Today we're introducing you to Jessica Hicks as she shares with us her experience as a windowed mother to two young children.
Mom to: Cooper and Cara
Briefly describe your experience of becoming a widowed mother at such a young age.
Things were really coming together in my life. We were living in beautiful San Diego, my husband Charles was finally promoted to store manager at In-N-Out, I had great friends and an amazing workout group I'd always wanted to join but couldn't afford before. And I'd just had my second child, an adorable baby girl. When she was about 2 weeks old, all four of us got the stomach flu... while the rest of us soon felt better, Charles's wouldn't go away. After being told repeatedly by doctors that he was fine, and after a lot of insistence from me that he was not, we discovered that he was in liver failure due to stage 4 melanoma. This was a healthy 29-year-old man who got annual skin checks... and now he was dying. A little over a month later, he was gone. I was left to take care of a 3-year-old boy and a colicky newborn on my own with a suddenly significantly reduced income. I moved to Utah where I could afford to stay home with my kids and I'd have some support from Charles's extended family and a close childhood friend.
Who or what helped keep you grounded during this challenging time?
In the beginning, I had a lot of support from my workout group, my church, and friends and family. Over time, the amount of help decreases, the shock wears off, and reality sets in. To help with that stress, I turned to support groups. The Sharing Place is great because they have grief groups for kids who've lost parents or siblings and at the same time, the parents get to have their own grief group. It was great to see that I was normal and so were my kids. It is normal for grieving children to act out, but I'd fall into the trap of thinking I was a bad mother. It was helpful to see that this is how many of the other children were behaving as well. I also joined CoDependents Anonymous after attending a widows and widowers conference and learning that this is an issue many widowed people develop. The 12 steps made a huge difference in my life. I found an amazing sponsor who had also experienced loss and who guided me through a lot of things I was avoiding processing. I also attended a trauma support group called Connected Healing and attended one of their retreats through House of Heart. Grief can make you very angry and through that workshop, I was finally able to put my anger down. It was a huge turning point for me.
How did you balance the needs of your young children while still allowing room for your grieving?
I'll be honest... at first I didn't. I was kind of a hot mess. I broke down crying in public pretty regularly. There were triggers everywhere - so many things made me miss him, or made me feel sorrow for my children and what they didn't have. I learned you can do a lot while you're crying because when did I have room to grieve? I didn't. My kids were too young to give me that space. As they've gotten older, I've been able to do the support groups I mentioned and thanks to the pandemic, telehealth is more easily accessible so I've finally started individual therapy. I'm nearly 6 years out and I still have stuff to work through because grief really takes longer to work through when you're so busy focusing on others.
What advice would you give to women in a similar situation (or really any parent who is dealing with uncertain challenges or loss)?
Take any help that is offered. Accept money. Let people watch your kids or clean or whatever. You'll seriously need all the help you can get and you should never feel guilty about it.
People are going to say really awful things to you, thinking that they're being helpful. Try to remember that they mean well and that it's better than people avoiding you because they don't know what to say.
It's okay (and actually healthy!) to cry in front of your kids. They will see that you miss dad and are sad, and that their sadness is valid too.
Facebook has great groups for widows. Super helpful when you're crying in the middle of the night and feeling awful and alone... there are always other widows online feeling the same way who will respond instantly.
What did this experience teach you about resilience?
I learned I'm capable of so much more than I ever thought possible. I was really dependent on Charles. I'd never paid a bill before. I hadn't used a grill. He would take Cooper "out on the town" so I could relax and sleep from time to time. I am now great at managing money and I take care of my kids completely on my own... and I'm even pretty good at grilling (it took about 3 years for me to even touch the grill because it felt like "his" thing). When people tell me how strong I am, I say I have no choice. But my therapist recently told me that I certainly do. I've chosen to be the best mom I can be for my kids and make things special for them and give them the best childhood I can.
Update on life after loss:
The grief will always be there but it hurts less frequently than it did. My youngest child Cara will start first grade in August, so soon I’ll be having more kid-free time, which will be super weird. Over time, the kids have asked me to take down more and more pictures of Charles. We still celebrate his birthday, and we also love to participate in Dia de los Muertos and invite his spirit to hang with us... although I feel he's nearby far more often than that. A couple days ago, Cooper said if he could re-live his childhood, he would, because he loves it so much and it made me feel so good! We went through a really awful thing and we still face challenges because of it, but we are okay.