How To Love A Single Mom is a love story about life, self discovery, transformation, and the relationships we create along the way.
Two years after the tragic death of her husband and father of her children, Leah, a 35 year old single mother of two young daughters continues to struggle with her loss. Follow Leah as she begins to heal, find purpose again, discover her passion and find love in the process.
“Mom, you seem different.”
Brooke always notices everything; she’s the quiet observer. She pays close attention to the details, more insightful than most adults. I can’t get away with anything in front of her and I’ve wondered over the last couple of years what toll my grief has taken on her.
“Why do you say that, honey?”
I look in the rearview mirror. All I can see are her bright blue eyes squinting, not from the sun but from the smile on her face. I stretch my neck to see myself in the mirror, she’s right, I look different.
My eyes didn’t look sad like they normally do, void of the tears that surge against the dam of my lower lashes, waiting to break through at any moment. They’re gone today.
“I guess I am. I had a nice day and I got a lot of work done.” It was more than that, it was meeting Ben today.
“I’m glad you are smiling Mom, that makes me happy.” Sasha exclaims in her high pitched voice from behind my seat. She sings her words as often as she can as though her life is a musical. I don’t tell her to stop either because she’s been the light in all of this, her innocent wonderment has preserved the little hope I do have left.
Making me smile or laugh has been her daily mission since she was born six years ago; it’s all she cares about and I’ve failed her so many times since Jake died. I hear relief in her voice just now, like for the first time she’s succeeded to live up to her standards, Jake’s standards. Sasha is him through and through, personality to profile–blue eyes, chestnut hair, freckles sprinkling the bridge of her nose, only the people who are lucky to get close enough get to see.
Jake and I used to joke, although his genes prevailed, we each have a mini me.
Brooke is me, in disposition and hair color but she has his eyes, the kind of blue you see your reflection in. I’m glad for that, because when I look at them, it’s like looking at him and strangely it feels like they look at me the same way he did.
In my grief group, the other people talk about time as a bandit, robbing us of our memories, the sensory ones—what our loved ones sounded like, felt like, looked like, smelled like and tasted like. I don’t want to lose that and I don’t think I will, not with the girls around me.
Cindy is waiting for us outside, she always is on her day, it’s what she looks forward to each week. Sometimes I wonder if she suffers more than I do, losing her only son.
I barely have time to shift the car into park before they leap out.
They consume her waist with their arms, burying their faces in her torso. She looks like a grandma, short frosted hair, too much perfume, pressed capri slacks and a button down shirt. She always looks put together and proper, the opposite of me. I asked Jake when we first started dating if he was rebelling, choosing a woman so vastly different than the woman who raised him. He said no, but I’ve always had my doubts.
“Do you have any plans tonight?”
“I’m going to have dinner with Jen.”
“Good. It will be good for you to get out.”
I know she cares about me, but her tone has always sounded judgmental, harsh to my ears. I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve known her for half my life. Despite our differences, I’ve grown to love and respect her. I worry because she hides her pain, but I know she hurts even though she won’t tell me she does. I know what happens when we shun our grief, it grows ten fold and then retaliates, her heart can’t handle that.
“You go ahead dear, they will be just fine.”
“Ok.” I walk over to hug the girls and kiss their heads.
“I love you guys. Please listen to Grandma tonight ok? I’ll pick you up after school tomorrow.”
“Bye Mom!” They run into the house without looking back.
Sometimes it scares me how independent they are. As I drive away, the thought rushes in, if it had been me, maybe they would have been better off. It’s a thought I hate having, but I do, I wonder.
I despise going out, primping, and dressing up. It makes me uncomfortable. There is something so lonely about it, about not having him in the next room impatiently waiting yet excited to receive me. He was my best friend, my witness of life.
That’s the cruelty of death—it takes away the one person you want to live with, eat with, sleep with, laugh with. It robs you of the one person you want to console you. It taints life with dirt you can’t scrub away. Nothing tastes right or looks the same and I find myself angry at everything—the stop lights for turning from red to green and the people for driving their cars and following the signals. They should stop forever, everyone should, but no one does, everyone keeps living, keeps driving and singing to the song on the radio, but me. That’s why I feel lonely because I’m stopped amidst the motion.
I remembered what Ben said this morning about living for them both. I hope I will be in that place of clarity soon, I know I can’t force it though. One day in class, Caroline told us a story about an elephant who lost her partner of decades. Nothing her trainers would say or do helped the grieving elephant. She stood in the corner of her habitat for six solid months. She hardly ate, slept or moved. She was in deep sorrow and then one day, she slowly walked into the water, bathed herself, rolled in the mud and ate a meal. She let go and she started to live again.
