May is a month dedicated to the special women in our lives. But as we approach Mother’s Day this year, my thoughts turn to all the dads who not only face an unspeakable emptiness on that day, but who also struggle to hold it all together because mom is gone.
Mother’s Day used to be one of the best family days in my life. I’d help my two young sons with their special surprises for their mom and we’d spend the day doing ordinary things in ordinary ways. These were gentle days, with smiles and laughs, hand-drawn cards, barbequing outdoors and a lot of pampering. Ordinary. How I wish that kind of ordinary still existed in my life.
Four years ago, suddenly and with little warning, I lost my amazing wife, my love, my dearest friend, Lisa Colagrossi. Lisa died from a ruptured brain aneurysm. Our sons were just ten and fourteen at the time.
Lisa was an anchor and reporter for ABC News, and a veteran television journalist of over twenty years, and her passing made news headlines around the world because of how adored she was by everyone who knew her. Six months after her passing, I created The Lisa Foundation (www.lisafoundation.org) to lead the fight against brain aneurysms to prevent tragedies like this from happening to others.
Like all of the dads out there who have lost their life partner, my world shattered, and I had no choice but to try and put all of the pieces of my life back together and accept a “new normal” moving forward. I agonized day and night about two things: how was I going to fill the enormous void left behind by the loss of the most loving and nurturing mom around? And, how would I protect my boys from all of the ills that children are vulnerable to after losing a parent at such a young age?
What I’ve discovered is there’s no easy or magical fix. You can’t fill the enormous vacuum created by the loss of someone so special and important to your family, especially one with maternal instincts that many men, like me, lack. You just do the best you can.
I suppose some can just turn the page and move forward; however, I am very sentimental and the life that Lisa and I built means the world to me. In my once ordinary world, parenting was a team sport but there is no doubt that Lisa was the engine that made our family run and the glue that held it together. She knew everyone’s schedule, made sure everything was getting done, and filled our home with love and happiness. When she died, it was up to me to keep our ship afloat. Alone. Now everything was thrust upon me, from cooking meals, doing laundry, and cleaning the house, to buying their clothes, scheduling doctor appointments, carting the boys to hockey, dealing with their grief and raising them through puberty. I have struggled with it all. Many nights, I still haven’t settled down until well past midnight.
And many times, I feel like an outright failure and often sit alone and cry.
In those seemingly hopeless moments, I lean on my sons, who remind me that we are going to make it, and that we are making their mother proud. Even though Lisa is gone, she is still their mom and Mother’s Day is an opportunity to remember the impact she’s forever made in our lives.
My boys also remind me that Mother’s Day is a time to acknowledge the millions of men, like me, who have assumed all the parenting responsibilities after suffering a tragic loss. Whether that’s bringing big hands to the task of fashioning braids and ponytails in a little girl’s hair, or organizing birthday parties, widowed dads need to recognize the valuable role they play in their children’s lives. We aren’t perfect, but we don’t need to be. It’s ok to cry as a man, to feel empty and broken and feel overwhelmed with the weight of the world sitting squarely on our shoulders. We have what’s needed to see our families through the challenge life has thrown at us.
So, this Mother’s Day, if you know a dad who has experienced great loss in his life and has assumed all the parenting duties for his children, please take a moment to lift him up and recognize him and his heartbreaking journey.