From one widowed parent to another: I see you, it’s hard, and you’ve got this

If you’ve been widowed by Covid and are now raising your kids and teens as an “only parent” — welcome to the club.

The club nobody wants to join.

This club sucks. If you’re a member, it means your partner died. Your kids — along with roughly 40,000 of their peersnow have a deceased parent.

You may be feeling very alone right now. Wondering how you’re going to raise your kids by yourself, what else you need to know as a newly widowed parent, and who can even help with some of these questions.

I don’t know what…

I was talking with a friend recently, who knew she needed to write a condolence card to a friend following the death of his mother. The problem was, she had never met his mother, who lived out-of-state. She wanted to support her friend, but she just wasn’t sure what to write.

It got me thinking, what can we write that is actually helpful when our friends, neighbors, or colleagues lose loved ones? I shudder to think of all the times I’ve put off sending a card, thinking that if I waited, somehow the magic words would come to me in…

It’s funny how some things come into your life at just the right time.

For over 30 years I’d been wanting to learn to play the guitar and sing, just like my aunts and my dad had done at the family gatherings of my childhood. My favorite song was always The Gambler, by Kenny Rogers. To me, if I was ever going to become a “real” guitar player, I’d need to learn to play The Gambler.

Finally — just a couple of years before my late husband, Dennis, was diagnosed with brain cancer — I hauled his old guitar out…

“What’s the kids’ favorite food that they’re not getting very often these days?”

Our friend John — my husband’s old boss, actually, and later our son’s scout leader — knew that my 43-year-old husband, Dennis, had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The room parent in our daughter’s class had set up a meal train, and we’d been receiving meals three times a week for several months at that point. Meal delivery would eventually last the better part of a year, and grow to include many friends, friends-of-friends, colleagues, and neighbors. …

“You don’t want to make things harder on yourself than they already are,” said the kind and well-meaning hospice chaplain.

We were in my living room at our first — and, I should say, last — meeting. My terminally ill husband was in the other room, probably with one of the many friends who came to keep him company and give me a break from round-the-clock caregiving.

I had mentioned to the chaplain my intention to speak at my husband’s funeral. We didn’t know when it would be, but he had been diagnosed with a 13-month-average-lifespan brain cancer 6 or…

It seems like a simple question. Uttered, often, without thought. A greeting, almost.

“Hey, how are you?”

“Fine, how are you?”

“Fine, thanks.”

And then everyone goes about their day.

Except, when your 44-year-old husband has brain cancer, it’s not such a simple question.

The author with her husband, shortly before he went on hospice. Photo courtesy Rebecca Ort Photography.

The question might come at school pickup. It might come by text; it might come from a neighbor or friend stopping by with dinner; it might come on the sidelines of the soccer field.

Getting this question — always from someone sincere and well-meaning, I should say — would cause fits of uncertainty in me.


One day after school my 10-year-old said, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to help cure brain cancer.”

We weren’t talking about cancer. Or careers. We were talking about snack and homework.

“That sounds great,” I replied. “What did you have in mind? Do you want to be a doctor, a nurse, a researcher?”

“No,” Megan said. “I want to use my art skills to raise money for the research others are doing.”

Megan (then age 8) and her dad shortly before he went on hospice (September 2015). Photo courtesy Rebecca Ort photography.

Just ten months earlier her dad — my husband — had died of brain cancer. It was glioblastoma, the same type that Teddy Kennedy, Beau Biden…

Jenny Lisk

Host of the Widowed Parent Podcast. On my Hundred Dreams list is riding a camel. And raising $44k for brain cancer research, in honor of my husband’s 44 years.

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