Grieving My Best Friend with My Children Taught Them an Important Lesson

mother and son hugging on the beach iStock

“Rebecca, are you there? Oh Rebecca, hi! I just wanted to tell you, my mom loves you so much, and everybody misses you here.”

I overheard my three-year-old daughter talking on her toy cell phone in the back seat while I drove us home from a quick Target run. My best friend, Rebecca, had passed away earlier that year after years of living with and getting treatment for breast cancer. She had been my ride-or-die daily life friend, my first phone call in time of need, the one who could look into my soul, see all of me, and still love me.

The way I wanted to work through my grief was by talking about it, by talking about her. I told stories, I wrote down everything I could remember in my journal, and I rummaged through old mementos to find cards she had written me so I could frame them and hang them on the wall. I printed out pictures of her and stuck them all over the house, lighting a candle on my desk while I worked so that I could feel her near.

Related: I Didn’t Hide My Cancer Diagnosis from My Kids

I grieved in front of my three young kids—I had no choice. For months, I felt like I was drowning in an ocean of grief. I would try to tread above it until I finally couldn’t sustain the effort, and it took me under for days (or even a week) at a time. I often went about my daily tasks with tears running down my cheeks.

One afternoon, my kids were playing in the living room, while I quietly cried on the couch. My older son, then six, noticed first. He and his sister are big-time feelers and quite emotive. He came over and asked what was wrong. I told him I missed Rebecca. All of a sudden, he burst into tears. I asked him why, and he sobbed, “I miss Miles!” Miles is the name of our dog who died three years ago.

Then my daughter joined the fun. She also started crying, saying, “I miss grandma!” Grandma is alive and well and lives five minutes down the road.

Not to be left out, my younger son, who does not have the same emotional range, came over and unleashed the fakest-sounding crocodile tears. When I asked him why he was crying, he said, “I want to go to the playground!”

We all burst out laughing. My kids all piled close to me, and we held each other, the weight of their bodies and their sweet voices bringing me comfort.

It’s been close to two years now since Rebecca died, and she’s still a household name for us, and always will be. I painted my now-five-year-old daughter’s nails last night, and she asked me to paint them “Rebecca Red”—the color of polish that Rebecca wore all the time. On what would have been Rebecca’s 39th birthday, I had some of her words tattooed on my wrist in her handwriting. I often run my fingers over it and think of my love for her, feeling like the tattoo is as natural as a scar—an external reminder of my internal pain.

My grief used to feel like I was drowning in the ocean; now it feels more like the tide coming in. Almost imperceptible if you’re not paying attention, and then a wave comes up high and sweeps through everything.

Sharing my grief with my kids helped them have space to process their thoughts and feelings around the loss, and other everyday losses, too. Together we can hold hands and move higher on the beach to observe the tide, noticing it coming in yet feeling safe because we are together.


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