"I feel funny..." Helping Kids Process Grief.

“I feel funny.” This has been the catchall phrase that my oldest daughter uses to describe the way she feels, when she can’t pinpoint exactly how it is that she feels. She only knows that emotionally, she’s doesn’t really feel well. She feels “funny.” At one point, she drew out what feeling funny meant. She drew a picture of three faces, one sad, one mad, and one scared. I asked her what each of the three faces needed. She said one needed a glass of water, one needed a hug, and the other needed a kiss (translation-love). She has fears about me dying, about her dying, and sadness over her dad’s death… She just turned 5 years old, and although it’s been nearly 3 years since her father’s death, at each stage in her life, I have watched her process and integrate what the loss means to her.


I’ve learned that the most important and effective thing I can do is be a loving presence, there to listen without imposing my worry or guilt about her feelings (and therein lies the work for me)… I can reassure her that what she is experiencing is natural given the nature of what she has experienced. I let her know that she is not all alone in her fears and sadness, that these are universal experiences, and a part of grieving. And that all kids who have lost a parent in their life, will no doubt have lots of questions and fears about death, and sadness over the loss.  I’ve also found that creating time and space just to explore and understand her feelings has been really helpful. I answer questions about death as honestly and simply as I can (at an age appropriate level). I have a wonderful grief workbook called, Grief Encounter, by Shelley Gilbert, for children to do with their parents that has been an incredible resource. And for the past several weeks, we have been working on it on her days off from preschool, when her little sister is napping. Also, I encourage her to creatively express herself (what does "feeling funny" look like?), through the medium that she prefers most, ie drawing, painting, dancing, writing, so that she has a healthy outlet for her feelings and experiences.  I also encourage her to call on her daddy in heaven for guidance and support during the times when she misses him and feels sad. I also encourage her to pray for extra spiritual support, and as a part of her bedtime routine, I've gotten in to the practice of saying my own heartfelt prayers aloud to model what cultivating that spiritual relationship could look like. And I find it really helpful to process whatever grief arises within me in response to her feelings, this keeps me in a centered and healthy inner-space so I can best help her. And when I told her that there are groups of kids who meet to play and share their experiences (bereavement support groups), that have all lost a parent, she was so excited. She wanted to go right then and there! So, I'll be checking into that for her next. And my youngest daughter who is nearly 2 ½ is just now beginning to ask questions about her daddy, so I'll just take it as it comes with each little one.


And whenever I feel stuck in how to respond to my daughter when she shares her grief, I ask myself how I would like someone to respond to me if I were experiencing fears, sadness, or anger over a death. I would appreciate emotional validation, hugs, love, reassurance, and a chance to talk about and understand my feelings so that I don’t feel lonely or stuck in them. And I trust that this is my path, this is her path, and that we will both grow through it together.

I wrote this blog almost one year ago, and am happy to share that Ava has successfully integrated the grief that she experienced so heavily last year. The methods that I describe in this blog really worked for our family!

The Miracle of Birth

When my sister-in-law and my brother asked me to be present for the labor and delivery of their son, I was over-joyed, and my answer was an immediate YES! I had months to prepare for my 7 hour journey to San Francisco when the time came, and I received the call that my sister-in-law was in labor. The preparation included weaning my daughter, who by the time of the birth would be 2 years and 7 months. I felt that she would be ready for that in the ensuing months. The other part of preparation included what leaving my kids overnight for the first time EVER would entail. In all of Ava’s 5 ½ years of life, I had not yet left her overnight! And honestly, the birth seemed like the perfect first time to do it, attending a birth was like a dream! And so in the months leading up to baby Isa’s birth, I weaned Amelie, I talked to Ava about what 3 nights without me would look like, and coordinated the babysitting schedule with both my mother-in-law and my mom. My sister-in-law ended up having to schedule an induction because she had gone the allotted number of days passed her due date that the hospital allowed. So when that day arrived, I left in the wee hours of the morning, kissed my kids good-bye and was on my way!


I knew that my kids were in good hands, so I fully relaxed and eased into my drive up north. I played all the music I loved, I chatted on the phone with friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while, I cried thinking about my own births and Mitch's absence, and I breathed in each hour of that beautiful drive. I felt free and empowered in a way I hadn’t experienced in a very long time.


I arrived at the hospital in plenty of time. I breathed with my sister-in-law, I massaged her feet with lavender oil, and I danced with her and my brother to Drake and their other favorites. I filled the Jacuzzi tub in their private hospital room as the labor became more intense, and encouraged my brother to get in the tub with my sister-in-law to offer support and grounding through the pain. After many hours, pain, and pressure from the Dr, my sister-in-law chose to move the labor along with modern medicinal help; an epidural and Pitocin. She worried she was letting me down by deviating away from her birthing plan, but I reassured her how strong I thought she was, and that in the end, only she knew what was best for her and her baby. It was her journey, it was her story, and I was just happy to be witness to the miracle of it all. I crashed out at my sister-in-law’s parents house in the wee hours of the night while the epidural and Pitocin sped up labor and allowed her to sleep.

