My daughters were just 6, 4, and 2 when my Dad passed away unexpectedly three years ago. In the weeks immediately after his death, life didn’t slow down for me to grieve him; there was homework to do, sick kids to take to the doctor, dinners to fix, and baths to give.
Yet in the quiet moments when I was driving, when no one was climbing on me or needing things, I found the time and space I needed to settle into my sadness. And so, each morning when I drove my oldest daughter to school, I would drive while tears silently streamed down my face. Often, my girls would see me in the rearview mirror and ask, “are you sad about Grandpa? Do you miss Grandpa?” I would nod or simply whisper in reply: “yes. I am very sad. I miss him so much. But I will be okay.”
In those moments, where my eyes were puffy and streaked with mascara, I think that my daughters saw me as more than their Mom. They saw me as a person trying to navigate through waves of unbearable grief while also carrying on with the day-to-day business of living life. They saw me for what I am: vulnerable, honest, and human.
I know I make plenty of mistakes as a parent, but I think there’s one thing I’m doing right: teaching my kids it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to miss the person you’ve lost.
We live in an age of parenting where want to fix things. We want our children to be happy. Yet when our kids lose a loved one, we cannot fix things for them. We cannot make them better. We can, however, show them how to grieve through our example. And that is why I let them see me cry.
My hope is that, by watching me, my kids will learn that there is no quick fix for grieving. I tell them that it is normal to feel sad and to miss the person that we've lost too soon. We talk about how it is hard, and it is sad, and that's okay. Yet we also spend time celebrating our departed loved one by talking about what made that person special and what we loved about them. I know, and they know, that there are no magic words that erase the sadness. Instead, there is only time and space to allow them to grieve and remember what has been lost.
So when we find ourselves saying goodbye to a loved one, whether it's a beloved former coach or an extended family member—I hug my kids tight and say: “it’s okay to feel sad. I know you loved them.” And I let them see me cry.