Motherhood & Words

On Wednesday afternoon, when Donny and the girls got home, I could tell something was wrong. Stella was holding back tears.

“What’s wrong?” I asked leaning down.

“Her friend’s mom died,” Zoë stated matter-of-factly.

“What?” I asked, looking up.

“She did,” Zoë said loudly, her eyes wide.

Donny nodded, his lips pursed.

Stella handed me the note from her school. The mother of Stella’s friend—her classroom buddy—had died suddenly, inexplicably. (Stella’s class is a 1st– 3rd grade classroom, and all first graders are matched with an older buddy to help them along, encourage them.)

“Oh honey,” I said, sitting down on the love-seat on the porch, opening my arms to my daughter, feeling like I was punched in the gut. “I’m so sorry.”

The tears came then, and didn’t stop for a long time. “Are you sad for your friend?”

Stella nodded. “I just feel so bad for her, Mom. I just feel so sad for her.”

I rubbed her back, breathed in the scent of leaves in her hair. “I know, Honey. It’s so, so sad.”

Finally, I asked her whether she was worried that might happen to me. I was, after all, the same age as her friend’s mother: 40 years old. She hugged me more tightly, wouldn’t let go, as if she could somehow keep me safe, keep us safe.

I brushed the hair from her eyes. “This is very unusual,” I said. And though I can’t promise this, I said, “I want you to know that I’m not going anywhere.”

“But it happens every three years,” she said, weeping. I had almost forgotten that when Stella was in first grade, her third-grade buddy had also lost her mother suddenly.

“It’s just not fair,” she said then, and I hugged her more tightly.

“I know, sweetie.”

We went out trick or treating later that night, and there were more tears.  On Thursday she went to school with a heavy heart, and I sat at home, finishing edits on the memoir, my own heart breaking for her friend and her friend’s family.

Stella and I went to the visitation on Thursday night. Stella’s friend was thrilled to see her, ran up and gave her a big hug. I was so glad we went. But the evening was full of raw grief. Stella sat nervously next to me as family members shared memories, cried, laughed a little. When we finally got back in our car, the tears she had been holding in for the last hour spilled out. Why hadn’t her friend been crying? Was so this so much sadder than when Great-Gahgee died?

Great- Gahgee, my grandpa, Spencer, died a year and a half ago. There were tears at his memorial service, certainly, but there was also a lot of laughter. We were celebrating his long—102 years!—life. I explained that it’s different when someone dies too young, when they aren’t done living. “Great-Gahgee decided it was time to go. He made that choice, and he’d had an amazing, long life.”

Bedtime was rough that night, her sadness for her friend consuming her. I held her tightly. We talked about how her friend’s emotions might go up and down, how she might be really sad some days, but not others. We talked about how unfair it was.

My job is to just to be here for my daughter, to be patient with her as she works her way through her own sadness and fear. I’ll hold her tight and talk and listen and let her know it’s okay to cry. We’ll make a meal for her friend’s family. We’ll invite her friend for a play date. And each night, I’ll hold my daughter close and tell her how much I love her, how proud I am of the kind of friend she is. And I hope that’s enough.




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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. kristen on November 5, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Oh, Kate… This is heartbreaking. I’m so sorry. Sending love, k

    • Kate on November 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm

      Thank you, Kristen!! I appreciate it. Missing you!!

  2. jenn on November 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    wow… i am in tears. hugs to you and stella and her friend.

    • Kate on November 5, 2012 at 7:10 pm

      Thank you, Jenn. We’ve had lots of tears this last week, and every time I think of Stella’s friend (and her sister), I feel sick to my stomach.

  3. Sue on November 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    I am crying as I read this. Never right for parents and kids to be torn apart so soon. My son at bedtime last night begged me, just because he had a rough day, “I don’t want you to go anywhere.” And all we can do is hope and pray we don’t.

