I tucked my sons into bed and walked down the hall to my room.
I walked just inside the door of my bedroom and leaned against the wall. Shocked, I stood there staring out the window as the sunset. Relief flooded over me. I had made it through another day of Ron being in prison. The days were not getting less painful. The heaviness in my heart was not getting any lighter either. Pain shot through my heart as I thought about all the weeks, months, and years I had to conquer between now and when Ron would come home.
Tears ran down my cheeks as I thought about the long, lonely, and difficult days ahead.
I wondered how I was going to raise my sons alone, keep my marriage together, and hold onto my sanity all at the same time. Knumb. I stood there, crying silently until the room turned completely black as the sun slipped away into the horizon. I wasn’t sure how to make the time more bearable.
I worked to create our “new normal” without Daddy in our home. Our home seemed sad and empty as we went through our routine each day. Every night I made a list, and every day I checked off all of the tasks I had completed. I started going through the days on autopilot. It was easier that way; I was just performing my duties and meeting my obligations. I didn’t have time for fun, laughter, or enjoyment. Learning to survive was serious business. Even when we went to visit Ron, we were either sad or somber. The prison was not a place for smiling or joy—it was a place of heartache, darkness, and a reminder of our separation.
The burden of the gravity of our situation became heavier and heavier.
I began to realize that I could not continue to live like this. I did not want to live under the unbearable weight of the gravity of prison. Feeling alone, I wanted to be happy. I wanted my children to be joyful. I just didn’t know how to change how I felt. One day, after a visit, my 3-year-old son was sitting in Daddy’s empty chair in the living room. He was laughing and talking excitedly to himself as he pressed his face against the back cushion of the chair. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, “I am pretending that Daddy is home. And we are so busy being happy, we don’t have time to be mad and sad anymore.”
The first thing I had to do was to conquer the Mind Battles I was having.
I knew in my heart that my commitment to wait until Ron came back home to enjoy living was not realistic. However, feelings of guilt kept triggering thoughts that I was somehow betraying Ron if I wasn’t miserable the entire time he was gone. Ridiculous, I now know. But at the time, the struggle was real. Was I really allowed to laugh, smile, and enjoy my life while my husband was in prison? I wanted to pursue my dreams, play games with my boys, and laugh together as a family. I admitted to myself that if I didn’t do something different, I was going to lose my sanity. Then, I gave myself permission to make time to have fun.
I apologized to my two small sons. I told them that I had let our missing Daddy steal our smiles, but that I was not going to allow that happen anymore. I explained that we would still miss Daddy, but we were going to have fun, too. I assured them that we were going to cheer Daddy up when we shared our adventures during visits. The boys grinned at each other and then hugged me. We were all excited!
Since then, we have made having fun together as a priority in our family.
We block time to watch movies, play games, go camping, have a picnic, ride a bike, and many other things that we enjoy. Fun relieves stress. Decompressing is all about changing your focus and relaxing. When you have fun, laugh, and connect as a family, you are building strong bonds. Spending time doing things you enjoy is a great way to protect your mental health as well. Your mind needs a break from all the worries and problems. Laughter is good medicine and will keep you from going insane as you deal with all the pressures of prison.
If you feel entirely overwhelmed, numb, and brokenhearted, you are healthy. As a result, it is normal to grieve the loss of your husband and your dream of what your family life would be. Doing time together will take a lot of courage. Creating fun memories together builds resiliency while you are making memories for your family. Fun is a BIG priority on the heels of a crisis. If you need someone to tell you it is OK to enjoy life while your husband is in prison, I will. Moreover, you have my permission to be happy, smile, and laugh as you fight to keep your family together.
I am rooting for you.