Janelle Brunton-Rennie has taken on the mother of all challenges – parenting a little soul on her own. She shares her solo parenting story through grief and healing.
When Sage Brunton is old enough to draw a picture of her family, it will include her mother, Janelle Brunton-Rennie. It may or may not include her father who died in 2019.
Janelle, who owns ethical PR firm Media Jam, found out her husband was ill when Sage was only five months old.
“I was holding Sage in my arms and standing in Auckland Hospital’s haematology ward,” says Janelle.
Just four weeks earlier, Janelle’s 41-year-old husband, Kurt Brunton, discovered a lump in his abdomen and quickly went downhill.
“Kurt’s doctor looked at me stony-faced and said, ‘Does your husband have a will? Because there’s a good chance he’s not going to make it,’” Janelle, 38, recalls. She likens it to a nightmare she can never wake up from. “It was so surreal. I remember holding Sage while the stark white corridor closed in on me. It was the first moment I was faced with the true possibility of Kurt’s death.”
The couple had been together since 2012, when Kurt attended a spin class Janelle was teaching. “At the time, I was preparing for my second body building competition and Kurt mentioned he’d like to try body building and asked if he could join my training. Very quickly, we realised we had feelings for each other.”
They were married in early 2015, and the day after their third wedding anniversary, Kurt found the lump which turned out to be stage four lymphoma. Despite undergoing treatment both here and in Boston, Kurt died less than a year later.
Sage was 16 months old when her father died, and Janelle says it’s a wound that will take time to heal. “Raising our daughter on my own, while grieving the loss of my husband and trying to run a company, has been far harder than I could ever have imagined,” she says in a voice thick with emotion.
“Someone told me once, ‘Keep living until you start to feel alive again’, and that’s what I did. I went into survival mode, keeping myself, Sage and my business alive so I could provide for us.” Despite having a nanny and family help, Janelle admits solo parenting can be “incredibly challenging”.
“So much of my grief isn’t just for my loss, it’s also for Sage. Subconsciously, I’ve been playing both mum and dad in an effort to minimise it for her, hopefully saving her from any trauma or abandonment issues in her formative years. Because I’m her only parent, I try to love Sage twice as hard and give her twice as much of me.”
The flip side is that Sage, now three, is being exposed to a strong, capable role-model.
“She sees me doing everything from running a company to mowing the lawns and getting out the toolbox when something needs fixing. When I’m carrying something heavy, she’ll say, ‘We can do hard things, Mummy’, which makes me smile because we do make a great team.”
Janelle would like to get married again in time and isn’t ruling out another child. “We’ll see. It depends on meeting the right person again and feeling safe enough to do so.”