15 Jul 2011

How to help a daughter grieve {a more than five minutes post}

{Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Five Minute Friday. It’s just that my days in the Southern hemisphere are few and my memories and words in this place are many. So I need more than five minutes this week. But the link up for your beautiful five minute moments is below. Link up; I love to read along with you. The prompt this week is LOSS }

My mom died a week after my 18th birthday. She was sick from my 16th. What surprised me was how embarrassing my grief was. I was already awkward in my own skin – tall and gangly with bones where there should have been curves. Add a sick mother to all of this and sometimes a 16-year-old burns with a shy shame she doesn’t know how to put into words.

Sympathy can be awkward because what teenager wants to be put on the spot? There are relatives and well-meaning ladies from church who come over and try to teach you how to cook and keep house when all you want is for the tall blonde boy on the 50cc motorcycle to notice you.

Teachers either try to make excuses for your tardy homework or tell you that your “home problems” are no excuse for your annoying behavior in class. And still the cool girls flip their hair just so and you are tired of hearing about cancer and watching a parade of wigs as your mom’s hair falls out.

How does a daughter feel beautiful when the world she lives in is dying?

When there’s no time for shopping malls, skinny jeans or knee high boots – how does a daughter grow into her own skin when her mother is slowly disappearing out of hers? When people expect tears but consider temper tantrums impolite. How does a daughter find a way to exorcise her pain when punching walls is not something teenage girls are expected to do?

It doesn’t help to point out to them that young girls should smell fresh and beautiful when they’re sweating away their nights and days in a desperate inner wrestling match of worry. The deodorant can’t mask the dying that’s going on inside.

Daughters will grieve whether you give them room to or not and it will likely be un-pretty. They need room to be un-feminine and desperate without being told their choice in clothes, shoes or make up is inappropriate or unfashionable.

Grief comes in strange get ups sometimes.

Give them room to breathe without expectation or added responsibility. Give them a safe place to be sad. And more importantly, give them a safe place to be angry. Give them a father who places his own grief in proper perspective to theirs and manages his pain in a context that doesn’t hurt her.

If you want to offer her counseling be serious about it and find a counselor she is comfortable with. Don’t give up after a first awkward attempt – she needs someone to talk to who’s not you. And when you do try to peel back the layers of what she’s feeling, you will find it much easier going if you leave your own baggage at the door.

She knows you’re sad. She needs to know you’re sad. But she can’t carry your sadness for you.

Don’t try to drown her sorrow in all the books she should read or the Bible verses that should cure her. She’s on her own timetable, not yours. And maybe she needs movie nights and not church sometimes to help her process the cataclysmic shift in her world.

And as time passes, she will need people who remember her mother and share the ins and outs of who she was. Not just the good parts. But the difficult or ugly parts too. She needs a full memory, painted with honesty and sometimes a sense of humor.

She needs you and she doesn’t need you and she mostly hopes you’ll be patient as she figures out the difference.

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to grief.

There is only your individual story. This, two countries, a patient husband, two integral brothers, three redemptive children and eighteen years in between has been part of mine.

OK, are you ready? Give me your best five minutes {or more if you need them this week} for the prompt:


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{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    can you feel me, friend? can you feel me beside you, even though you are eighteen years into this journey without her, sitting patiently for any time you might need to say what isn’t pretty? i only understand an ounce of your eighteen years without her. i only understand as a grown woman who feels like a child without him. but i am always here to sit with you in any way you need to grieve. i just wanted to make sure you know that. i’m here.

    this was beautiful and i’m hoping everyone is reading and taking notes because you’ve just poured out wisdom.

    • 2
      thegypsymama says:

      I do, Sara. I really do. And same back to you friend, same right back to your beautiful, grieving heart.

  2. 3

    I adore you, Lisa Jo. Sending you love across the ocean by the dump truck full…

  3. 4

    I’m with Sara -this post is full of wisdom and grace! Thank you, as ever, for sharing with us.


  4. 5

    Oh my – sweetheart! This is so rich, so true, so filled with long-lived pain. And your poignant story triggered my own today. I often don’t even read what you’ve written until after I’ve posted so as not to be ‘unduly influenced!’ But oh my goodness – such powerful, honest writing. Thank you. I’m praying your words may have uncorked some things that need uncorking in me. God does those things through the words of others, you know. That’s one of the great and powerful gifts of this blogging thing – utterly amazing. God bless you, Lisa-Jo – bless you with comfort, with continued honest wrestling, with contentment even in that wrestling bit, with hope. Just…thank you.

  5. 6

    I don’t always comment. I know I should. But I had to tell you that I just adore you. I admire your honesty and your bravery. This post is beautiful, and heart-wrenching, and true, and difficult. I hope anyone going through, or dealing with someone who is going through something like this reads this. Grief is awkward- no matter the age- and indescribably personal and the only way to get through it is however we can. And that usually involves others. We can only hope the others in our lives are sweet and understanding and just let us be and feel however we need to. I hope you had more of these and less of the ones who didn’t understand all the facets of grief. I hope you still do as I’m sure you don’t outgrow missing your Mom. My love to you and yours.

    • 7
      thegypsymama says:

      Thank you, Katrina. And yes – I did have wonderful friends who gave me the gift of not having to tell them how I was doing. They just let me tag along, sit quiet in corners, and feel little tastes of normal.

  6. 8

    Beautiful post, Lisa Jo. We have something in common. I lost my mom 20 years ago yesterday to breast cancer. I was 18 years old too. I can relate to many of the feelings you had. I actually struggled with an eating disorder during the years she was sick and before she died. I couldn’t control what was happening to her so I fixated on excessive exercise and dieting. And you are so right. There is no manual about the “correct” way to grieve. But grief is a part of life and we shouldn’t pretend it is not there. Thank you!

