I lost my mom this fall and it hit us all hard. As you might expect, grieving while parenting a child is a complicated process. On one hand, it is necessary to role model how to process difficult feelings and to provide a space for your child or children to ask their own questions about death and loss. But being so intentional about how one experiences you or what they witness is quite overwhelming when you have lost a loved one. For me, I had to dig deep to keep going at times with the daily routine. As a parent, we want to protect our children from hard things but grieving can be a shared experience between family members.
Losing a parent at any age forces you to see yourself as an adult while suffering from feelings that may bring you back to childhood experiences. I learned to give myself permission to take the time I needed and to not apologize for the feelings that I experienced. I took time when I needed it and will continue to prioritize healing moments for myself. I also found it helpful to bring my son into the experience and not try to hide my sadness or anger. I maintained boundaries when I needed to but I also tried to show him it’s ok to be messy while still “doing“ your life. This is not a linear process and there is no timeline or direction manual on how to properly grieve.
Several days after the passing of my mom, I was faced with some of the rawest parenting moments. My son, who loves school, melted down and refused to go into his class, screaming that he didn’t feel comfortable going without me and that he hated everything about school. He stood sobbing in front of his entire class while his teacher patiently reminded me I just needed to leave quickly to make the transition easier for him. The therapist in me knew this to be true, but the mom in me was flooded with guilt that he was suffering because of my own sadness around losing my mom. He also called me a liar because I had told him we would spend the holidays with his grandmother; unfortunately, she passed before we could. I share these moments to remind us all that we are all human underneath. Despite the parenting skills we may attain, these moments challenge us to be in tune with our own emotions while engaging with our kids as they struggle. At times, it feels almost impossible while grieving to not crumble in these exhausting battles with a child. Believe me, I was tempted to just let my son stay home and avoid all uncomfortable things, but I knew his comfort zone would get smaller and smaller as days went on.
While I am writing about the loss of a parent, grieving isn’t always related to the loss of a person. It can also be caused by the loss of an idea, expectation, or hope. Many of us are also grieving things that may seem less tangible or obvious to the people around us. It’s important to name these losses and allow oneself the space to grieve and process. Grieving is universal and can be a collective experience.
If you have a healthy attachment with your child, they will feel these intense emotions too, which is ok. They may show it in ways you didn’t expect, but it is our job as parents to engage in self-care, while staying in tune with their needs. Be aware that acting out behaviors or increased anxiety is a healthy and normal response for a child experiencing loss. In our family, we have found that talking about death and loss in short spurts can be healing. We also have committed to telling stories and sharing memories about the family members we have lost. We have made it our mission to honor our feelings while creating healthy and new experiences to nourish our family system. I remind the people I love that sometimes I’m okay and other times I’m not, but that’s alright too. Professionally, I also learned it’s ok to be human and candid with the people I work with, since my work ethic is rooted in authenticity. My mom taught me to take one day at a time and I am doing just that.
Thank you to my colleagues and my community of friends and family for your support, compassion, and understanding over the last several months.
“Healing doesn’t mean the loss didn’t happen. It means that it no longer controls us.” – David Kessler
David Kessler – Grief.com
Dr. Kristen Neff – Self-compassion.org
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross – On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families