I shared with you before that Larry and I dated for an extended period of time (almost nine years!) before we decided to get married and have children.
Obviously, things didn’t happen overnight and there were many adjustments along the way.
Our first adjustment was getting used to living with each other. Fortunately we had known each other for so long and knew each other so well that the adjustments were minor. Then came the biggest change in our lives: becoming parents. Because while it may have taken us a while to get to the altar, truth is we wasted no time in having children.
Our first son, Henry, was born shortly after we got married, followed two-and-a-half years later by the twins, George and Charlie. In three years we went from a family of two to a family of five! This required a lot of adjustments and a conscious effort on both our parts to ensure everyone in our family felt loved and respected.
The birth of our children and becoming parents brought us an immense amount of joy and any adjustments we had to make, we made for the benefit of our family.
Some of the changes we had to make were with respect to creating “family time,” “couples time” for Larry and me, and “one-on-one time” with each of the boys.
Family time could be as simple as all of us walking to the park for a few hours and spending uninterrupted time pushing the boys on the swings, helping them climb the monkey bars or playing tag as they got older and loved to run.
Larry and I also loved to travel and we enjoyed taking the boys on road trips any chance we got. Living in Arizona we are fortunate to have so many beautiful destinations to visit within a 7-hour car ride.
For long weekends we took the boys to San Diego, California; Rocky Point, Mexico; and Las Vegas, Nevada. Each trip instilled memories in me that I’ll always be grateful to have and the many pictures from those trips gives allows me to share with the boys stories of each mini-vacation.
One trip in particular, however, will always stand out for me.
Larry really enjoyed camping and his one of his dreams was to take the boys on a camping trip. I was thrilled because he intended for the camping trips to be a “boys-only” trip, which meant I would have a few days to myself! As much as I loved my children I was looking forward to seeing their bond with their dad become stronger. Sadly, Larry died before he was able to really teach the boys how to camp.
But, we managed to squeeze in the first, and only, camping trip the boys shared with their dad.
In June of 2010, shortly after we learned the severity of Larry’s illness, he decided he wanted to take the boys camping. He knew he might not be able to fulfill his dream of taking the boys camping each year, but he wanted to be the first one to show them how to pitch a tent, build a camp-fire and catch a fish. The only caveat was I had to go, too. His illness took its toll quickly and he needed me to be there to help.
Before I go any further, let me explain that I’m not really the camping type, unless, of course, it’s in an RV with running water, a toilet and some form of a bed. But knowing how much Larry wanted to be the one to take his boys camping, of course I went along. And I’m sure glad I did.
It was bittersweet watching Larry show the boys how to pitch a tent, cook beans in a can over an open fire and how to put a worm on a hook and cast a rod. I also found myself taking mental notes and learning along with the boys, knowing one day it might be me having to teach them all the things their dad wanted to, but was no longer able to.
And then Larry died. I not only lost my companion in life, but my partner in raising our children.
I felt broken and alone. Very alone.
In an instant my family of five became a family four. The nucleus of our family circle was shattered and it was up to me to try and put the pieces back together. The one person I wanted to talk to and get advice on how to fix our broken family was gone.
I had no idea what to do, the only thing I knew was that it couldn’t be fixed overnight. Just like Larry and I had needed time to adjust to marriage and the birth of each of our children, I would need time for my children and me to recreate the nucleus of our family.
The first step was the hardest. I had to face the reality that Larry was gone and our family of five would never look the same again.
But did that mean we weren’t a family any longer? Absolutely not!
Many families today face the same challenge of re-creating a family unit that has changed with a marriage, birth, divorce, or death. Each time the dynamics of a family changes, roles need to be re-established, boundaries need to be evaluated, and time needs to be spent developing relationships.
Through individual and group counseling I received guidance and courage to take positive steps to rebuild my family.
I would like to share with you some of the guidance I received and implemented with my family.
Be clear on the new boundaries and expectations:
Originally all of the house “rules” were put into place as a team: mom and dad. After Larry died I had to figure out what rules I wanted to keep and what ones I didn’t. If your children are old enough, engage them in conversation and get their input regarding the establishment of boundaries and expectations.
Once you have determined what the boundaries are (bedtime, homework, extra-curricular activities, etc.) sit down with your children and be clear about your expectations. I recommend reevaluating this at least once a year. As children grow, the expectations and responsibilities change as well.
Spend time collectively, unplugged, as a family:
At the time Larry passed away, there was a remarkable family from my children’s school who had plans to spend two nights at a cabin in Greer, Arizona. It’s a beautiful town northeast of Phoenix and offers a quiet, serene get-away. When they heard of our loss, they decided as a family to gift us the fully paid stay in the cabin. I was in awe at their generosity. I saved their gift and used it on the one-year anniversary of Larry’s death.
I piled the kids and two golden retrievers (who had recently joined our family) into the mini-van and took another step towards redefining what our family vacations would look like going forward. On the way to the cabin we reminisced about all the previous road trips we had taken with Larry.
Sharing stories about Larry brought smiles to our faces and laughter filled the car. I never would’ve imagined the year prior that any of us could laugh so easily.
We had taken many steps to heal individually and collectively as a family, and this was one more: a step taken together to mark one the one-year anniversary of Larry’s death and the addition of two more members, Star and Cruiser.
It has been almost five years since Larry died.
I’ll never get used to a picture of our family that doesn’t include Larry, but what I once considered as shattered I now see as pieced back together. The pieces are different and some may not align perfectly, but neither do the pieces in a mosaic picture- and it’s still beautiful.
I pray you will find a way to make your shattered pieces fit together once more.