Jonathon's Closet

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Dear Mr. President ...

While doing a much-needed cleaning of my home office today, I stumbled upon a copy of a letter my son wrote to the President when he was just 7 years old. Here is what he wrote:

Dear Mr. President,
My name is Jonathon. I’m seven years old. I’m in second grade at Rayla Elementary School but I go to third grade for math because I’m really good at math. When I grow up I want to be a doctor.
I saw you on TV at the inauguration. I saw your dad watching you. My dad died. You are so lucky because you have your dad. I saw Mrs. Cheney at the inauguration too. Mrs. Cheney is very nice. I met her at Ele’s Place when she visited Michigan. Ele’s Place is for kids whose parents have died.
I need to tell you something important. My mom gets less money from social security because she works hard. I looked up social security on the internet. It was started in 1935 as a savings plan for when people got old and couldn’t work anymore. It was added in 1939 to protect widows and children of workers. On April 7, 2000 President Clinton signed the Senior Citizens Freedom to Work Act, which means that old people can work and not lose their social security money. President Clinton forgot the widows and children.
We learned about discrimination in school. It’s like slavery, when some people have rights and others don’t. The Senior Citizens Freedom to Work Act discriminates against young widows. We don’t always have enough money to pay the bills and I’m worried that there won’t be any food to eat. Sometimes my mom doesn’t even buy her medicine. It’s not fair. My mom is starting to teach me how to stay home alone after school because she says we can’t afford day care when she is working. It’s very scary.
On January 20, 2002, you said “we will reform social security and medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent.” Children need your help now, Mr. President. Can you fix this?
Sincerely,
Jonathon
p.s. please write back


And again I find myself feeling frustrated by the lack of resources available for young widows raising children. Ok, ok, so I’m 7 ½ years into this now so I’ve become an unwilling expert of sorts but it’s still not right.

And I don’t mean just government resources – although that would be a good place to start. As my young son pointed out in his letter, senior citizens (who are more likely to have finished raising their children and have their mortgage paid off, etc.) have the right to work without losing social security benefits while widows under the age of 65 are penalized for working and paying taxes. That's right - penalized for paying into the system.

Local resources are few and far between. Federal, State, local agencies and charities all want the previous years tax returns as proof of income - even though that income no longer existed. The death certificate iteself didn't even bring that point home for most of these people! And widows groups are inevitably filled with white-haired old ladies. Sure we share the same pain but the issues of a young widow with a 5-year-old are different than the issues of a 70-year-old widow.

Neighbors? Well, I can’t quite answer this one. We were in the middle of relocating from Missouri to Michigan when my husband died of a heart attack. So I didn’t exactly have neighbors. But a few months later when I bought my house, my new neighbors were a little, well, unsure of what to say. One would wave every morning and occasionally chat for a minute or two, and often had BBQ’s in the backyard but didn’t invite me even once because, as she said, she “only invites couples”. One was so uncomfortable with me talking to her husband that she would come running across the street whenever we dared to have a conversation (and no, she didn’t come join us to be nice- she was anything but- and he doesn’t speak anymore) One very nice elderly neighbor would just cry and pat my hand and say “I know just how you feel” but she didn’t really, because her husband died when he was in his 80’s and even her grandchildren were grown (but I still appreciated her taking the time to smile or wave or say SOMETHING). Which brings me to the rest of them, who said NOTHING. They would talk about me behind my back (told to me by the neighbor who “only invites couples”) but APPROACH me? Say HELLO? ANYTHING? Nope. I would smile and wave sometimes, only to feel frustrated because they couldn’t be bothered to do even that. I’m sure it might have been different if we had been established in the neighborhood when he died, but this was my experience.

Friends? They were back in Missouri. Didn’t really know anyone here. Tried to make friends but hey, let’s face it. Death makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes they really don’t know what to do or say.