Ben is in that place, but me? I’m still in the corner.
As I opened the door, I was assaulted with the noise of night life. The clinking of plates and silverware, the ambient music at too high an octave clashing with the conversations of strangers in shoes too expensive for their quality and drinks too expensive for their bank accounts.
Whenever I go out, I feel like I walk onto the set of a play, people acting out characters, pretending to be someone they’re not.
Jake and I used our nights out as entertainment as though we were paying for front row seats. We’d sit and create conversations we thought the people at the table next to us were having. Was it a first date? A business dinner? A double date which turned into a doubles match—competing for best couple?
We had fun. We laughed, hard. I miss that, being with a person who no matter what you say or do, they never judge you for being callous or inappropriate.
Jen waves from the bar. I wave back.
She’s always been there for me, always. We met in college. We didn’t like each other at first, both strong willed, opinionated girls. Then, one night I came home from the library to find her sitting on the steps of the sorority, head buried between her knees, sobbing. I sat down and I didn’t say I word. I just sat there for a good half an hour and then she said, “My dad is sick, prostate cancer.”
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say. I’d lost my grandfather when I was 10, but besides him, no one close to me had ever suffered from sickness.
Something happened in that half an hour, I earned her trust. Jen left school after that semester and transferred to Boston University so she could care for him. I called her every week. Our friendship built in distance and I didn’t see her again until a year later when he died. Since then, she has been my confidant and I have been hers. After law school, she moved back and joined a firm, now a partner. She embodies all the attributes I aspire to have, however we balance each other well. She’s the analytical one, I’m the creative one.
“Hi Lili.” She’s the only one I’ve ever allowed to call me a nickname besides Jake. I live for her hugs too. She consumes me, even though we are both petite, she feels like shelter to me.
“I already got you a drink. Malbec. it’s good, you’ll like it. Mmmhmm, I like this.”
She looks me up and down. “I haven’t seen your hair down since last summer. It’s so long! And what is going on with those arms of yours?”
I’ve never known anyone to release as many sentences in one breath as she. She squeezes my bicep.
“I didn’t tell you. I went back to yoga. It’s helping, I think.”
“I would say so. You’re hot.”
“I meant it’s helping my insides, silly. Hot? Please.”
I look away coyly, always self-deprecating and unwilling to take a compliment. I don’t know why I do that.
I take a sip of wine, I can actually taste it tonight which surprises me as everything tastes like soil lately.
“He’s on cloud nine actually. Yesterday, he got the promotion finally and that asshole boss of his gave in. Oh, and did I tell you? We’re going back to Boston in a couple weeks. Suzy’s having her baby shower early.”
“I can’t believe she’s pregnant. I mean, I can, but…”
She interrupts me.
“Mom is thrilled, and that’s all that matters. At least she’s not bugging me about a baby anymore. Speaking of, how are Sasha and Brooky doing?”
“They’re good. They’re with Cindy tonight. I think it’s important for them to go see her once a week. Brooke has her big science exhibit next week, so she’s been working really hard on that and Sasha just advanced to in her ballet class, she loves it. She’s finally taken to something.”
“And, what about you? How are you? I feel like I haven’t seen you all month. I’m sorry, things got busy with this case I’m on.”
“You know never to apologize to me. It was rough the other night. Sometimes I just have no control you know? But I feel like it’s happening less and less. I finished up with my client today. The house looks great, not really my style, but it’s her and that’s what matters, modern and sleek. I decided I’m going to take the girls away for a month this summer. I just feel the need to get out of here. Two years coming up next month. I just can’t believe it.”
She grabs my hand. There’s nothing to say, just like that day on the steps. “Let me know when you decide to go, maybe Jason and I can come stay with you for a week?”
“I’d love that.”
“Ladies, your table’s ready.” The hostess leads us to the back corner of the restaurant. At least it was quieter back here…I can breathe.
Two hours of conversation and overpriced, undersized entrees later, we say goodbye.
I can’t wait to get home and under the covers. I wonder where that smile went in the car this afternoon, why couldn’t I hold onto it for longer? Because it isn’t time yet, I’m still in the corner, swaying back and forth, except something has changed, I’m no longer facing the corner, I’ve turned around somewhere between the other night on the floor and in the parking lot talking to Ben.
Next Monday couldn’t come fast enough. Maybe I’ll go to class tomorrow before work, and maybe he’ll be there. It’s worth a try. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to look forward to seeing someone. I like it. It reminds me of when I used to live my life.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photo: elephant archives
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