Dear single mother, I am sorry.

I remember it clearly.  It was quite hot that day. You wore a knee-length shirt dress.  Denim with a pretty checkered design.  After months of billowing maternity dresses and wobbling around on swollen feet, you were happy that when your fiancé came around that day, he would get finally be able to see those cute legs he liked so much.  I think you still have nice legs by the way. But I digress, let’s get back to that awful day.  The day you became a single mother.

You were stunned.  Shocked.  There was a buzzing in your ear. At the same time a strange silence assaulted you.  Yes, it was an assault because it felt like a physical blow.  That feeling when someone boxes your ears.  You ran to the bathroom, anticipating an explosion but nothing came. You sat there for a long time.  Until you had to get up and go out to join your bewildered parents and the visitor who had come bearing bad news.

He was dead.  Your beloved was dead. You and mummy had been expecting him for lunch.  The thick fish stew and chips were keeping warm in the oven.  You had taught him to like fish, joking that it’s what made you so clever. For a long time afterwards, you could not eat it.  Now his neighbor was sitting on the ground at your parents’ home, telling you that the father of your new born had died that morning, electrocuted while doing his laundry.

The news was too shocking to sink in, and you would remain in denial for a couple of days.  Later the neighbor told you how confused he had beenby your reaction.  He must have braced himself for loud wails and thrashing on the ground.  Instead he got a polite, “thank you for coming”. He later confessed that he had thought you heartless.  How could he know that your emotions had frozen to protect your sanity?  That your mind was simply unable to process the news.

Your heart denied it.  You refused to look at his body, laying on a mattress in his elder brother’s house in the village.  When they eventually squeezed him into a coffin that seemed too small for his 6 foot 4-inch frame, you got a glimpse of his face.  You could see the green corduroy cut-off shorts he always wore to wash his clothes.  It was true, it was him.  It was his handsome face and strong, long legs. They dressed him in that dark green suit he was so proud of.  He really was dead. Your mind finally got it.  Your ears heard the wailing of the others.  But your heart rebelled.

For months and months, you kept having dreams where he was very much alive.  On waking, the relief that it had all been a stupid mistake would quickly give way to the dreadful truth.  Years of this left you afraid to sleep and exhausted from the day-long headaches that would follow when you woke up from the dreams of your rebellious heart. A heart that rejected the reality of life without him. 

I know you were capable of wailing and rolling on the ground. I know you wanted to let loose loud screams of anger and agony.  I know you were shocked that no body heard the keening cries that you woke up to every morning. I know you wanted to take his place and put a stop to the endless pain.You boiled with anger at him. How could he just leave you like this? You railed at God, why would he deny this baby the chance to know a father who loved her with all his heart?  An eager new dad who had expressed anxiety about boyfriends when she was only a few hours old?

Your heart ached from the knowledge that she would never enjoy her daddy’s unique brand of love, brazen public displays of affection and naughty pranks. It was made worse when some cruel relative took off with the brief case that had the only photos of him with the baby.  But that ache had to be put aside.  The breast milk had to be kept flowing, and nappies needed to be changed. You now bore sole responsibility for her well-being.  You were 23.

Girl, you were 23!  As I write this letter to you, 22 years later, let me just say that I am deeply sorry for your loss. I am sorry for your shattered heart, for the way in which your life was changed forever.  I am truly sorry for the loneliness of those grief filled days, and for the loneliness of the years when you were simply unable to share with anyone your pain because everyone else had moved on.You had to play the part of a strong woman, while your friends were still enjoying being young and carefree.  You had to swallow so much, and keep a lid on it. 

I am sorry that your shock was compounded by the horror of cancer and burying the parents who would have given anything to protect you from more pain.  I hate that you were forced to battle alone the dark waves of stress, trauma and depression.  No one understood the triggers that sent your heart racing and provoked violent asthma attacks. Many years later, large family functions fill you with dread.

I am truly sorry that you had to learn the hard way that time does not really take away the pain, it just buries it deeper because no one wants to see it any more. After having seen the effects of that trauma, I wish you had received counselling and therapy and had someone to tell what you were going through!

On that hot January day, you became a single mother. A box was quickly made for you, framed with low expectations and lined with a generous cushion of pity.  The box was held together with so many nails, the “you must be cursed” nail, the “divine retribution nail”, the “you dodged a bullet by not marrying that man” nail. They said you had been too young and naïve to get married.  I guess they thought that you were not too young to be a single mother with a dead co-parent, right?  The longest nail must have been the “you grew up spoiled and you should get used to lower standards”. That nail must have come in a set of a dozen because you continue to feel it hammered in now and then. 

For a long time, you arranged yourself into the shape of the box, that single mother box.  As the years rolled on, and the tragedy faded from people’s memories but continued to ravage your mind, more nails were created for your box. Some of the nails were actually crafted by you, when you made self destructive choices because “I am a single mother, I have limited options, duh!”  

Sometimes you resisted and tried to choose a lifestyle that was not in line with the box.  But then when your attempts to resist the narrow confines of what was expected met with failure, you ran back inside the box. You shifted this way and that, so that you could get comfortable. 

It turns out, you were the wrong shape for the box.  Just when it looked like it would finally close you in, you somehow escaped from its narrow confines.  The single mother box can no longer contain you and the nails have gone rusty. The cushion within that had looked so comfortable turned out to be thin, stinky and full of holes!

I see you now, kicking your way out and stepping into the wide open space of freedom.  Even though one can see a few parts of you that have been shaped by the box, I see you flex your muscles and reform them to new contours.  I marvel at the way you wrench out those nails and crush them under your feet.

I see you claim your space as a phenomenal woman, a beloved child of God, an exceptional parent, and an empathetic friend who has learned the value of boundaries. I see a confident entrepreneur whose is not afraid of failure any more. Every day I see you fight against manipulation, exploitation, a scarcity mentality and self-pity.  I watch you being an advocate for your children, rallying them to win at life and creating the time to nurture them well. Woman, how I love to see you learning to be kind to yourself, and refusing to agree with the accuser of the brethren. 

I marvel at the change in you and note the glow of your face. Today I peek over your shoulder and see what you are reading. Maybe this will explain the reason for all this awesomeness.  The text glows with power.  “For you shall expand to the right and to the left. For your Maker is your husband, The Lord of hosts is His name”.

Now I get it. Now I know how you broke that single mother box.

Isaiah 54: 2-5(NKJV)
2“Enlarge the place of your tent, 
And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; 
Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, 
And strengthen your stakes.
3 For you shall expand to the right and to the left, 
And your descendants will inherit the nations, 
And make the desolate cities inhabited.
4“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame;
For you will forget the shame of your youth,
And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.
For your Maker is your husband,
The Lord of hosts is His name;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
He is called the God of the whole earth.

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