  7. 10

    Oh, Lisa-Jo. This is just so beautiful. In a hard hurting way.

    Love you more now.

  8. 11

    What a beautifully honest and enlightening post

  9. 12

    There is freedom in this post…to face sorrow without a manual, formula or timeline.
    It was a good reminder for me.
    I needed that when our child died.
    On Wednesday wrote about a some little ones whose mama will die before the end of July.
    This was so good for me to read…because my tendency is to want to “fix” things…
    I know from experience, that just isn’t possible.
    I know this. Deep down know this. But still–
    The reality is–when people are hurting deeply. I sometimes still try…
    We aren’t close to their family as in daily-close, but…they are special to us…because of special connections.
    I want to remember this in what I say to the girls, write to the girls, pray for the girls.
    I needed this window into how their grief may be…
    Or not.
    But that it will be their timeline…their own wrestling…and they will need the freedom to walk through it at their own pace.
    And it is that way for anyone facing-living loss.

    • 13
      thegypsymama says:

      You are already a gift to them – caring so deeply about the hows of how to care for them. Thank you for that. It will mean a lot.

  10. 14

    Dear Lisa-Jo,
    You have shared your heart–thank-you. You are right, there is no one size fits all when it comes to grief.
    When my son died after battling leukemia I was immersed in grief. For tow years I was his mom/nurse managing chemo appointments and then living in the hospital when he went through bone marrow transplant. When we were told that everything had been done and Steven was terminally ill we cared for him at home. We thank God that Steven is at rest with the Lord.
    I thought that my girls (Steven’s twin and older sister) were okay. They were included in the hospital playroom and a special school during the bone marrow transplant. But as parent and child our experiences were vastly different and I was unable to see life through their eyes.
    Grief over those hard years has surfaced time and again. We have talked about it. The healing continues. One daughter chose to be a pediatric nurse and worked on a bone marrow transplant unit. She thought that she might be able to minister to the parents but she was at her best with the children. Eventually she was burnt out. She has moved on to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.
    The other daughter sought counselling when her son approached the age when Steven was diagnosed.
    The years of Steven’s illness were hard. Looking back I would have made sure that I had more one on one time with each daughter. We could have talked more sooner. But God is gracious and we continue to heal.

    • 15
      thegypsymama says:

      My mom died of leukemia. And grief is a hard journey for us all. What a gift that your daughters continue to look for ways to heal their hearts. And that you are sensitive to their journeys.

      Warmest wishes!

  11. 16

    Ah, Lisa-Jo, what to say?
    Just that I wish I could have been friends with you in those days. I would have made you macaroni and cheese, added extra butter, and sat on the kitchen floor deep into the night with you and your stories.
    I love the woman you grew into–and reading this, I love and ache with the girl you were then too.

  12. 18

    You fit so perfectly into your grace-radiant skin. I read your words and my heart hurts– love swelling at all the seams.

    I didn’t know that grieving girl at 18. (((Lisa-Jo))) I pray, Lord willing, I may walk with you all the roads to 81 and beyond… you the fashionable one with the big real southern hair and me the hick looking awkward but happy.

    I love you, sister.

    • 19
      thegypsymama says:

      Yes, let’s blow out 81 candles together one day, Ann. Wouldn’t that be a trip!! :)

  13. 20

    Lisa-Jo, this was auch a tender and beautiful post. Such a difficult thing and yet you found words and grace and beauty in the ashes of it. Thank you for this. I love your heart, your words, the way God moves in and through you. Bless you, friend. I weep.

  14. 21

    Lisa – Jo,
    I just read your Loss post, hours after writing my own!
    And your description of a daughters grieft hit home! My mother is alive and well (well…not really) today, but she was and is mentally ill … and I was required to grieve my childhood, according to her script … The behaviors and feeling of the daughter in your post resonated deeply in my spirit. Thank you …

    I hope you do not mind, and that it does not violate the 5 minute rules, but I am going to post another 5 minute friday, now, on my other blog … because what you just stirred in my spirit fits to this blog:


    I hope this is all ok.
    Thank you for your heart here today!

  15. 22

    What a post!
    I am your newest subscriber – felt connected to you being ex South African myself.
    Look forward to reading more posts.

    • 23
      thegypsymama says:

      Oh I love bumping into South Africans on line!! Thank you for saying hi :) It’s so lovely to meet you!!

  16. 24

    Lisa-Jo, thank you for prompting us and sharing your own journey. I was surprised by what came out this time . . . a story I didn’t think I was ready to share. Thank you!

  17. 25

    Oh, Lisa Jo. The heart spill here. This pain, this grief. My heart hurts, yet rejoices in how this fire has refined you into a sensitive woman full of beauty and grace.

  18. 26

    Dang, why do you have to pick such an intense topic for my first 5 minute friday?

  19. 27

    You said it. I especially appreciate the part about how sometimes church and Bible verses are the worst thing. I’ve met quite a few grown women who lost their moms in their 30s and had to stop going to church for a while. I’ve also been that woman.

  20. 28

    Oh Lisa Jo, you said it wonderfully today. I totally loved it. Thank you for your task. I am a little late this week, but I have honestly enjoyed sitting down and reading everyone’s perspectives.

  21. 29

    I remember your mom.
    My partner’s sister died a few months ago. Grief teaches many lessons.

  22. 30
    Marina D-K says:

    Thank you for this. My mother passed away in February and a close family friend who’s 12 her mother passed away a few weeks before in January. Both very suddenly and unexpectedly. This brought me to tears and I’ve shared it with my friend’s family. Thank you


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