Parenting while grieving is like being on a rollercoaster blindfolded so that there’s zero chance of anticipating when the dips, flips, twists and turns are coming. My Dad was killed in a motorcycle accident nearly 9 months ago and one of the most tragic pieces to his death is that my kids; ages 4, 2 and 6 months, will grow up in a world without him. He truly was the greatest man I’ve ever met. So many people have commented on my strength since my Dad’s death but truthfully, I don’t feel strong. I feel like someone who’s just barely keeping afloat, all while doing what I need to for my kids, husband and life. Grief is beyond hard on it’s own, but parenting while grieving is an entirely different shitshow I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Parenting through grief is receiving the phone call that your father has been in an accident, and while actively arranging to meet him at the hospital 5 hours away you’re also calling family and friends to arrange care for your kids because you’re worried your husband might need to work and you’re trying to figure things out for him.
Parenting through grief is receiving the phone call on your drive that your father has passed away — and aside from your initial shock, desperation, pain and sadness, making sure nobody tells your kids that their Grampa has died because you want to be the one to break the news and you also want to prolong life as they knew it a little longer.
Parenting through grief is readying yourself to see your father at the funeral home while making your kids breakfast, changing dirty diapers and arguing that “yes, they do need a sweater because it’s chilly this morning” and “no, I’m not the meanest mommy ever.”
Parenting through grief is arranging friends to watch your kids so that you can spend 2 days saying goodbye to, and then burying, your Dad and being SO, SO grateful you can count on them. It’s also watching your husband try to step in to take this load off your shoulders but you’re so used to taking the reins for everything it’s just easier to do it yourself. It’s also going to the store to buy a special stuffy for Grampa to keep with him forever and wanting to slap the sales lady when she tells your daughter what a pretty stuffy it is because she doesn’t know that this stuffy is going into a fucking coffin with your DAD, but staying calm because you can’t slap someone in front of your kid.
Parenting through grief is singing at your father’s funeral while picturing your daughter kissing a friend’s son the entire time because it’s the only thing that stops you from literally collapsing under the reality that you’re singing at your father’s FUNERAL.
Parenting through grief is coming home to tuck your kids into bed and trying to explain to them, in a way a 2-year-old and 4-year-old will understand, that you buried Grampa today and consoling your 4-year-old as she sobs that she wants Grampa “right now ‘aside me for real life and not in heaven” and wishing more than ANYTHING that her desire could be reality. It’s leaving their room and praying that they’ll remember Grampa but deep down knowing that your 2-year-old won’t have any tangible memories of the man who loved him so, so much.
Parenting through grief is watching an air ambulance fly over your house a few weeks after your Dad dies and wanting to vomit, and then looking over to see your daughter playing with the first stuffy your Dad ever gave to you and running over to snatch it from her and start bawling. It’s then trying to explain to that 4-year-old why you took the stuffy and why it’s so special and you’re so sorry for crying and yes, you wish Grampa was here too and not in heaven.
Parenting through grief is taking your kids to the cemetery and hating every single second of being there because he should be BESIDE us and not BELOW us but laughing so hard when your 2-year-old sees the goose poop and says “Look! Geese poop on Grampa!” It’s bringing a small piece of birthday cake to him for each birthday he’s missing so that we can include him, and it’s watching your 2-year-old bend over to the ground to give Grampa a kiss. It’s both kids waving to Grampa and telling them they love him every single time we pass his cemetery, and it’s your daughter “showing” him the new prayer she learned in school. It’s also wanting to punch something every single time they do this because it. is. not. FAIR.
Parenting through grief is giving birth to your third child, the baby girl he will never know, and using his name for a middle name and stopping at the cemetery on the way home from the hospital so he can meet her. It’s realizing she looks just like him and being so fucking thrilled that he got in there, one way or another. It’s also breaking down every single time you look at her because you know he will never get to meet her, see her smile, or hear her laugh. It’s being so fucking angry that THIS is the hand life has dealt us and hating how unfair it all is.
Parenting through grief is realizing that your kids deserve a Mommy who cries less and is more patient and kind with them and telling your husband you think you should start seeing someone because you don’t want it to get worse. It’s being told that everything you’re going through is SO normal and you’ll be okay. It’s therapy sessions that have helped more than you could have imagined and feeling so fortunate to have access to them. It’s normalizing therapy and talking about grief and not being ashamed of it.
Parenting through grief is trying to rationalize what happened to Grampa and explaining how because of someone else’s poor choice, Grampa died. It’s trying to hide your anger and hatred for this other driver while defending your Dad when your daughter creates scenarios in her head that would explain what happened; “no, Grampa wasn’t driving too fast and he was watching and being so, so careful. The other driver made a very poor choice and wasn’t paying attention.” It’s then wondering if you’ve explained too much for her sweet little mind when she starts crying because she’s worried that the other driver will now hit Daddy when he’s driving home to us.
Parenting through grief is being so incredibly jealous of your husband because his father is still alive and being so sad watching your father-in-law with your kids because you will never see them hug your Dad again. It’s also being elated that they’ve got one grandfather left who loves them more than anything.
Parenting through grief is trying to discipline a 4-year-old who tells you that the only reason she made a “poor choice” was because she’s so sad about Grampa and validating her feelings while also trying to teach her that we all miss Grampa but we can’t make poor choices despite missing him. It’s watching your kids interact with your husband and hoping so hard that they’ll grow to have the same amazing bond you did with your Dad, and being so sad that you can’t just call him to fill him in on your day.
Parenting through grief is making sure we talk about Grampa everyday, even if it’s just to say “thanks for the sunshine today!” and normalizing our visits to the cemetery, or talking about heaven and watching videos of him so hopefully that helps solidify the memories you’re so desperate to preserve. It’s also feeling panicked when your kids don’t want to talk about him and haven’t mentioned him in a few days and you think they’re forgetting him so you show them every video and share every memory until they yell at you that they “don’t wanna watch Grampa right now!”
Parenting through grief is never, not even one day, staying in bed to just be sad because you have three young kids who need their Mommy and you will always, always make sure they come first. It’s also resenting those kids at times because some days, the really hard days, you wish you didn’t have to worry about them for once. And then, just as quickly as that thought comes, it’s replaced with being SO grateful you do have them because they are pure, unfiltered joy and they make everything better and you would be lost without them.
Parenting through grief is belonging to a club that nobody wants to be a member of and it’s the hardest, saddest thing I’ve ever had to do. I wish it weren’t my reality, and I’m so thankful I have these three little people in my life because they are my reason to get up every morning (and many times during the night) and live life to the fullest; just as my Dad would have wanted.
Jennifer Lima is a married, working Mom just trying to get through the day so she can watch Netflix and eat BBQ chips. She and her husband are learning to navigate the circus that comes with having three young kids and trying to do so with as much love, fun and sleep as possible!