Grief and Parenting

My beautiful grandmother recently passed away, and though her 99 years were long and happy, there’s still grieving to do. She was “ready” to die, but I wasn’t ready to loose her.

As a momma of three kiddos (4, 2, and 9 months), who starts earning her Master’s in Counseling in a couple of weeks, I’m extremely aware of how necessary it is for me to at least try to be aware of the state of my mental health.

I am aware of the pain that her death has caused. It’s much easier to sweep it under the rug and pretend that it doesn’t exist. It would be easier to push on with parenting, cooking, cleaning, prepping for grad school, and focusing on my family without acknowledging the presence of pain. My family can’t afford that, though. I have to grieve, for all of us, and I have to do it now.

Grieving is necessary

Grief is a choice. “Grieve” is a verb. It’s an action word. It’s not just feeling pain. It’s using the pain to heal.

In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlines the stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. My work with caregivers of cancer patients taught me that these stages are more fluid than they seem. They can be short or long. They can coexist. They can jump around. They look different for everyone.

Grieving isn’t checking off boxes on a list. It’s as simple (and as hard) as choosing to allow yourself to do it. Contrary to common beliefs, feeling is hard! It’s easier to be unaffected and move on. Feeling can be messy and uncomfortable. Feelings happen for a reason, though, and the pain of loss has to be processed.

To me, grief is reserved for the loss of strong attachments. I can’t speak to what Kubler-Ross says, and I can’t promise that I’m right, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to grieve every loss. I think that we have to grieve the loss of people and things that we’re attached to in order to form new, healthy attachments. Grieving helps us move forward. It’s not disconnecting from the memories of a person, but it is, in some ways, letting go of the attachment to them.

This is a hard concept for me, a Christian who believes that people aren’t gone when they die. I still believe that it’s right from a psychological perspective. I think that if I chose not to grieve the loss of my grandmother, and continued to talk to her and rely on her for emotional and physical support, I’d stop being successful at forming or fostering new attachments with people who are alive and able to reciprocate. We need healthy reciprocal attachments. They’re how we thrive through the pain and joy that life brings.

Grieving as a parent

Grief has a way of seeping into everything. I can’t compartmentalize my grief. It comes and goes in waves. I can anticipate it’s ebbs at flows sometimes, but at other times it washes over me without anticipation. I can’t control it, but I’ve found that if I don’t allow it to do it’s thing I feel sad all the time. If I stieffle it, my living breathing attachments suffer more than they do if I just let grief have it’s place.

Working through feelings like anger and depression is hard work. It requires almost as much attention as three kids under the age of five.

So,what does this mean? It means that I’ve had to step back from some things and lean on my husband and other strong attachments for the space and time to do the work. I’ve had to step away from moments with my kids. I’ve had to talk about her with my kids. I’ve shared my sadness with them when it arises, and I’ve shared my joy with them, too.

If you are in the midst of grief, be patient with yourself. Communicate with trusted friends and attachments. Seek counseling. Use the tools around you. I’m so sorry you’re hurting.