• Jill

A DUAL IDENTITY: WIDOW AND PARENT … AND HOW TO SUCCEED AS BOTH

Updated: Jan 10


Let’s face it, the term “widowed parent” is a double whammy. To be widowed is one thing. To be sure, being widowed and a parent doubles the challenge.

As a grief counselor, I see firsthand how hard it is to assume the roles of someone grieving and someone parenting. Add a tough job to a rough time (think: mourning, grieving, bereavement) in one’s life… and it’s time to get some support.

There are two incredible professionals who are providing that very support… in a big way.

Justin Yopp, PhDis an associate professor of psychiatry at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, he directs pediatric psycho-oncology consultation services within the UNC Comprehensive Cancer Support Program. Donald Rosenstein, MD, also at UNC Chapel Hill, is a professor of psychiatry and medicine , director of the UNC Comprehensive Cancer Support Program, Vice-Chair of the Division of Hospital Psychiatry, and president of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society.

The two started a program at UNC, which has blossomed into a national organization to support widowed parents across the country, with a website www.widowedparent.org.

Justin Yopp first introduced himself to me so that I could learn about and share the information about this organization’s website with my clients, my colleagues, and friends. I am so impressed with how he and Donald created a big movement to finally acknowledge the fact that, besides grieving the loss a loved one, being a widowed parent means learning, relearning, revising and rethinking the art of parenting with a new approach.

It started with a support group they formed, in which seven widowed fathers sat together to talk about the challenges they were facing in their “new lives without their spouse” and feeling overwhelmed with simultaneously grieving and raising their children.

Some of the themes they discuss are: how to go it alone as a parent, how to honor the way a child is grieving when the parent has different ways of grieving, how to handle milestone anniversaries and holidays, the feelings of depression that can result from grief, how to try to be as good a parent as the one who died was thought to be, to perhaps offset the idea that the “wrong parent died”, how to handle dating, moving “forward” while keeping the spirit of the deceased parent alive.

This support group then led to Rosenstein and Yopp’s new book, THE GROUP: SEVEN WIDOWED PARENTS REIMAGINE LIFE. This book takes the reader through the challenges and triumphs of seven men, whose wives died from cancer, who were left to raise their young children alone. IF you’re a widowed parent, you’ll absolutely see yourself in them, learn from them, and feel inspired by these seven men. I found myself rooting for them each step of the way and becoming interested in the situations that arose for them, and how they handled them.

I’ve since shared and recommended this book, but have still managed to keep my own copy. You’ll see that Amazon.com has given it five stars, but that just confirms what I already knew.

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