In many ways I have been struggling as a single parent and as a widow. Lately, however, it has seemed to be exceptionally difficult. My daughter, our daughter, is two and a half years old now. My husband, Matt, and I always joked about the fact that, as two of the most hard-headed people we knew, we were in for it! I am so glad I knew it was coming. I don’t know if it helps, I don’t know if I am handling anything better than I would have if this were a complete shock to me, but I did know what was coming. 

Rather, I thought I knew what was coming. 

This is hard, and there is no handbook. No cheat sheet sheet. No guide to parenting at all. And while I struggle to get this parenting thing right, as we all do, I also struggle to do it all myself. Dishes need cleaning, laundry needs folding. Elsa Barbie is missing (the toddler will just die if not found in the next 240 seconds!). Shop for groceries, cook the dinner, change the lightbulbs, feed the cats, walk the dog, clean the house! It’s just so much, and it’s never ending. This is parenting. Parenting is hard no matter your circumstances. But there is something different about widowed parenting. There is a loneliness and longing that makes every decision hurt to the bones, and in ways I had never imagined I could hurt. And every time my two-year-old has a tantrum over something that I struggle to  handle, I am suddenly utterly aware that I  have no husband to turn to. Because he is gone. Her daddy, my husband, is gone. And it is so hard to do this without him. Wondering what am I doing? Am I doing this right? What would he say right now about how I am handling myself? What would he suggest to me if I could tell him about my struggles and hear him talk back? 

Losing my husband is the hardest thing I have ever gone through, and the hardest thing that I hope I will ever have to handle. There is only one thing more unimaginable, and I dare not say it. When I married my husband we had our whole lives ahead of us, to make plans, to make babies, to settle into our life together. We had a lifetime to figure everything out. And if I could go back, knowing what I know now, I would do it all again. Time and time again. But I am glad that I didn’t know, because who knows what decisions we would have made. I am glad I didn’t know. The idea that I once lived my life with him as if we had an endless road together… I miss that. How perfect it would be to go back to a moment where our time together was just beginning. 

We were married less than three years when I lost him. We had been through so much in such a short period of time. He had been through dialysis, I had given him one of my kidneys, we had a beautiful baby girl, and we were trying for another. And then one night he went out to pick up dinner and never made it home. I was widowed at 29. My daughter lost her daddy at 13 months old. She will never have a memory of her own. She will never dance with him at the father/daughter dance, he will never coach her soccer team or help her with her homework, he will never walk her down the aisle when she is lucky enough to find the kind of love that I found with him. 

I have struggled with WHY for a year and a half now. I will continue to ask, and I know that I will never have an answer. But I have recently decided that maybe it is possible that I wasn’t meant to have Matt for very long. Maybe he came into my life to give me a child. Maybe it is her that I am meant to have. I know that I will never have an answer to such an unthinkable question, but sometimes it brings me comfort to think that maybe he came into my life to make me a mother. And even though the idea of losing him still brings me to my knees, still breaks me down and shatters me over and over again, I am at least able to pick myself back up each time knowing that yes it is true that I lost him, but I had him! Even if only for a fraction of a lifetime. And even though the life I had chosen is gone, in its place is a life that he will always be a part of. I’m still learning how to do all of this; how to be a single mother, how to be a widow. It’s a lot to take on, it’s a lot to handle. There is no one lonelier than a widow. 

But the sun still rises, the tides still change, the moon and the stars still find their way to me when it is dark. So I still live. And I believe now, more than ever, that the most important thing that has ever been given to me is love. So in the wake of my husbands death I did not harden, I became softer, gentler, more willing to open my heart and let others see me. Because my husband saw me, and he loved me. And I don’t want to live the rest of my life without that kind of love.

I struggle to raise a toddler on my own. I struggle knowing that I am not just caring for a child, I’m raising a young woman who will one day make a mark of her own on the world. I want her to be proud of who she is, proud of what she will have done with her life, and proud of where she came from. I want her to be proud of her daddy, because he is someone to be proud of. I can’t fail her in this regard because I can’t fail him. He was the love of my life and he matters. He will always matter, he is her dad. He is my husband. And though I will have to, in time, live a new life that is separate from the one I once knew, the one I struggle to let go of, I will never live my life without him. He gave me her. He gave me everything. He changed my world, he left his mark. And no matter how much I struggle to keep it together (or how many texts my dear friends get when I’m not sure that both my daughter and I will make it through this next tantrum alive!) I know in my heart how much I have, because I know how much I have lost.

I love my husband. I love my daughter. One day I will love the life that I live now, even though it is not the life I had chosen. I will start by being grateful for the life that I have, and for the life that I once had. He is always here in this new life with me. He is in her. There is no more perfect thing than that.