10 Years After Rosemary Passed Away: My Thoughts

It’s been 10 years since my wonderful and loving wife, Rosemary, passed away on May 25, 2008.

As many of you may know, in May of each year, I write about some aspect of our life together or dig deeper to talk about some part of our journey through two cancer battles.

This year I’ll be looking back over the last 10 years of our family life without Rose and answering the following questions:

  • What’s happened in the last 10 years?
  • What were/are the challenges that I had to overcome?
  • What have I learned?
  • What has been the hardest?

What’s happened in 10 years?

Our 10 year old daughter has grown into a bright, thoughtful, playful young woman. She plays flute in a magical way that I could listen to for hours. She enjoys teaching preschool children on Sundays, assisting in junior youth, and has a heart for helping others. Surprisingly to her father, she’s no longer a teenager as of last month. It is a joy to see her continue to mature and spread her wings of independence.

Our 7 year old son has grown into a strong, talented, generous young man. He plays tenor sax and recently taught himself acoustic guitar that is a joy to listen to as he practices. He has thrown himself into tech crew at school for the past 3 years, enjoys “doing tech” and helping in the grade 4–5 class in children’s ministries, and is always available when someone needs help whether it’s moving heavy objects around or a friend who needs help with school work.

Playing music is something that Rose and I enjoyed for years and it’s exciting for me to watch the kids as they have each developed a desire to hone their skills playing musical instruments.

Michelle is into her third co-op term in her Systems Design Engineering course at university. She’s actually making money, not asking Dad for money!

Joel is learning woodworking and home renovation skills from his uncles (I think these skills skipped a generation in my lineage), and is pondering what direction to take in university.

It has warmed my heart to see them both eager to participate in church activities throughout the years and to help wherever asked. They keep growing and allowing themselves to be stretched in service.

What else has changed? My daughter went through puberty, my son went through puberty, my daughter had her first boyfriend (for 1.5 years). Yikes!

Now, we have a relationship of trust, openness and support. We spend hours playing online and board games together. This is one of the places where we really bond. And, a large amount of my time and mental energy is spent on creating a safe environment for the kids where they can stretch their wings but still know that I am here to back them up.

What were/are the challenges I had to overcome?

As you may know, I’m a “night owl,” not a “morning person.” The school morning process was: get the kids up, dressed, fed and ready for school with homework packed, drive them to school, then walk from the car to the school, get them into each of their class lines in the schoolyard and wait for the buzzer so I could wave goodbye to them at 8am. This meant that I had to get up much, much earlier every morning and without fail. Previously, that was not me at all.

In the last few months, just before she went to Lisaard House, Rosemary and I were discussing the needs of the school-day morning activities, and she asked me, “Will the kids ever make it to school on time again?”

That was a fair question but it hit me in a rather peculiar way. Prior to this, for months and months, much of our planning was regarding current needs and the needs of upcoming weeks. It was all about looking after Rosemary’s needs and the children’s needs.

But this question was totally different. It wasn’t about “now time with Rosemary.” It acknowledged a time in the near future when Rosemary would no longer be with us and all of my attention would need to be on our young children. It acknowledged that I would be alone in this. No one else would be there to coax me out of bed on time or to assist with the daily preparations and errands. It imagined a time when everything our family had to accomplish would either succeed or fail based upon whatever habits, routines or activities I facilitated, encouraged and supported with the kids. Me. Just me. No one else would be there to pull in any slack.

That was a pivotal point for me; a pivotal question. It warped my thought process out of current day-to-day needs of the four of us with two adults planning, into a world without Rosemary’s wisdom, love, encouragement and help… where I alone had to foresee needs and execute plans by myself. That was a sobering moment for many reasons.

This was no longer theory about sometime in the future, this was going to become our reality very soon.

The magnitude of the changes that I would need to make were starting to hit home. I knew that with God’s help we could accomplish anything that was in His plan for our family. But I was starting to realize that significant change was going to be needed as a single parent family and it was not going to be easy.

The prospect of being a single parent wholly responsible for the well-being of two small children seemed daunting.

For the first few months, it was just a matter of trying to figure out the basics. Rosemary did so much. She looked after so many things behind the scene. I did things too, but I already knew all about the things that I did. I didn’t know much in detail about the many things Rose did.

I was never any good in the kitchen. y The kids were 7 and 10 at the time. We initially ate at many restaurants but that got expensive. Then lots of take-out; also expensive over time. Then frozen meals. Let’s just say it’s been a progression. We also had a couple of kind ladies provide some cooking lessons to Michelle, which was very beneficial.

We experimented with grocery delivery services. They were nice but had limited choices and were more expensive than just going shopping. Michelle quickly found that she liked planning our grocery outings; she would make a list and would select everything in the store. She got good at determining what to get and in comparing prices. I just pushed the cart and paid. She has been doing this now for almost 10 years.

What have I learned?

I knew going into this that we would be encountering many things that I didn’t have a clue about. I had already decided that I just needed to liberally ask questions when I ran into something unfamiliar. I knew that people understood my situation and would be willing to help.

