Your husband was supposed to be here. Parenting wasn’t something you signed up to do alone. Together, you’d discussed the type of parents you all wanted to be. Whether it was a first, second or third child, you were both excited to meet the little person that would be joining the family soon.

Nowhere in your vision of what that future looked like was there a cancer diagnosis. There was no forethought that a reckless driver would change your life forever. No one could have guessed that your husband, as fit as a horse, was on borrowed time or that the demons he fought would eventually lead to his suicide.

And, if your world hadn’t been flipped upside down and shaken enough, then came the diagnosis. Your precious child – the one who helped bring you so much comfort during the rawest stages of your grief – was formally diagnosed with autism, a rare genetic disorder or other disability for which you were not prepared. Perhaps, the diagnosis came before your spouse’s death. You’d had another person in your life as committed to ensuring your child’s success. But your teammate, research partner, and helpmate is no longer here. You’ve been left to go it alone and figure out how best to provide care and resources for your child.

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I know you love your child with all that you have. I see the numerous appointments with specialists. I read how you carve out time to ensure your other child(ren) feels just as loved and special as his/her sibling. I watch as you push through your grief and hold back the tears to be “strong”.

Despite the brave face you put on, you’re tired. You wonder how things might be different if your husband was still here. Yes, you understand that the diagnosis would be the same, but your mind often wonders about how things would be different if he were still here. You ask yourself if the right parent died. Would your child be better off? Would your late-spouse have provided a more stable, nurturing vironment in which your child could thrive?

Mama, please know you are enough. The parent who is equipped to give your child the foundation upon which to build is the parent that is here now…YOU! Beyond the meltdowns, the panic attacks, the anxiety, the problems in school, the bad reports, you are doing the very best that you can. Don’t allow one incident – or even a bad month – to make you feel you’re failing your child. You are their advocate. The one who gets them ready each day to face a world that isn’t always prepared to treat them with the love, patience, and understanding that they need.

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That guilt you hold onto for getting frustrated, let it go. You’re human. You beat yourself up for crying about your circumstances because you’ve met other parents with the same diagnosis. You know firsthand that your child’s disability could be worse. While that may be true, cry anyway. It’s healing and cleansing for the soul. Tears aren’t a sign of weakness; they are a reminder that you’re human.

Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. You need to find time to recharge mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It would be unfair of me to tell you that you needed a weekend getaway, though you’re certainly deserving of one. Instead, do one thing each day just for yourself. Whether it’s listening to your favorite song as you prepare dinner, polishing your toes or taking an extra 10-minutes in the shower, you have to find time for self-care. You do yourself and your child a disservice by running on “E”. Take time to refuel.

If you ever get to the point where you want to date, you’ll assume no one will want to be “saddled” with the responsibility of dating not only a widow but one with a child who has special needs. I won’t lie and say it may not come with unique challenges but know the right person will be willing to see beyond those perceived issues and appreciate you and your child. I’ll share the advice that a senior who remarried in her 80’s shared: Keep your heart and mind open. You’re never too anything for love to find you!

This widowed club isn’t for the faint of heart and neither is being an only-parent to a child with a disability. I recognize the heavy burden you carry and just wanted you to know – especially on your most challenging of days – that I salute you and recognize all you do. You’re an awesome mom. Don’t for a second forget that!

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Mom to a feisty preschooler, Kerry Phillips became widowed at age 32. She runs an online support group for young widows and widowers venturing back into the world of dating and is a blogger for The Huffington Post.

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