Mothering Through Grief

mothering through grief

As I’m writing this, I’m in a car with my sister, brother-in-law, mother, and daughter on the way to West Virginia. My parents were born and raised there. Momma was working for the local newspaper and daddy was working for the railroad when they met. They got married and started a family together in a small two bedroom home on the West Virginia side of Bluefield. Momma and daddy were so close to the border that they could walk down to the store and be in Virginia. I was born at Bluefield Memorial Hospital. And just like the song goes, country roads, take me home.

Although it hasn’t been my home for many years, those mountains still hold pieces of my heart. Time seems to have stood still there as it has changed very little through the years. One thing that has altered is our purpose for traveling there. When my sister and I were younger, visiting Princeton and Bluefield meant seeing our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It meant picking grapes from Pappaw’s vines while dodging the honey bees buzzing around his hives. It meant spending time with my mom’s family on their farm nestled up in the mountains. It meant baking treats with mammaw. It meant countless other precious moments that grew into some of our most cherished memories.

Today–for this trip–there is just one grandparent left to visit. And we will stop off in Virginia to visit an uncle and aunt before heading home. The rest of our West Virginia visits will be to the gravesides of grandparents, an uncle, and…my dad. We are going to honor them and put new flowers down. Although I miss each of my loved ones who have passed away, it’s my father’s absence that has affected me the most. Our lives were shaken to the core when daddy lost his five month battle with pancreatic cancer two years ago. He was only 57 at the time.

The country roads that wind before me today not only carry me home, but they serve to remind me of the twists and turns that life takes us through. You never really know what’s coming around the next bend. Sometimes you turn and the view is breathtaking. Other times storm clouds lie ahead. The last several years have held both for me. I have delighted in becoming a mother to my three precious blessings. There have been moments of pure bliss that have taken my breath away. There have also been dark times…I’ve experienced multiple miscarriages that have broken my tender mommy heart, the loss of loved ones, and having to say goodbye to my father–a man who once seemed as strong and invincible to me, as the Blue Ridge Mountains I’m headed towards today.

I don’t know what twists and turns you’ve experienced in your own life. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one, parent, or tragically even a child. Perhaps you too have experienced the heartbreak of miscarriage. Is it the loss of your marriage–divorce–that has sent you into a period of mourning? Are you in the midst of one of life’s storms? Dear friend, being a mother is one of the most beautiful experiences, but it is also one of the most challenging. As a mother, you mend broken hearts, kiss ouchies, love, protect, and perform a multitude of tasks that I can’t even begin to list. When you are grieving and your own heart is broken, what do you do? If life is taking you through some tough times, this post is for you–from one mother who “gets it” to another. Here are some things that have helped me mother through my own seasons of grief…

Have faith. Through it all, my faith is what sustains me. It’s the very ground I walk upon. God has given purpose and peace at times when I needed it the most. I hold fast to the words in 2 Corinthians that read, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.” Through times of grief, my prayer life and faith in God have only grown stronger.

Surround yourself with support. When you go through something tragic, the harsh reality is that some people just won’t be able to relate. Many people struggle with what to even say to someone who has just experienced a loss. Let the people who love you and want to be there for you know what you need from them. Do you just need someone to listen? Are there things you need help with? Do you just desire their presences and support in your life? Don’t be afraid to seek help from others. Surround yourself with a great support system.

Change of scenery. Take that vacation with the family. Get away for a few days. Find a new hobby. Do something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t tried yet. Carpe diem, right?

Do what makes you happy. Life is so precious and fragile. Each day is a gift! Why spend time doing things that don’t bring you joy? For me, this meant leaving a high-stress job to fulfill my dream of being a stay at home mom.  I’m not advocating that this is right for everyone, but is there something in your own life that is bringing you down and needs to be cut out?

Take care of yourself. Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture wrote, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Despite the truth behind these words, I’m bad about following them. It’s maternal instinct to take care of everyone else, but as mothers we need to ensure that our emotional, physical, and spiritual health are a priority too. Make an effort with me today to get enough rest and eat more than just the leftovers from the kids’ lunch trays. Please tell me I’m not the only guilty of this. Going back to the previous suggestion, do something for your emotional health and participate in at least one hobby or activity each day that makes you happy.

