Parenting Without Parents: What No One Can Replace

by Brittany Acciavatti
Originally Published: 
parenting without parents
urbancow / iStock

Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s been a long time since I talked to you. I’m not sure what you’ve seen or heard since then. I don’t even know where to begin. I married Tom a few summers ago, and then on November 11, 2012, I got my first positive pregnancy test. “Oh my god, it worked,” was my first thought. I picked up the phone to call you. I wanted to tell you that you were going to be grandparents, but I put it down almost immediately. Did you know that? It was hard not to let that steal some of my happiness away in that moment.

I was pretty sick that first trimester. Even though you couldn’t have made it go away, Mom, it might have helped if you were there to drive me to the midwife and the pharmacy for my Zofran. I needed you there to hold my hair back one really terrible night when I was so sick, hanging over the toilet bowl. Just like you did when I was sick as a little girl. You weren’t there to comfort me, though.

I was in labor for almost 24 hours with Vivi. I waited a really long time before we went to the hospital. I was scared they would send me home. I didn’t know any better. I’d never been in labor before, but you had, Mom. And Dad, you went through it with her. You could have told Tom it was time, and he had better get me into Boston right away, so I wouldn’t have to deal with all that pain in a home where there had already been so much. Not a word from you.

Everything went fine in case you didn’t know. There were no complications and delivering Vivi was one of the most joyous moments in my life. But then a couple days later, I noticed her eyes looked like yours, Mom. And I sobbed—almost inconsolably. Did you know that, Mom? Vivi had pretty severe jaundice, and we were sent to the NICU. We were discharged a couple days later, but I could have used you, Mom and Dad. You never came to visit.

It was a truly indescribable feeling watching Vivi grow and reach new milestones. You should have seen her taking her first steps; she was so amazed by herself. It was hard, though, when she started recognizing family members, but you weren’t the ones she got used to seeing. I mean you’re her grandparents. You’re my parents! Do you know how devastating that was for me?

Then I got pregnant again—a little sooner than we planned, but we were happy. I was worried about having two kids under 2, and maybe you wouldn’t have had much advice since my brother and I are 11 years apart, but I would have liked to talk to you both about it. Maybe you could have offered to help in the beginning, while I was adjusting to life as a mother of two.

We had the ultrasound tech write down the sex of the baby at my 20-week appointment and put it in an envelope. I wanted to open it with you both in-person, but Tom and I went to one of the last places I went with you, Mom. We found out we were having a boy! We were in the healing garden at the top floor of the Yawkey Building. Did you know that, Mom? Did you see us? Tom yelled it up to the sky. Did you hear? Dad, you were getting a boy in the family. I wanted to laugh with you about passing down that Bo Jackson glove you got for me when I was 11. You could have played catch with Billy like you did with me. Did you know I named my son after you?

The kids call you Nana and Papa. We look at your picture every day and say “Hi.” Vivi says you’re “up in the blue sky” watching her and Billy. Did you know that? Did you see all those times that I wanted you here? That I needed you here? I don’t want you to feel bad about it all, though. I should explain a few things.

Mom, I called Auntie Anne when I read that first pregnancy test. We talked about how thrilled you and Dad would be and how incredible you both were with kids. And Auntie Joni drove me to get that prescription when I couldn’t hold any food down. She rubbed my head, and she apologized it wasn’t you doing it. Anne came to the house when I was laboring and held my hand before we left for the hospital. Gail, my mother-in-law, was in the delivery room when Vivi was born, and she assured me you were too, Mom. Joni brought us coffee when Tom and I stayed in the NICU with Vivi. And Tom, well, he was the angel on Earth you sent to me. I do know that.

None of them can ever replace you, but I hope you know they make things a little easier. Some days move along fine for me, and others are utterly earth-shattering without you. I won’t let you be forgotten, and my kids will know what extraordinary parents and people you were. I’ll tell them how much they mean to you and how proud you are of them. I won’t tell them how sad it must have been for you to flash-forward to these moments in your mind when you were still here. Did you know how hard this would be for me without you? Were you upset cancer would rob you both of getting to know my husband and my kids?

But sometimes my laugh sounds like you, Mom, so my kids get to hear you. And Dad, I find myself breaking into a ridiculous song and dance like you used to do around the house, so my kids get to play with you. It was never going to be OK doing this without my own parents, but I’m taking it one day at a time. I talk about you a lot, and I think about you daily. But I was just wondering, because I never hear from you. Did you know all of this?



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