    • Kate on November 5, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      Thank you, Sue! We so want to guarantee our presence, don’t we? But we can’t, which is heartbreaking. Hugs to you!!

  4. Stacey on November 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    Oh Kate… Your poor sweet Stella. Sending along hugs to all.

    • Kate on November 5, 2012 at 7:08 pm

      Thank you, Stacey. Her friend was back at school today–teary on and off–but Stella seemed okay.

  5. Angie Mizzell on November 5, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    That’s what we all hope, perhaps, that what we give our children is enough. But it’s unsettling when they realize that yes, even we can die. They can die. Today Dillon asked me, “Do you know babies can die when they are still in their mom’s belly?” I always imagined that I would answer questions like these with honest, age appropriate answers, and I suppose I am, but I just don’t feel ready. These questions and these realities are coming too quickly. Too soon.

    • Kate on November 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      Thank you so much, Angie. I know you and your kids are dealing with this issue, as well. Dillon breaks my heart! Sending a hug!


  6. Galit Breen on November 5, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    I’m so sad to read this. For you, your daughter, her friend, their family.

    This is such an intense fall – so many emotions.

    I’m glad you were there to hold her tight. Sometimes that’s all we’ve got to give, isn’t it?

    {One foot in front of the other.}

    • Kate on November 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      It IS an intense fall, isn’t it? It’s all we can do to put one foot in front of the other and stumble along.

  7. Marilyn Bousquin on November 6, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Hello, dear Kate. This is such a powerful post. Gets right to the heart of our most vulnerable spots, when life makes no sense, and yet we are enough, aren’t we? Because being there for our young ones, even when we are speechless, is what love is. I think. So beautiful and sad. Thanks for sharing. xo, Marilyn

    • Kate on November 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm

      Thank you, Marilyn dear. xoxox

  8. Andrea on November 6, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Oh, what a sweet, sensitive girl she is. You must be so proud. And what a loving, supportive mama you are.

    I say, enough with people dying young, already. Last week a mother/step-mother to six kids at my kids’ school died at age 28. So sad, and such bullsh*t. Not the way the world should operate.

    • Kate on November 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      Oh that is devastating, Andrea. 28! It is definitely NOT the way the world should operate.

      And my Stella is so sweet and sensitive (unless she beating up her sister).

      Thanks for these words!

  9. abbie foster on November 6, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    thanks for sharing a real story that doesn’t have a happy ending. It is real life and I am so sad that Stella and her friend have to go through any pain at such a young age.. But i bet it will make them more compassionate and understanding people, full of empathy and love!

    • Kate on November 6, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      Thanks, Abbie. It’s heartbreaking.

  10. Carin on November 17, 2012 at 2:21 am

    Heart breaking! I feel for you and your daughter and her friend. I nearly died 18 months ago from a burst appendix and have had to deal with the aftermath ever since. You’d love to shield them from this possibility, tell them you’ll always be there, but of course nobody can promise such a thing. My daughter still gets angry/ panicked if I feel unwell, even if I’m just exhausted from looking after the kids, but we take it one day at a time. Patience and loving understanding goes a long way. Healing hugs to you and your daughter.

    • Kate on November 26, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      Oh Carin, how terrifying! I’m so glad you made it through the ordeal, but it sounds like it’s not over. Thinking of you and hoping for continued healing. xo Kate

  11. Janine Kovac on December 2, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Ohhhhhhhh. So sad to hear this. My father-in-law passed away in May, and our preschool teacher sent us home with this book: Why Dinorsaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death.

    It’s by Marc Brown (of the Arthur series). I found it to be a comforting way to say, “Death is hard to understand and it makes us feel sad and mad and lots of other things.” It’s very thorough, including ways to help others who have had someone close to them die and suggestions as to how to remember our lost loved ones.

    • Kate on December 3, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Oh Janine, thank you for the recommendation! I’ll definitely check this out. Stella is doing okay, and her friend seems to be hanging in there, though I’m sure things are still really hard and will be for a long time.