Monday 1 June, 2020

Love and loss in the time of COVID-19: A mother speaks

Photo credit: iStock.com/Abeyer

Photo credit: iStock.com/Abeyer

Leisl couldn’t wait to get home.

After the day she’d had, she just wanted to get home to her family.

It was the night of April 4, mere hours before the 24-hour lockdown took effect in the British Virgin Islands. She returned home from her shift at the hospital where she worked as a nurse, to find her husband standing in the yard of the family home.

“I was so tired I didn’t really take note of the bags and boxes stacked in the yard. He asked for the car keys which I readily handed over because it’s our car, we bought it together. I figured…I don’t know what I figured, he asked for it and I handed it over.”

She was making her way inside when her husband of 10 years announced that he was leaving, for good.

“He said his girlfriend was pregnant and needed him. Girlfriend? Pregnant? I left my home country, everything and everyone I knew to follow this man I love and who I thought loved me. Three children later in the middle of a pandemic he just ups and leaves to be with his girlfriend? He took everything that belonged to him and some of what we owned together.”

Like everyone else, Leisl expected the fast-spreading coronavirus to present a unique set of challenges.

What she didn’t expect was for it to be further compounded by her sudden thrust into single-motherhood.

With her husband gone, she’s at her wits end, struggling to find balance between work and caring for her children who at ages three, eight and 11 aren’t old enough to be left unsupervised for extended periods of time.

“You have to understand, I’m in his country, with his family. I have no support. My friends who are willing to help can’t because of the COVID-19 restrictions. If I don’t figure this out soon I’ll lose my job then where will that leave us? I’ve asked him to come stay with the children while I work, but he said that puts his unborn child at risk. I’ve asked my in-laws but they’re high risk. I can’t be mad at them, but I’ve never felt so alone.”

So focused is she on being there for her children, and filling the void left by their father, she said she hasn’t had time to grieve or work through her own trauma.

“It’s still so fresh, I feel like I’m on autopilot. At this point my only thoughts are for my children. They still don’t fully understand, at least I don’t think they do. My eldest seems to be constantly on edge, the eight year old keeps asking if she could go visit her daddy and when is he coming home. It just breaks my heart because I can’t even get him to commit to contacting them on the phone. What am I supposed to tell them? Sometimes I just feel to run and never stop, but my children they need me. I need them too, I believe in my heart that were it not for them, that news would have sent me stark raving mad. I barely sleep, I have no appetite so I rarely eat. Every morning I wake up and plaster a smile on my face, but I know they see through it, children smarter than we give them credit for.”

After explaining the situation to her boss, she was given two weeks leave. Now with just two days left before she’s expected to return to work, she’s no closer to finding a solution to her mounting list of problems.

“These are difficult times for everyone, I get that but more so for single parents. I’m an essential worker, so working remotely is not an option for me. When we need supplies I have to go to the supermarket. My husband left with the car so I have to use public transport to get around. Schools are closed, the children’s swimming and other sport activities cancelled. They’re home all day every day. No real access to friends, aunts, uncles or cousins. Now they don’t even have their father. They need me now more than ever, but I have to work,” Leisl said.

The mother of three said she’s even toying with the idea of returning to her home country, but with the borders closed, she’s stuck in place for the foreseeable future.

“If I return home my mother would gladly look after them while I work. This isn’t easy you know. I’ve built a life here and just like that…at this point its what’s best for my children but I honestly not really sure what that is. I just want them to be happy and to stay COVID-free. This couldn’t happen at a worse time.”

The 42-year-old mother-of-three said she will continue to pray for strength to stand, if not for herself, for her three children.

She said: “There’s no margin for error, not when the lives of my children hang in the balance. Their father will answer to God for his failure to do right by them. It’s been two weeks and three days since he left, in that time he’s spoken to them once. Maybe he’ll do better, for their sake I hope he does.”

She told Loop that infidelity is never easy to deal with, but the restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus makes it even more difficult to cope.

“I’ve spoken to my sisters but it isn’t enough. You know what I’ll give to have them hug me and tell me everything will work out? But they aren’t here. The only family I have here is really his family, so for now it’s just me and my kids. I’m here for them but it’ll be nice to have someone here for me too, you know…”

Leisl hopes that single parents, or anyone faced with extraordinary circumstances while dealing with the changes brought about by COVID-19 will draw strength from her story.

“My sisters encouraged me to let go of the shame. I haven’t yet, not really but sharing my story is a step in the right direction. Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing you’re not alone, so if someone could draw strength from my pain…”

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