I received the call from my brother in early hours of the morning that mama was 8 cm dialated and that it was getting close to delivery. I rushed back to the hospital and in the next few hours, baby was born. In the hour my sister-in-law pushed, my brother bent one of her legs and pushed and I held the other as she breathed into each push and bore down deep. I watched my nephew make his way out of the birthing canal. It was the most miraculous sight I had ever seen. My sister-in-law had never looked so beautiful to me. I cried with her as we all gazed upon him for the first time.


I stayed another two nights to help with the baby, to offer support to my brother and my sister-in-law, and knew my kids were in good hands. I think in was great for my kids to realize how cared and supported they are by others, and to realize that when I go away, I come back. All three of us got to experience a new kind of freedom, and appreciation for one another.


I will be forever grateful that I was present for the birth of my nephew! I was invited into one of the most intimate and precious moments of life, and I was able to be there as support and encouragement for my sister-in-law and my brother. I was able to witness their birth story, and see their sweet baby take his first breaths. Life is truly a miracle.


Journal Prompting:

Is there any part of your birthing story that needs forgiving or compassion?

Does your story need to be told in order to honor your experience and your baby’s entrance into the world?


A Birdie Funeral

Never in my life have so many dead animals showed up inside my house before… I’ve lived with cats my entire life, and until this year have never had them bring in so many (if any) deceased little critters, including mice, birds, and lizards… And so me and my daughters had another little funeral today for a baby bird that we found on our living room floor. I let the girls hold the bird, they wanted to, and so I let them. Perhaps in holding death, it takes away some of the fear of death, some of the scariness… Which as of lately for my 5 year old, has been the feeling around death, fear. And so we said prayers for the little bird, we asked our daddy in heaven to take good care of the little birdie, we prayed the bird mommy would be comforted. And then we buried the bird, and put flowers on top of its grave. And so perhaps in finding all of these kitty “presents”, it allows death into our lives in a very tangible, non-threatening, sort of way. It allows us to handle death, comfort the dead with our prayers and holding, and offer prayers to their little families. It allows us to participate in peaceful death rituals, so that perhaps when they think about the death of their own father, they’ll know death isn’t so much scary as it is sad, and that we can offer our prayers, our love, and our holding, and find some sort of peace in knowing that this is simply a part of what it means to live.

"I think God thinks that's funny..."

I overheard Ava telling a little girl at the library that her daddy died. I couldn’t hear the response from the little girl, but can only imagine through Ava’s response that it must have been sadness or shock, because here’s what Ava said in a soothing, and loving tone, “It’s ok, everybody dies, it was just his time.”

So, a few days later, I asked her if hearing people’s responses to her daddy’s death was hard… She said it was. I told her that so many people are afraid to die, and that they’re afraid to die because they have forgotten that they have a spirit. Well, she thought that was quite amusing, and said, “ I think God thinks that’s funny. And I think Daddy thinks that’s funny too.” And so it is.

A week in generosity...

This past week, our intention for the week was generosity. Generosity was the intention that my four year old daughter, Ava, chose. And so the week began, and I found myself overly correcting her, critiquing her for the ways she was not being generous…. “Not sharing? Well, that’s not being very generous, right?” After a few minutes of this, I quickly realized that if I kept on going about it this way, it wouldn’t be fun for either of us, and the lessons in generosity would be lost. And so I decided to live and breathe and embody generosity as much as I could throughout my week and teach my daughter through example. And so as I started letting generosity flow in and out of my day, naturally it began to flow in and out of conversations I had with my daughter. I began noticing ways in which I was not being generous, ways that I had not noticed before. And the beautiful thing was that with that awareness, opportunities were created to begin to cultivate that quality more deeply. I picked up my sister-in-law from the airport in Long Beach, an hour and half away, and instead of dreading it, complaining about it, I embraced it, took it as a opportunity to practice being more generous with my time, and with my love. And I volunteered to drop her off at the end of her trip as well. I also volunteered to offer my room to my grandfather during his planned visit the following month, something that I may not have offered before. And I noticed that Ava grabbed toys out of her baby sister’s hands much less often. There was less screaming and more sharing, and that was without micro-managing generosity throughout Ava’s week. Simply setting the intention, and having conversations was good enough. And now, for this week’s intention, patience… Stay tuned. :)

A Widow's Journey Through Parenting, Two Years Later...


