Managing Grief When You're A Mother

Managing Grief When You’re A Mother

Kate Love

I’ve been really struggling to put these words down, as the act itself feels so permanent. To really own that I am in grief, and have been for arguably three-plus years, makes me want to turn away from my computer, turn on Netflix, and get a massive glass of wine.

Her name was Mimi. She was my mom, and she was my great love. I lost her in July.

When I think about it, I have been in anticipatory grief since my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I have been processing, thinking, crying, reliving, memorializing, and grieving since the day she received the news. It happened to be mere days after I announced my twin pregnancy.

And so began our intertwined journeys. While she lost her reproductive system, the one that had birthed me, I used mine to bring two beautiful girls into the world. The power of that connection certainly wasn’t lost on me.

As I began to process and go through my own stages of grief, I also had to show up and be present during the most intense times of mothering. Breastfeeding times two, sleep training times two, temper tantrums times two, and on it went.

Needless to say, my babies, and now preschoolers, are incredibly sensitive little beings and can sense when things are amiss or shifting in their lives. So how does one show up for their kids, and mother, through grief? This has been on of the most challenging and yet profound parts of the journey for me so far.

These are the three things I know for sure:

1. Take responsibility for the emotional tone.

Parents, and let’s face it, moms set the emotional tone for the house. And that doesn’t mean being Patty Perfect. It means being real.

Naming my emotions and being honest about them really helped me move through the immensity of the feelings I had around my mom’s diagnosis and subsequent decline.

My girls will often ask, “Are you happy or sad?” I am totally down to name my sadness. And when they try to “help” via kissing and hugging, I always acknowledge “that helps me feel better.”

That being said, kids also pick up on the vibes and it’s not surprising these are the times they most need my attention — when my battery is low and I’m not my best self.

I have had to call in my village to assist with school pickup, to have playdates, and to make sure I’m not stretched beyond my limits. I’ve acknowledged that when I’m in the midst of my own grief, this is a good time to be gentle around parenting practices. As my mom would say, “it’s time to employ ‘good enough’ parenting.” For me, this means being open to more TV time, to letting them explore parks while watching from a bench, and not needing to add the pressure of a perfect end-of-day meal to the mix. I figure the more I take care of my emotional self, the more I can show up for the girls as they navigate the rocky terrain of 3-year-old emotions.

2. Legacy lives on.

I have been relying heavily on my mom’s wisdom (late night texts, old emails, her little mantras she created for our family). I have a little notebook I’ve used to collect these little reminders. It keeps me grounded to know that the legacy she leaves and the imprint she’s already had in the three short years she had in my daughter’s life. Phrases like “love is a verb” and “feelings are facts” will live on forever.

No matter if someone’s physical presence ends, the impact they have on your kids is permanent. I also created an iBook called The Story of GranMimi, which depicts her interactions with my twins since day one. It’s a storybook we can read whenever they miss her and whenever I need a reminder.

I recently realized that there is never enough time. Whether I got five minutes or 50 years with my mom, I would always feel cheated out of time. I also celebrate the fact that I got the time I did, and quality time it was.

3. Kids grieve in puddles (and so do adults).

As I write this, my mom has been gone for a few months. However, she is a daily topic of conversation with my 3-year-olds, ranging from sentiments like “Mummy, if you want to see your mummy, you have to die too,” to the sadness of “I miss her,” to the beautiful moments of “Mummy, Mimi lives now in our hearts.”

I saw an amazing grief counselor who talked about how kids grieve in puddles. In one moment, it’s sadness, and a few seconds later, they are onto a new puzzle, singing the lyrics to O Canada, and asking for a croissant.

When I told them my mom died (and yes, I was advised to always use the real words “died from cancer,” “her body stopped working,” “the doctor couldn’t fix her,” “she was so brave,” etc.), I expected an outpouring of sadness. In fact, they really just listened, hugged me, asked if Geoff (their grandfather) had cancer, then went about their day.

Grief hits at unexpected moments for me too, and I think I’m grieving in puddles just like my kidlets. I can swing from smiling and laughing to despair pretty quickly. And as time goes on, I am becoming more comfortable in recognizing that the depth of my grief is proportional the depth of my love. Bring on the puddles.

And so, one of my biggest takeaways has been that we never “get over” grief. We just come up with strategies to manage it.

I find there’s a parallel with motherhood. We never “get over” the tiredness, the anxiousness, the overwhelmingness of it all. We learn to manage it, we come up with strategies, we test, we recalibrate, and we start every day fresh.

Mothering through grief, for me at least, is about surrendering to the humanness of the experience of it all. It’s messy, it’s sad, it’s beautiful, and it’s life. And the more I can model the healthy processing of emotions, and talk to my kids about the legacy of their incredible indomitable GranMimi, the better we all will be at getting through the puddles.