Parents of my son’s classmates? In the first weeks after my husband died, some very nice people did some very nice things. One brought over a ham so I wouldn’t have to cook. One took my son to the boat show with his little boy for an afternoon. One even brought her little girl to the funeral, “so Jona will have someone his own age to sit with”.
And several arranged play dates. But the reality of paying the bills forced me into a more-than-full-time job 2 weeks after the funeral, so I was unable to return play dates and within one month everyone was back to their regular schedule because yes, they could do that and I was completely alone dealing with child care issues and a broken-hearted little boy who wouldn’t run or play or eat or even sleep.

Enter the school bus driver. Who was watching my little boy just fade away. One day she noticed he fell asleep on the bus, and (afterward) she said she “couldn’t bear to wake up the tiny pale boy with the huge dark circles under his eyes”. So she left him on the bus and drove the rest of her route. I was PANICKED! My 5-year-old didn’t come home from school! Afterward, she explained and apologized profusely and from that date on she would call if he were sleeping on the bus. And for the entire rest of the school year it literally was the only time he would sleep. Bless her for watching over him.

Family? Family was the reason we moved back to Michigan, because my Dad was fighting liver cancer. 11 months later my Dad died.

Teachers? I wish all schools would approach this subject with their teachers, so when the next little boy, 3 weeks after his Daddy dies, says “Mrs. So and So, I’m feeling so sad today and I just can’t stop crying inside. Can I call my Mom?” the teacher doesn’t respond with “Just sit down and do your work, we don’t need to talk about that here” (shared with me by the classroom aide).

School counselors? Let me just say that I believe there’s a special place in Hell for the school counselor who decided to start a grief support group for kids who have lost PETS in our school, where there were 4 children from 3 families who had lost a parent within 2 months. She refused to include them because “It’s just too hard, and it might frighten the other children to know that things like that can happen”. HEY, MORON – do these kids already go to school with MY kid? They already KNOW that things like that can happen - DUH!

Widowhood is unbelievably difficult. There is a great need for places where young families in crisis can turn for help.

5 Comments:

  • Thanks for a peek at what it's like from your side of it.

    There are so many situations in life that I'm realizing you truly cannot understand unless you've lived it. You can understand with your head, but not with your heart.

    By Blogger Leni, at 5:07 PM  

  • I am so sorry for the struggles of "life" and am thankful for your faith. Thank you for sharing.

    This is also a friendly reminder to please e-mail me regarding the bracelet you won from http://joyinthemorning.clubmom.com/
    for your son's "I AM FROM" contest winning. I need to know if you want one with birthstones as a family bracelet or one in a favorite color. Also need your wrist size in CM. I will send it along ASAP along with the CluBMom Waterbottle. e-mail me at lonistel@iserv.net ASAP!

    By Anonymous Loni, at 7:37 PM  

  • Oh, my goodness, I can't believe some people, I just can't. Our alleged president, for one; your "neighbors" for another; and that horrible, horrible teacher.

    I am so sorry for all that you've been forced to go through, but glad that you've been blessed with such a bright and sensitive son.

    By Anonymous Becki, at 6:45 PM  

  • Kate, My heart just aches for all you've been through. You are so strong and you do such good work helping others who are in your shoes.
    I know there is a special place in heaven for people like you! :)

    By Blogger Chaos Mommy, at 8:51 PM  

  • When I am overwhelmed with sorrow I turn to the back of my Bible and read the pray that I copied many years ago from where I can't remember now...it was so long ago.

    Dear Lord Jesus I thank you for Your peace in the times of trouble. Your comfort has always been a steady force. Right now, I surrender my will, my emotion, and my mind to you. I pray that you will help to except my situation instead of it conquering me, I want to conquer it with prayer. Lord, I surrender to You and ask for Your calming assurance as I wait for Your will to be done in my life. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

    This pray has given me so much comfort in my life. I do not know what it is like to mourn the death of a spouse but through hard times (which I am sure you have many) this pray has helped me.

    In friendship,
    Sarah

    By Anonymous Sarah, at 6:29 AM  

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