My husband’s job took him away from home, so I spent a lot of time as a single-parent. Particularly when our kids were really young, he was often gone for weeks, months, and one time for over a year, with only two short visits home.
I loved my husband. I love my kids and grandkids. As immigrants, with extended family living thousands of miles away, I cherished our tiny family unit. When our kids got married and the first grandchild came along, it was wonderful seeing that family expand.
I loved it when my husband and I spent time with our little granddaughter, babysitting her for a few hours, or having her for a sleepover. We took her to our local park, out for dinner or breakfast, and once – unsuccessfully – to the movies. Spending time with her, it was like we were getting a chance to make up for all the time we’d spent apart and unable to enjoy our own kids together when they were little.
So when my husband walked out on me, he didn’t just destroy our marriage. Our family – us, our kids and grandkids – was shattered.
Three years later, I’m starting to find a new normal. But what our first granddaughter got to experience with her grandparents as a unit, no longer exists. And after years of being, at times, a single parent, I now find myself a single grandparent.
That was brought home to me the other day. My daughter and I were walking her son home from day home. He was a bit fractious, so we played the One, two, three… wheeeeh, game with him. I’m sure you know it. The one where you each take one of the child’s hands, count to three, then swing him up for a big jump. His mood quickly changed and within seconds he was giggling instead of grumpy. I remember my ex and I doing that with our eldest granddaughter and her loving it, but we’ve never had that chance with our second granddaughter, grandson, or the grandchild on its way. And they’ve never had that chance with us.
And that makes me sad.
But mostly for them.
Our eldest granddaughter still remembers those days, and our separation both confuses and saddens her.
Needless to say, they do much better for presents nowadays than when my husband and I were together.
But does ‘stuff’ really make up for what they’ve lost?
What we’ve lost?
My back hadn’t felt good since a recent trip. I’d lugged heavy luggage up and down way too many flights of stairs, and although the shoes I’d worn – with my orthotics! – were good solid shoes, they perhaps hadn’t been right for so much walking. But I figured that things would sort themselves out after a few weeks back home in my normal routine again.
I was in my apartment one Saturday morning, bending down to pick something up, when my back ‘went’. I sank to the floor, the pain so intense that I struggled to catch my breath. My legs tingled and I felt panic rising. Was this a stroke? Was I going to be paralyzed?
I was at the farthest point in the house from a phone and I couldn’t move for the pain. I waited about 10 minutes, trying to calm myself with deep breaths, then managed to shuffle on my butt down the hallway towards the kitchen and found my cell phone. With that in my hand, I hauled myself on to a chair and sat trying to work out what to do. I didn’t need an ambulance, but I wanted someone to know what was going on, so I called my daughter.
“Do you want me to come over, Mum?”
“No.” She had a one-year-old to look after. “I just need you to know I’m not feeling too great.”
And then I started crying.
“Seriously, Mum, are you okay? Do you want me to come over?”
I couldn’t answer.
And then she asked…”Are you feeling very vulnerable?”
Bingo. She’d hit the nail on the head.
Sprawled out there on the floor, in pain, unable to reach my phone, alone and frightened, that’s exactly what I’d felt. And angry too. After years and years of nursing my ex-husband through all his emergencies, the one time I could have done with someone there to help me, I was on my own.
To cut a long story short, although I got treatment for my back, I have been left with some issues, and those issues have forced me to face my vulnerabilities head on and deal with them.
My personal vulnerability, for now, is a health issue. Yours may be financial, for another person it could be safety or security, someone else’s may be loss of family, loneliness, depression. You name them, our vulnerabilities are out there.
So, from someone who has no expertise, except having experienced one particular vulnerability myself, here are my thoughts to best protect yourself.
1) If it’s an emergency, don’t mess around. Call 911/999 if it’s a life-threatening health or safety issue. If it’s still a crisis – not a life-threatening one, but you still need help – reach out to family, friends or other professional organisations that can help in that crisis moment.
2) Once the immediate crisis is over and has been dealt with, face your vulnerability straight on. Can you give it a name? What steps can you take to stop/prevent/reduce the risk of it happening again?
Given that mine was a health crisis, but not life-threatening, I rested over the weekend, then made appointments to see my doctor and physio as soon as I could. (I’m very lucky, living in a country with free health care, as I know this isn’t an option for everyone.) I got appropriate treatment, continue to do daily exercises to strengthen my back muscles, ensure I have over-the-counter pain medications in the house should I need them, always wear decent supportive shoes when I go out, have cut my luggage down to the bare minimum when I travel, check in with a friend via e-mail, and text my daughter, every morning, just to make sure we’re all okay, etc. If yours is a financial, physical, or emotional vulnerability, list the steps you can take to better protect yourself in the future. Ask a professional for advice. Talk it over with someone who has been in a similar situation.
3) We’re all getting older and the reality is that this vulnerability – or another one – could strike at any time. There are no guarantees in life, but remember this – you got through this crisis, you can do it again. You’re stronger than you think. Trust in yourself, try to find people who can support you, be prepared, keep your attitude as positive as you can… and it should all work out.