I can’t believe you’re not here: grief + motherhood

It’s been 5 years since my dad has passed which happens to exactly mirror my journey as a mother.

We found out we were pregnant with Keener at the exact same time my dad died. Therefore, my initial stages of grief started pregnant, a journey that was filled with a grief of its own. Finding out I was finally pregnant was an absolute joy and blessing, coupled with the most profound loss and sadness I have ever experienced. It all converged at the same time.

Now, 5 years later, it’s hard to believe how different September 5, 2015 and September 5, 2020 looked – in just about every way.

Not many of us are strangers to loss. As my practical and witty maternal grandfather said, “No one’s made it out of this world alive!” Oddly enough, I think about this all the time. He’s absolutely right. Every living thing – plant, bee and yes, person – won’t make it out of this world alive. However, when that time came for my dad, nothing could have prepared me. Also oddly enough, there are shared sentiments with bringing life into this earth — nothing could have prepared me. No birthing class, conversation, or book could have fully prepared me for raising a small human.

The passing of time

Time is a funny thing. It is one of the few constants in life yet its passing feels incredibly uneven. I feel like I have been a mother my entire life. I feel like my dad has been gone for 20 years but also maybe a week. One thing that is incredibly painful to wrap my head around is that my dad has been gone for the exact duration of this new phase of my life – motherhood.

Anyone who has lost a significant person can probably relate. The thought how are you not here for this? strikes. Sometimes it strikes hard like lightening. Other times its an intense longing. But every time, it just doesn’t seem possible. And yet it is my reality.

Some moments and some days it is easier to accept than others. In the last 5 years, I have been surprised by the moments that have been the hardest. Of course major life events have been difficult, but the harder moments have been the ones I didn’t see coming. A smell, a wonderful memory of my dad, and most often when I’m in nature. Weeding in the yard, looking out at the vastness of the ocean, and without fail when I am in the mountains. They were my dad’s favorite. On one ski run, I can find myself both sobbing and laughing at the same time.

Emotional intelligence

If you’ve been following along for a while, you will know that emotional intelligence is my jam. Permission to Feel and Emotional Agility are books I flew through with a pen and highlighter in hand. Resilience, feelings, and emotions fascinate me.

The more I have learned about emotions — my own in particular — the better equipped I have gotten at helping my kids and students navigate theirs. As I heard on a podcast yesterday, Dr. Becky Bailey said, “We cannot teach children what we don’t know.” Self regulation is hard. Every day I feel the challenges of self regulation and yet I hear the shark music play when my own kids aren’t exhibiting self regulation skills themselves. I’m such a hypocrite!

My dad was the most incredible man. My mom always describes him as having the patience of Job, who remained steadfast to God in spite of incredible setbacks. In other words, the model of resilience, which is the skill I want for myself and my children more than anything else. Resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

So here’s to you dad, Mr. Resilient. Thank you for living your life as a model of what patience and resilience looks like. I needed it yesterday morning as much as ever as the kids came in to watch Saturday morning cartoons, and I was laying there crying. I told them I was feeling sad because I missed you. That you went to heaven this day 5 years ago. Keener gave me a hug and Grace gave a small chuckle, not sure how to help her sad mama. After deciding on watching Robocar Poli on Netflix, I snuggled my two oldest and felt all the feels. I channeled you and reminded myself of the two things that I am always reminding my kids: feelings come and go, and I can do hard things.

18 comments

  1. What a beautiful reflection, Jenny. Claude’s picture popped up on my FB feed today as a memory from our trip to India. Bill always describes Claude as “steady in the water.” He left a big whole in a lot of hearts.

  2. Jenny, thank you for sharing this heart felt, emotional post. We miss your dad immensely. Georgia got her driving permit last week and I was wishing he was around to teach her how to drive like he did Ben…he was so calm and patient…

  3. Wow! You are an inspiration! The courage and strength that you, your sister and you mom show in walking through the pain of loosing him are a beautiful tribute his life and love.

  4. Jenny, What a lovely tribute to your dad on this important anniversary. As tragic as his death was, what a blessing that you and Katie and your mom had him as father and husband for as long as you did. Thinking of you all at this tender time of the year and holding you close to my heart. xo

  5. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt grief and tribute to your dad. It touched me so.
    f Heaven Had A Window
    © Kathy J Parenteau
    Published: June 2013
    If heaven had a window and God granted me a view
    of all the beauty it beholds, I’d only look for you.
    I’d listen for your laughter that was always music to me.
    Your beautiful hair and hazel eyes are what I’d wish most to see.
    If I could only view once more the smile that warmed my heart,
    I’d treasure that moment as long as I live and we must be apart.
    Here on earth I search for you and pray to God for signs,
    and every day that passes you’re still with me in my mind.
    I know you’re happy in heaven; you’ve earned your mansion indeed.
    I imagine your kitchen table and you waiting there for me.
    I love you and I miss you more than words can say,
    and what I wouldn’t give just to talk to you today.
    I hope that you can hear me and listen to my thoughts,
    and wherever this life takes me you know I’ve not forgotten
    that once upon a time I was blessed and loved, it’s true,
    and if heaven had a window I’d only look for you.

  6. Jenny, This moving, poignant, and loving tribute to your dad is the finest of gifts to your family, friends, and to yourself.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Jenny. I’m just one of the many, many people that your dad made feel special. I miss how he always thought and considered before he spoke. I knew he had listened carefully, considered and weighed his response, and then spoke truthfully. He was kind and generous and compassionate.
    Love and miss him. Love and miss all you guys.
    Again, thanks for bearing your heart- it was helpful to me tonight.

  8. Thanks Jenny, what great thoughts! We think about Claude all the time (have his picture up in our kitchen!). He was definitely an inspiration. Very calm but competitive too. A heck of a skier, baseball player, golfer, hunter, Entrepreneur and Success! We were very lucky to have shared him with you.

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