Parenting after the death of an ex spouse.

My ex-wife, the woman I knew from our time in college and who I had 3 kids with, passed away three days ago, after a 14 year battle with breast cancer.

If you have read my other posts you will know that her almost 4 year affair ended our marriage, and the resulting fallout was complicated and full of conflict.

In the last 3 months I went from being a part-time single dad, to a partial full-time single dad (my daughter was told to leave the other house in April by my ex-mother-in-law and the affair partner), to a completely full-time single dad with my ex’s passing.

Over the last few days my thoughts and emotions have been all over the place. I don’t know if I am feeling some version of grief, or if I am just a witness to the grief my kids are feeling from her passing. The complicated nature of the last 4-7 years has made her passing complicated.

I decided to process the onslaught of feelings by listing the thoughts and questions that have been running through my head the last few days. For better or for worse, in no particular order:

  • I am worried about my 3 kids. Will they be ok? Especially the 15 year old who is doing his best to not show emotion.
  • Guilt that I feel bad for my ex-father-in-law, but not his wife who facilitated the affair.
  • What do I do in between the kids’ moments of external grief? How do I parent numbness?
  • Anger and sorrow…my ex and her family did not think about what the kids would need from me when she passed. Keeping me out of the services required my “contracting” out their support during the funeral and burial to other adults.
  • My 19 year old should not have so much of the care-giving and administrative burden of his mom’s passing.
  • As I sit outside the church during the funeral and reception, being available if my kids need a break from the events inside, will people that used to talk with me before the affair and divorce come up to me? Will they believe the stories that were made up about me to justify the affair?
  • Am I upset that my ex chose to be buried in the affair partner’s family plot? My 19 year old thought I would be when he told me.
  • My first post-divorce relationship (3.5 years) ended less than a month ago. I  feel lonely. I thought my girlfriend would be with me when my ex passed. Feeling abandoned.
  • Angry. I thought my girlfriend would be with me when my ex passed. She couldn’t adjust to my daughter being full time with me since April. Feeling abandoned.
  • Guilt that I keep looking at my on-line dating matches. How do I meet my kids’ needs and my own at the same time?
  • Guilt that I am wondering so soon about how to file survivor benefits and make sure that her insurance pays for the kids’ trusts that their mother set up.
  • Wondering whether my ex’s family will begin some sort of legal challenge to the divorce or trust decrees.
  • What needs to be on my to-do list in the next few weeks?
  • Appreciative of my ex’s best friend, who I have not seen since before the affair revelation, who came over to my place the other day. I thanked her for being nice to me as I fought back tears. She whispered in my ear that she was still my friend. That was a rare gift from the other side.
  • How do you parent a wailing child as you pick them up early from camp so that she can say goodbye to her mother before she passes? It hurts.
  • How do I keep from bad mouthing their mother in a family therapy session, when the 15 year old says he wants to keep seeing the affair partner, and “why can’t you just get along with him?”
  • This day has been coming a long time…13 years from the day she told me she had a lump…why am I not more sorrowful than I am?
  • Doing my best to help my kids remember their mom…sharing stories, offering to get them framed photos for their rooms, offering suggestions for music she used to love for her service. It is hard to be positive about a person who was so cruel to me for so long.
  • Receiving condolences from friends, some who know the complicated history and some who don’t, feels odd. Does it make sense that I should receive an “I’m sorry for you”?
  • It has been 7 years since her affair began…was this the same person that I used to love? Did the person I loved die 7 years ago?
  • How am I going to manage being a full time single father? How do I get the energy to meet their needs? How do I date in a way that is respectful of their needs? How do I find time for myself?

I’m tired. I’m not sure what to do with myself.

Am I doing this right?





2 thoughts on “Parenting after the death of an ex spouse.”

  1. Hi. I am not really sure how to start this conversation, however I have literally searched everywhere for answers on this and I found your blog. To make a very long story short my ex husband and the father of my two kids died suddenly last September. We were divorced for about 8 years when he died and there was no loved lost between us. But I do morning my my kids loss. I am angry that he died and left me with this mess. As the ex wife I really don’t fit in anywhere, with any group. You story hit home with me because I have had similar struggles. Have you found any support on how to parent grieving kids, while trying to maintain your own mental health?


    1. Hi Courtney,
      I hope there is a notification that comes to you after I post this. I apologize for not commenting sooner.

      It has been tough. I wouldn’t wish what you and I are going through on anyone. In my situation my ex was sick for a long time, so I think that my kids’ grieving began before she passed. I can imagine that a parent passing suddenly must be a shock that is very hard on kids and the surviving parent.

      My daughter has a therapist that has been helping her. My two boys are a bit different. The younger one (15) tends to hold his feelings in to avoid the negative feelings. I asked him what advice I should give you…his first response was to not think about it. Although he did finally admit that talking with his friends has helped. And for teenagers I do think that solace from friends is key. Teenagers don’t want to, generally, stand out and being the kid with a dead parent is a label they don’t want.

      In the Boston area there is a nonprofit called the Children’s Room that specializes in working with grieving kids, and holds parallel sessions for the surviving parent. This program is based on a program started in Oregon calles the Dougy Center. My kids are starting a teen program this Wednesday in fact. Ultimately, see if you can find something similar in your area, maybe through a hospital, that might have groups for kids.

      As far as mental health for us…it is day to day. The hardest part is recognizing that part of our work is helping the kids remember the other parent in the best light possible. When we have so many negative connotations, it takes a lot of will power to do that for our kids. It’s been about 7 years since I last “knew” my ex, so a lot of the good memories are not there anymore. But I do try to tell them what I remember. Find help also for those times where you need a break. Kids’ friends parents, your relatives or friends, who can give you a break. And keep talking and asking questions…even when those that you are trying to talk to do not respond for several weeks. 😉

      Finally, kids are resilient. This is a process and they will find joy. They will. And so will you.

      I offer you my best virtual hugs.


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