Therefore, I setup a secret invite-only Facebook Group called something like “Doug’s Parenting Support Group” and only invited ten mothers to join it (people whose opinions I respected regarding raising children). Then, whenever I had a new situation arise, I would describe it in this online group and usually within 1–3 hours I had multiple responses from others who gave me very helpful advice based upon their experiences with their children. This has been so helpful throughout the years. This group provided suggestions that I would not have thought of; these experienced mothers redirected me from certain mistakes, and saved my sanity so many times when I didn’t have a clue how to handle a new situation.

I learned how to better put the needs of my children/family first. I learned more about what is important in life and what is fleeting. And I better learned that God is always faithful to provide.

What’s been the hardest?

When I ponder this question, my mind immediately goes to something I would’ve never anticipated. It occurred during one of my bereavement counselling sessions shortly after Rosemary had passed away.

I was in a group of people who had each recently lost a spouse. The counsellor was going through a list of things that were going to be different now. Many of the items made sense, but then they warned of a change in identity. I thought, “What?” They explained how most couples form an identity as a couple. They are known as a couple, have friends as a couple, are invited to gatherings as a couple, they do activities as a couple — they have a “couples identity.” But I’m not a couple anymore and as a result my identify will change.

What was unknown in this identity change was how it would affect friend relationships. Would “couple friends” still invite single friends out? Would they still want to invite me but, out of concern for my comfort, decide not to invite met? They ran through a number of scenarios like this where most people would try to be sensitive to the recently bereaved person, but no one really knew what to say or what practices or activities to continue and what to discontinue, because it was new territory. They cautioned that many friends will default to doing nothing since they wouldn’t know what to do and we were encouraged to tell our friends that we were okay going to events if we were the only non-couple, or tell them whatever our comfort was, but to communicate, don’t be silent.

I had never heard of such a thing (change in identify). And it was very real in my subsequent experience.

Rose was always the social one in our family, the social glue or connection point with our friends. This just happened naturally based upon her abilities and my deficiencies. This was a bigger thing than I had guessed it would be. I’m not a social butterfly by any stretch of the imagination, and it was quite a struggle at first. I had to try to learn social skills that I didn’t know that I didn’t have until I was the one that had to do all of the talking, starting up conversations with others, initiating contact. As an introvert, small-talk had never been my thing. Let’s just say that I still struggle with this but I’ve gotten a lot better at it than the days when Rose was “carrying our friendships” more than I realized.

Here are some more difficult life circumstances I’ve had to work through:

  • No other parent around to bounce child-related issues off of, in the moment, or to be a sounding board for things being contemplated
  • No ability to play good-cop, bad-cop on a given parental decision
  • No ability for the kids to go to the other parent for consoling, which led to uncertainty of when to be the enforcer-of-the-rules parent, yet still be able to show empathy, and trying to always be approachable. What a seemingly impossible balance for a single parent.
  • No one to go clothes shopping with since I don’t have any idea what clothes might look good/bad on myself or my kids.
  • No one to unload with, at the end of a workday
  • No partner to do things with, to go places with, to plan family outings with
  • No partner to discuss ideas/suggestions with, to bounce things off of
  • No one to just hang out with
  • No one to have the traditional conversation with: “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” “It doesn’t matter to me.” “Ya, me either.”
  • No partner to make long-term plans with, to plan to grow old with, to think about retirement with.
  • Seeing two seniors holding hands sitting on a bench together.

In Conclusion

This was not a life path that we had envisioned nor was it a path that we chose. Yet life unfolded this way for our family.

The kids had to grow up a bit faster than usual since I needed assistance in many things (e.g. chores, responsibilities).

Rose had a huge heart for our children and provided them with love, encouragement, lots of playtime and fun. I was also involved, obviously, but she left huge shoes to fill when going from two parents showing affection to the kids, down to only one parent.

Being a single parent is not for the weak.

We had many difficulties; many things that I didn’t know how to tackle or resolve. But our God is our refuge and strength, and He commands us to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid or discouraged, and He says that He will be with us wherever we go. I knew this to be true in my head and after living through the last ten years, I now also know it to be true in my heart. He was there every step of the way. I don’t know how other single parents do it without a strong faith and a loving faith community.

I am a better version of myself today than I was years ago. The improvements began shortly after Rosemary and I were married in 1989. She was such a kind, thoughtful, generous, supportive and loving person, to myself, our children and to others. We had our difficulties, of course, but I learned a lot from her. We experienced many great things together and also endured many challenges and she was always present and encouraging no matter what was happening around us.

After Rosemary was gone, God continued to use challenging times and the advice of others to refine my perspective and to teach me. As a result, I know that I’m now a better version of myself.

I’ve learned to be content — a true calm and lasting contentment — and to be grateful for the many things that God has provided, and continues to provide, for our family.

Our friends have been great through all of this and we thank them! Some have been along for the entire ride thus far and some just for a season, but it has all been very helpful even if I didn’t immediately recognize it.

We have two wonderful children. Rosemary helped in their early years to provide them both with a strong foundation of love, belonging, safety and fun-loving craziness, and helped to demonstrate through actions and words the importance of being part of a church family and having a strong faith in Jesus and in helping others.

In the past ten years it has been heartwarming for me to see them continue to grow in faith and service in our local church, and to see them excel in school, in music, and to contemplate their next steps.

Rosemary would be so proud of both of them — as I am all the time!

Our lives, as most people’s lives, have been a tapestry of experiences that have shaped us and will continue to do so.

We miss Rosemary dearly, and always will.

Yet, we also look forward to what lies ahead.