I have two children. I have responsibilities. I am good at putting myself aside."

When the Good Mourning Ministry opportunity arose, Thorp decided it might be a good chance for her to finally focus on herself. And over this past Easter, Thorp's daughters visited their grandparents out of state, leaving her alone for the first time in a long time.

"I got a massage, got my nails done," Thorp says, recalling how good it felt to have that time. "You miss having someone to say, 'Tag, you're it' to."

Shireen Johnson never returned to her full-time job as an accountant for Western Union following Matt's death. "I'm taking a few years off," she explains. "We made smart financial decisions, and I'm fortunate to not have to work right now."

Even so, Johnson finds it mentally and physically exhausting to try to get everything done. She's excited to have recently begun using a sitter, whom the girls love, to get out at least once every other week.

"Matt and I had often talked how we felt like our marriage was taken over by the kids' activities," she says. "We had conversations about finding a sitter and going out on date nights. We never got there. Now, I'm definitely going to get out more. Life is so precious. I want to be happy and enjoy myself, so I can be a good mother."

Missing a co-pilot

Even with the constant influx of family visiting for the almost four months after Matt's death and daily phone calls with her mom and sister, Johnson often feels a deep sense of loneliness.

"At the end of the day, there's nothing like that partner, your soul mate," she says. "You miss having that 'What do I do about this?' conversation. I'm making decisions all by myself."

Johnson also feels a sense of guilt that she is here to see her girls grow up when her husband is not. "He died so young," she laments.

Although open to the possibility of dating and even marrying again someday, Johnson says she's not ready yet.

"I listen to some of my widowed friends talking about dating and dating websites, and we laugh a lot," she says. "But I'm not there yet. That's a full-time job in itself!"

When Johnson does start dating again someday, she suspects her girls will be amenable.

"They often ask me, 'Can we have a brother'?" Johnson laughs. "I tell them, 'You need a mommy and a daddy.' They'll then ask me to get married, so they can have a baby brother."

Johnson uses her Catholic faith to help explain the concept of a stepfather.

"I used St. Joseph, Jesus' stepfather, as a frame of reference," Johnson explains. "They now understand if I ever were to remarry, that they'd have a stepdad. Our faith has been so helpful. We couldn't have gotten to where we are without that."

Both Cathy Clough and Judith Burdick remarried after the death of their first husbands – the fathers of their children.

"I've found that people who've loved and who have been in strong relationships want to love again," Burdick says.

While several love connections have been made in the support groups that she has helped lead over the years, Clough notes that the timing needs to be right.

"Occasionally, men in particular will be so overwhelmed over the loss of their wife and have this idea that wouldn't it be nice to find someone who could help?" she says. "Our group sessions help these people realize they don't have to marry right away."

Charlotte and Vivienne Ross often bring up the topic of their father remarrying.

"They're in favor of it," he says, "as long as it's not a Disney stepmother. If you've been widowed, there is an inclination to be remarried. I am open to what God brings into my life."

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