How I fought for my children after I lost my husband

To: Widows with children

From: Maria Brenders (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To widows with children, 

Right now, I know it would be an easier choice to throw your hands up, lay in bed, be depressed and give up on life, but my children deserve so much more and so do yours.

When I was 16, I met my husband in school through friends. By 18, I was pregnant with our first child. Now, we have two daughters and a son. My husband was an amazing father.  Everything he did, he did for our kids. He worked long shifts as a truck driver. No matter how late he came home, he would always stop to buy the kids candy.  

Everything he did, he did for our kids.

I kept telling him to stop, saying to him, “The kids should be excited to see you when you get home, not the fact that you have candy for them.”

But he didn’t stop. He loved seeing how happy it made them.

We were together for 12 years. I was aware mental health problems ran in the family because his father committed suicide, but it was only in that last year that I noticed something was off.  He went from being a very calm and cool person to being irritable and angry.

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I kept asking him, “Who are you? What is going on?”

Our relationship was on the rocks because he was working so much and a decision was made to separate.

On the day I was moving out, I told my husband I would be stopping by with our son to pick up some of my stuff. When we walked in, he had hanged himself.

I didn’t know what I was going to do. He was the breadwinner.

I had these three kids and I think one of my biggest things was like,” How am I even going to tell them?”

My youngest, who was almost four at the time, cried. My middle daughter, who had just turned nine, dropped a tear and then walked over to the couch and started playing on her phone. My oldest daughter, who was 12, completely lost it.

She was crying and saying, “So you’re telling me I don’t have a father. I don’t have a father!”

Also, we lost our house and our car. We had to move and the kids had to make new friends and go to different schools.

All of my children have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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I read a study that said children who lose a parent to suicide and don’t receive help are significantly more likely to kill themselves. Blown away by the statistics, I decided to put all three of my children in therapy. I wanted to make sure they could and would talk about their feelings.

At the time, I had a small home bakery for about five years.  I decided to open a brick-and-mortar store to provide for my family. While building my business, I started dating someone and unfortunately, he committed suicide as well. That’s when I realized you can’t save anyone. You can only help people save themselves.

In the midst of the added grief, I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to be an example for my children. So, in September of 2019, the doors of my bakery, Three Girls Cupcake Shoppe, officially opened.  Even though Covid hit shortly after, we survived.

It’s been four years since my husband took his own life. My children are still in therapy and I also see a therapist with them. The longer they have been in therapy, the more they have been able to process what happened. Also, they’ve each learned coping skills.

There are moments they still struggle, but I remind them, “It’s just a bad day. It’s not a bad life.”

I am so grateful and proud of the progress each of my children has made.  That first year my oldest had no desires, no motivation and no passion. She’s enjoying life now and has plans for her future. She wants to go into cosmetology.

My middle daughter is the strong silent type. She’s done a really good job using coping skills to manage her grief. Her goal is to one day become an officer for the Animal Protective League. As far as my son, now that he’s older, he’s starting to understand what happened. He’s reached that age where the loss of his father is beginning to make sense and come together.

Photography by Studio 11 – Shannon Stevens

All of my children are doing well.

As for me, my business is growing and I am in a new, healthy relationship.

These last four years certainly have not been easy.  When I first lost my husband, I felt so alone, as it seemed as though people were judging me.

I want you to know that you are not alone, you are not to blame and you can get through this. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.   

We all have our days, but push yourself. 

As I look at my family now and see how far we’ve come, I am so thankful I didn’t quit. I am thankful that I fought for myself and that I fought for my children.

So, if right now you are struggling to get out of bed and  deal with your depression, I want you to think of my story and know that in the most challenging moments, when my heart was heavy and I felt overwhelmed, it was the harder choice that led to the better outcome.

I promise, there is hope. You can do this.

With love, 

Maria Brenders
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