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What Do I Do Now?

What Do I Do Now?

I sat staring at the small stain in the carpet where Ron had dropped a Sharpie just days before.

It now seemed like a different world already. It was a world where Ron lived with us and we had “normal” problems – like dropped markers, spilled milk, bills to pay, and boys to raise.  I had been so mad that the thick black marker had rolled off of the table and marked the carpet with a small black dot that refused to come out. Now, I loved that stain and longed for that to be the worst thing that had happened in my life.  But, the unthinkable had happened.  My husband had been sent to prison and we (no, not we, I … as in just me!) was left alone to figure out what to do next.

Make a List!

As I sat in the oversized recliner, I tried to imagine what this new life would be like.  This new reality of Ron being in prison and me being a single mom raising two sons alone was terrifying.  I didn’t even know what the first step should be. What do I do now? How will I support myself and my sons? Who do I call? Do I call an attorney? (Read my article on this) How do I get to see him?  What is happening to him right now?  I just wanted him back.

Get out of Bed

The first few days all I wanted to do was hide.  I didn’t leave the house and barely left my room.  The pain and fear that Blog-post-inside-10-6-17gripped me held me in hopelessness and helplessness.  The third day, a friend came over to check on us and saw the utter despair I was living in.  My sons were running wild through the house, the dishes were piled up, food and toys were strewn across the house and I was in my pajamas with Ron’s towel wrapped around my neck.  What a sight!  She was shocked.  “Cathy, you cannot stay here,” she firmly told me.  I thought to myself, “Where will I go?”  But she didn’t mean the physical place, she meant my emotional state.

My friend insisted that I shower and change while she cleaned up and fed the boys. I remember that as I stood in the shower and felt the warmth of water raining over my face, I began to cry uncontrollably. I remember holding my hands over my mouth to try to muffle my sobbing.  But it was a futile attempt.  The raw moan of grief became an unrecognizable wail of intense pain. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t stop.  I cried like I had never cried before, or since. That cry was my first step in accepting that things would never be the same again.  As I got out of the shower and got dressed, I realized I had to figure out a way to cope (read more of our story).

Small Steps:

The first thing I did on my way to coping was to make a list of things I knew I COULD do.  I needed to be able to make some kind of positive progress.  This was my list:

  1. Get up, get dressed
  2. Brush your teeth, wash your face
  3. Brush your hair
  4. Get the boys up and get them dressed
  5. Feed the boys
  6. Eat
  7. Do the dishes
  8. Find an activity for the boys
  9. Feed the boys and eat
  10. Do the dishes
  11. Find another activity for the boys
  12. Feed the boys and eat
  13. Do the dishes
  14. Bathe the boys
  15. Read a book to the boys
  16. Put the boys to bed
  17. Call Lisa to check in
  18. Make a list for tomorrow
  19. Go to bed

It may seem silly that I had to do this to make it through the first week or so.

But I did. I could not think or plan past one day at a time. Accomplishing my lists each day produced a sense of control that enabled me to move forward in building a new normal for myself and my boys. As the days passed, my lists became less about simple daily tasks for survival, and more about things that needed to be done to make it.

The next items I added to my list were:

  1. Find out how to visit Ron
  2. Figure out how to pay rent in 2 weeks
  3. Find a job

I needed a lot more confidence to accomplish these three items than I had needed for my long daily survival list!

The satisfaction of crossing my accomplishments off the list continued to build my self-confidence, and I continued to add more complicated and difficult tasks to my list. The key to using lists to help you cope now with the extreme stress and grief of losing your partner to prison is to start out with things you can easily accomplish in one day. Things that keep you focused on living your life.  Next, you can add up to three tasks to your daily list that will take more than one day to accomplish. Eventually, you will build a task list for the week instead of one day at a time.

Here is a link to an easy-to-use task list app to get you started:

Building lists is just the beginning of your journey from learning to cope to finding hope. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of grit to face the world, build a new life, and hold your family together in the midst of incarceration.  You can do it.  One day, and one list, at a time.

I am rooting for you!



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