Losing My Parents: How Being A Mom Helped Me Grieve

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“I went to the ER tonight. They found a mass and they think it’s cancer.” I read the text from my dad and immediately the lump caught in my throat and stuck there. I went home to my husband, sunk into the couch and cried. Somehow I immediately knew my dad had been given a death sentence. Just three weeks later, he lost his battle to Pancreatic cancer. I walked around in a fog and sobbed my way through the next several months. Nothing had prepared me for the grief of losing my dad and best friend. The only silver lining was that at this time I was childless. I only had myself to worry about. Well, myself and my mom. I clung to her dearly during those early days of grieving. We took long walks, bought her a dog and tried new restaurants and recipes. It was easy to make my mom my best friend as she and I both shared in a grief we couldn’t understand.

A year after I lost my dad, I was blessed with the birth of my first son. My mom and I swooned over him together. As a stay-at-home mom, I regularly found myself at my mom’s house on days when sleep was scarce and weather was relentless. She wasn’t just my best friend but my son’s best friend, too. We took more walks together, read countless books, explored St. Louis and planned my son’s first birthday party. Just weeks after his birthday celebration, my mom felt her indigestion had grown from bothersome to problematic. After a girl’s night at my house, my sister took her to the ER. She was admitted with a gallbladder attack and was told she would have a procedure and be on her way. In one final attempt to narrow the issue, a scope determined that my mom also had Pancreatic cancer, the same cancer that stole my dad from us just two years prior.

Shock. Utter disbelief. There was truly no way that we could be going down this road again. My mom had surgery. She underwent chemotherapy. She saw a specialist. The cancer grew and spread. She tried a trial. Ultimately, Pancreatic cancer stole my mom’s life as well. She survived almost a year with that dreaded diagnosis. Again, the grief was unbearable. The pain unlike any I ever had to endure before. Only this time I was a mom. I was a mom to one precious boy when my mom was diagnosed and had another son during the summer of her chemotherapy treatments. This time,  I was balancing two under two in my grief. Nursing. Sleeplessness. Jealousy from my older son. Dare I say it was easier?

I guess one cannot really put a scale on grief. It’s hard to say one loss is easier than another. I can, however, say that my role as a mother played a major part in my ability to move through my grief. It is hard to wallow when two precious babies are staring at you with expectations, absent of understanding the current situation. Some days were harder for that very reason. Some days I resented the fact that I could not simply be sad. I had a six-month-old and two-year-old who were not going to give me grace to stay in bed or cry my way through the day. However, most days I would say that those two little boys were my biggest blessing during my hardest days. As a mom figuring out how to do life without my parents, I felt extraordinarily fortunate to have two little boys who became my focus and attention.

If you are a mom facing grief of any kind, I urge you to allow your children to be your light on your darkest days:

  • Notice their smiles when all you want to do is cry. Pay attention to the ways that they exude joy and allow yourself to smile with them.
  • Use them as an excuse to get out and about. Take them to the park or museum. Sometimes it’s so refreshing to be among people who are not grieving and know not of the grief you are currently experiencing.
  • Talk to them about the person or animal you have lost. They do not truly understand the finality of the loss and often are warmer in simply talking about the person and memories you share than others may be. Kids can be the best at helping to keep memories alive as they speak of people without inhibition.
  • Allow your children to be a part of celebrating the person you lost. My children have been a huge part of the celebrations for my parents and taking pictures, flowers, etc to their gravesite.

While grief is different for every person, with every loss I found that my children actually helped me during some of my hardest days of grief by providing me daily with a blissful ignorance and innocence that only they could.

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Katie is a Des Peres mom of two young boys, Trace (2014) and Henry (2016). Katie stays home with her boys most of the time but also spends a bit of time away as a high school lacrosse coach. Katie enjoys connecting with other moms to run, meet at parks, explore new restaurants, listen to live music and discuss books. Katie and her boys can be found enjoying many activities around St. Louis including the Science Center, Zoo, Magic House, Museum of Transportation, Urban Fort and Frisco Train Store, but what they enjoy most is just being outdoors. They have tried many of the parks around St. Louis City and county and also love hiking trails at Laumeier Sculpture Park, Powder Valley and Shaw Nature Reserve. Katie and her family love all that St. Louis has to offer for families of young children and can most often be found taking advantage of all of the many opportunities.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for your article. I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer last year just before my firstborn turned 1. She was diagnosed two weeks before I found out I was pregnant and it is so true that having a baby changed the way I greive. He brings joy to the whole family. When I recently had a second baby, I missed her getting to meet him and being here to help, but I also found so much of what my mom taught me coming out in myself and take comfort in that.

  2. My dad died of liver failure and I had a 4 year old and a 4 month old. I couldn’t agree more with your words. Having small children forces you to keep moving and gives some joy to days you really don’t have any. Prayers to you on the days you miss them both so much it makes your heart hurt.

  3. My father died of kidney cancer a week after my son turned two. I also had a 3 year old boy. I told my friends that I didn’t have the luxury of falling apart as I had two people that needed me too much. Lifting up all who experience this type of pain and loss at such a challenging time of life, but couldn’t agree more with your advice. Thank you for sharing your story.

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