Simplify. This may be a great time to stop overextending yourself and start saying no. Sit down and make a list of the things that really matter to you. Cut the rest out…even if it’s just for a short time while you give your heart time to heal.

Find a new normal. When daddy was diagnosed with cancer, normal was no longer a word that could describe our lives. My sister’s hospital wedding was certainly not the norm, but it was still beautiful. After he passed away, we had to look for a new normal. Our lives will never be the same without him. Grief changes you like that, but hold on. One day the clouds will lift, and you’ll discover that you’ve slowly been settling into a new normal. And it’s okay if it looks different than everyone else’s idea of “normal.”

Love on your kids and family. Even the worst days can be made better when we extend our love to others. Think of all the smiles that will come from some extra cuddle time on the couch. Make quality time together a priority.

Show yourself grace. You are enough! You are doing enough! If the only thing that you accomplish today is healthy, happy kids and a healthy, happy you…that’s enough. Extend grace to yourself even if the to do list still sits on the counter untouched. The things on that list probably weren’t even the things that really matter.

We are approaching the East River Mountain tunnel now. Years ago, it was carved through the mountains to give travelers a faster and safer route. It becomes dark as we pass through, but the lights peppering the sides of the tunnel show us the way. When we come out on the other end, the mountains in all their fall splendor will be before us. I pray you find your own tunnel through the mountains that are before you. When you get to the other side, bask in the sun’s light, and know that you are doing a wonderful job at being a mommy!

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20 Responses to Mothering Through Grief

  1. Katie October 13, 2014 at 6:13 am #

    Beautiful post, Jennifer. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. Big hugs!!

    • Jennifer Dawn
      Jennifer Dawn October 14, 2014 at 1:04 am #

      Thank you, Katie, for those kind words! Hugs right back at ya!

  2. Christie Elkins October 13, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    This is the most beautiful post you have ever written. So honest and full of truth!

    • Jennifer Dawn
      Jennifer Dawn October 14, 2014 at 1:04 am #

      Christie, thank you so much for this encouragement!

  3. Sarah Curtis
    Sarah Curtis October 13, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    SUCH a beautiful post and wonderful testament.

  4. Jennifer October 13, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Wow, that was a really beautifully written post. So sincere and heart-felt. Thanks for sharing. And, like you, I hope we can all find our tunnel through the mountains.

  5. Amy October 13, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    Such a beautiful testimony! So well written and full of hope. I pray for you girls daily.

    • Jennifer Dawn
      Jennifer Dawn October 14, 2014 at 1:05 am #

      Thank you, Amy, for the prayers and your kind words!

  6. Natalie
    Natalie October 13, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    Jennifer thank you so much in sharing your heart. I just read over your sister’s wedding post…and I remember when you told me the story. You and your sister are amazing people!

    • Jennifer Dawn
      Jennifer Dawn October 14, 2014 at 1:06 am #

      That is so sweet of you, Natalie. That blessed my heart!

  7. Lynn October 13, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    Beautifully written! Thank you for opening your heart and revealing the hurts, pain and healing you are experiencing. I’m so thankful for the privilege we had to walk some of this journey with you. It changed the way I see and do life forever. I love you, sweet mommy.

    • Jennifer Dawn
      Jennifer Dawn October 14, 2014 at 1:11 am #

      Lynn, thank you for these words of encouragement! We are honored to have had you and Paul as part of our support system through some of those difficult days. Your sweet comment means so much to me!

  8. Kara October 13, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    So, so good. Support is so life-changing!

  9. JDaniel4's Mom October 13, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

    What an amazing post! My mom has pancreatic cancer. She has less than a year to live. It has turned our lives upside down. Thank you so much for these wonderful tips.

    • Natalie
      Natalie October 13, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

      Praying for your family friend!

    • Jennifer Dawn
      Jennifer Dawn October 14, 2014 at 1:15 am #

      I am truly sorry to hear that. I have walked that road, so I truly know what you are going through. Pancreatic is such an ugly cancer. I will be praying for you, your mom, and your family! I’ve already written you on my prayer list. I’m glad you found some encouragement in this post.

  10. Katherine Birkbeck
    Katherine Birkbeck July 13, 2016 at 3:05 pm #

    Beautiful writing!

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