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Leslie and two of her children with Gary Sinise at LAX on their way to Orlando with actor and philanthropist, Gary Sinise.

Although every literary bone in my body may want to protest, I have to say, sometimes Hollywood gets the story right.

My life could be a movie. That’s not just me saying that. At least one of my friends agrees.

Nine years ago I sat across the table from my old high school theater friend, Scott, and told him my sorry tale in order to earn a free lunch. We’d challenged each other to our sad stories, promising that whoever had the saddest didn’t have to pay for their Cheesecake Factory.

Game on.

I hooked him coyly with my love story — young ingenue from Boston meets handsome soldier on the bomb squad in Oklahoma and (5,000 phone calls, a few failed relationships, and a couple of deployments later) they fall in love, get married, and have three kids in four years. …

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Here is the truth. Unless you have lived through something, you really don’t know anything about it.

You think you know because a friend of a friend dealt with that thing once. You don’t.

You can have compassion. You can even muster up some empathy by extracting some wisdom for a situation you might consider similar (your grandpa died and you were very close, so you can empathize with your friend when her husband dies). Empathy is not the same as knowing.

And when you’re living through the thick of your personal HARD (whatever that may be), it can be really difficult to listen to the “wisdom” of others who just have no clue what you’re actually going through. …

You would think I would remember the person who shared the wisdom with me that forever changed my life. But, somehow my memory can no longer access that fact. It is quite possible that the answer just came to me on my own, through prayer or meditation. I truly can’t remember not that it has become a truth I simply own for myself.

In whatever way it came to me, when I finally started believing this statement, it changed my life. “I am exactly the mom my kids need.” Warts and all. Imperfection, brokenness, messiness, and all. To

begin believing this was like sipping a cool glass of water on the hottest of a desert summer day (and, I should know, I have lived in the desert — both literally and metaphorically). Before I believed this, I believed that there might have been some sort of mistake. That somehow God had entrusted these children to me without thoroughly vetting me first. That I was exactly the worst mother for the precious children entrusted to my care. …

Life is full of choices.

We choose what to think, what to believe and by extension, what to feel on any give day at any given moment.

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I have been the victim of abuse.

I do not condone the actions of the abuser.

However, if I am still held back by that abuse today then that means I still have some work to do. Me. No one else.

If I have to wait for the abuser to see the errors of their ways, I’m not going anywhere for a long, long time.

But, Mama. I get to decide what being abused in my past means to me today. …

I was really one of the lucky ones. Before I’d even made it back home to break it to my kids that their dad had died, I got to take a six-hour road trip with a widow six years ahead of me on her loss-journey. We ate snacks. We cried. We talked. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t take notes. And, to be honest, I didn’t heed a lot of her advice. It turns out, she might have known a thing or two about what she was talking about.

Over the past eight years as a widow, and now as a life coach to new widows, I’ve made or seen just about every mistake a widow can make. That being said, don’t worry. Even if you make every mistake, you’ll be okay. You can always start fresh today. It is not an all or nothing situation. But, there are few pieces of advice I really wish every widow might hear and at least try to follow. I haven’t met too many widows who would argue with these tips. Just many, many who nod their heads and say “I really wish I had known.” …

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Photo by Ned Horton"

I don’t remember where I first read it. It may have been in the child psychology class I took one semester, or in one of the dozens of parenting books I devoured in the early years of being a mother. But, somewhere early in my parenting journey, I decided it was extremely important for me to help my children name their feelings.

Even before my children could speak in words and sentences, I was naming their emotions for them.

I’d say things like:

“Oh, you’re frustrated right now. It is hard to wait for mommy to get your food ready.”

“You’re so happy right now. …

Dear All Moms and Dads Who Worry They Aren’t Homeschooling Right

I was RADICALLY unschooled 2nd — 6th grade. No worksheets. No textbooks. No assignments. No internet back then.

I learned by living my life side by side with my parents. I learned math as I needed it (I learned division with spoons on the kitchen counter because I asked a question… i went from simple division to long division in a few minutes because I kept asking questions).

We watched pbs. We read lots and lots and lots of books (together and on our own).

We listened to music.

I wrote stories and plays and hovered over our encyclopedias (I’d have been UNSTOPPABLE with google). I learned about the royal family because I loved Princess Diana. Which lead to learning English history. Which became a study in ancestry and cousin relationships (I can still explain to you who your 2nd cousin once removed is). I followed rabbit hole after rabbit hole of interest — soaking in some subjects for hours and days and others for a few minutes. …

To Be Seen

Dear Widows,

I think sometimes we just want to be seen.

I think sometimes we post on social media how HARD it all is, how much being a widow sucks, and how sad we still are because we want to make sure that other people don’t forget. We are scared they forget our dead spouse, our loss, our enduring pain.

We are crying out to be understood.

I’ll share a little secret with you: “They” will never understand.

If you have not had your heart ripped out of your body, squeezed, wrenched and then pulverized before it is recklessly returned to your wounded body and soul then you can’t even begin to understand what grieving a spouse is like. …

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Photo Credit: Genesa Boosz

My husband was not supposed to die.

We were supposed to grow old together, love each other, irritate each other, cheer for each other and care for each other as we grew old and tired.

I’m not sure how I know that is what is supposed to have happened, but I guess I could blame Jane Austen and Disney movies. Or maybe just my mother.

When my mom was only 7 years old, her older sister died in front of her in a tragic accident at a relative’s house. When you are 7, you believe the world makes sense. You still believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, best friends, and that marriage lasts forever. You believe the ground beneath you and the trees you climb are solid ground you can trust. You ignore the warnings and “be carefuls” of the adults around you because, after all, they are wrong about so many other things. …

Sending kids off to school on the first day back after summer break is a lot of mixed emotions for most parents I know. I’ve never quite known how to feel on the first day of school — am I happy I’ll have a little more time to myself? Am I sad I won’t get as much free time with my kids? Nothing magnified this confusion quite as much for me as becoming a widow.

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Photo Credit to Allegra Boverman

My husband died by suicide in March of 2012. At the time, I had only been living in my “hometown” for a few months after having lived all over the world as a military wife. My kids were 10, 8 and 6 and had reluctantly gone back to school the September before, after homeschooling for a couple of years. When my husband died, I wanted to retreat to a cabin in the woods and just hold my children — keep them safe from their grief and protect them from the inevitable tongues that would wag. …


Leslie McCaddon Mendoza

Leslie is a writer and certified life coach. She lives with her husband, four teenagers, and several pets in southern California.

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