One of the joys and privileges of running OnlyDads has been the ability to promote the work of some fabulous support organisations for single parents. One such group are the Way Foundation. Here, Phil will offer you an introduction to him and the support he found.
My name is Phil, and I became a single parent in October, 2008. I could give you an exact date, as it was when my wife Helen died of cancer, when she was just 40 years old. But in practice the process towards single parenthood had been a gradual one, which had started 12 months earlier when the cancer was first diagnosed.
Our daughters were aged 8 and 11 when Helen died, but we had only known them for 5 and a half years, which is when we adopted them. Considering all they had been through so far already in their young lives – the circumstances which led them to being taken away by Social Services from their birth parents, then spending time in a foster family (which although loving and structured was only ever going to be temporary), then losing their adoptive mum – the girls were and still are very balanced and “normal” individuals – you would never have guessed without being told what they had been through.
I reduced my hours at work to fit round school, and roped in grandparents and friends to help cover the school holidays that I was unable to. It certainly isn’t the path I would have chosen in life, and it certainly hasn’t been easy, but…things have worked out, and I would go so far as to even say I have enjoyed it – it has been a real privilege to spend so much more time with my daughters and become a lot closer to them than would otherwise have been the case, if Helen had still been here to share the responsibilities.
Of course I make mistakes, I miss having someone to discuss parenting issues with, to decide where we are going on holiday next year, what we are having for tea today, etc. But a big help in all this has been my membership of WAY (Widowed And Young) – an organisation for people who were aged 50 or under when their partner died. WAY is a national organisation, but with regional sub-groups. So at national level there are holidays organised (eg an annual weekend in October half term at Center Parcs), there is a private Facebook page, a chatroom messageboard and a regular magazine sent through the post. At regional level there are regular bar meal nights out, 10-pin bowling trips, organised walks, etc. There is something for everyone – from the youngest members in their 20s to those who are well into their 50s, but are still young at heart and still qualify to join and stay on as members as they were 50 or under when bereaved.
Some have young children, some have grown up children, some have no children at all. We come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and the causes of our partners’ deaths are many and varied too. But it is such a relief to meet up with and talk to others who have been through similar circumstances, and can really understand and identify with our problems…and achievements.
When people first hear about WAY, they often imagine a group of dour individuals, permanently in mourning, dressed in black. And of course when we get together there are sometimes a few tears shed when people are sharing their stories. But if you were to spot us on a night out in your local town, we are probably the ones on the noisiest and most raucous table, the last ones to leave the premises. The other thing which would often mark us out is that although early widowhood strikes both genders fairly equally, membership of WAY is about 90% female, so a group of a dozen or so WAYers on a night out will often have just one male, which makes any onlookers very confused trying to work out what he is doing there! Or it can be very embarrassing for anyone who dares to tease the ladies asking them where all their husbands/boyfriends are!
Anyway, for any other single bereaved parents out there reading this article, I would encourage you to check the website and apply to join: http://www.wayfoundation.org.uk/
We are grateful to Phil for sharing his story – we know it can’t have been easy. Please do share information on WAY for anyone you know in this position. They do great work! Many thanks. Bob