There’s been some sadness under the surface… just out of my awareness… too busy, too healed to get sad… But then today, out for a walk with Ava and Amelie and we met some of our neighbors, a young couple, around my age, so happy, and somehow I mentioned Mitch, and that he died. And then I thought, why did I just bring that up with complete strangers? Cause as I walked away I nearly started crying, and I haven’t cried over Mitch in a while… I knew I needed to come back to my sadness after the girls went to sleep for the night, and so that brings me to the present moment. Here I am writing about it, processing it, cause I know by now that feelings don’t just go away because we are asleep to them… Sadness. I watched a few videos of Mitch tonight, just to hear his voice, see him again in action. And it hit me, as time moves along, Ava’s memories are getting farther and farther away from her consciousness. I asked her the other day if she remembered her daddy or if she just remembered him through pictures, and she shook her head no that she didn’t remember him, but that yes she remembered him through the pictures… Oh, this is where the sadness has been. Even as I type the words, as they spill out onto the screen, tears, and there haven’t been tears in a while. She doesn’t remember him anymore, and Amelie never even met him. And he was such an awesome guy. They’ll never really know how much I loved him apart from the way I talk about him, the stories that they hear, or the pictures that they see. And that’s what’s been hurting my heart. Ahhh, the tension in the back of my heart has softened, I understand why I just “brought it up” with that younger couple this evening… these feelings needed witness, they needed moving. They needed release. I told Ava a few times over these past two years that when the time was right, a loving man would come into our lives that would do all the things that a daddy would do. Her eyes lit up, she wanted to meet him immediately… I do want that for my little girls. I want them to have a dad. I’m focused now on building my business and my financial platform, fully healing from my broken heart, and being mom and dad to the girls, but when the time is right, me, Ava, and Amelie will fall in love with a very special man, someone that would be Mitch-approved. A lovely vision indeed. And so for now and for always, I’ll tell Ava stories about Mitch, the adventures, the love. She and Amelie will always know how loved they were by their daddy.

"Where do we go when we die?" Answering the questions kids ask.

.“I don't want to die,” “I don't want you to die,” “I'm scared to die,” “Can I take my stuffed puppy with me when I die? I think Amelie will take her favorite blankie,” “I miss daddy.” The latest questions and conversations from my nearly four year old daughter. Death has become something very real in our family. It has been nearly two years since my husband died and my daughter's understanding of what it means to die changes as she gets older. In the beginning, I explained death through the spiritual lens only. Daddy is free as a bird now, he's like an angel watching over you, available to you at all times in spirit. While also being real about how sad those of us feel who are left behind, who also feel his physical absence. No daddy to hug, go on dates with, cuddle with... And then explaining that death is beautiful, we are completely free, returning to the place we left before we were born, pure love, pure light, peace, and joy. Pure God. “I can't wait to die,” she says after I explain the beauty in the transition to death. Hold on, I tell her, there is much beauty and purpose we have here on Earth before we die. And I tell her I feel like I'm not going to die until I'm old, which is truly how I feel, but then I also tell her that none of us die until it's our time, until our spirit is ready. She seems satisfied with these answers. But death is on her mind. I leave the door open for conversation. At such a tender age, feeling her way through understanding the very real questions that all of us have about what it means to live and what it means to die. To live with this truth of both our immortal and mortal reality, well, I think it helps us live more fully, with greater meaning. These are the questions people have been asking since the beginning of time... As we move through our own fears about death, we will be more prepared to answer these kinds of questions posed by our children from an honest, heartfelt space.


When someone offers advice or makes a remark that annoys the heck out of you...

What to do when someone offers advice or makes a remark that annoys the heck out of you, or triggers feelings of anger, or insecurity? Get to the heart of the issue... it's more about what was said than about the person who said it, and even more about what feelings are stirred up within ourselves in response to what was said. So, the challenge? Before immediately reacting to what was said with a sarcastic remark, angry silence, or outright combative stance, sit with what was said, internally sit with the feelings associated with what was just said. For example, I shared with a certain someone in my life about Ava's latest trend of going into her bedroom and slamming the door when she's angry. The response I received to my share went something like this, “she's only 3 years old, did you do that when you were 3 years old? She needs to learn what is acceptable behavior. I hope you don't mind me offering my advice.” My internal response to this was not a good one. So, instead of responding immediately to the remark in anger or annoyance (it was via email), I sat with the feelings that it stirred up inside of me, as much as I didn't want to. As uncomfortable as it was to sit with the feelings, feelings that I felt in the pit of my stomach, I realized a few things. Those remarks stirred up fears within me of not being a good enough parent, that I should be doing something other than what I'm actually doing. And that there is something “wrong” with my daughter. So, where to go from there? First, reassure myself that I am a perfect parent for my child, and that on some level we both chose each other. Second, realize that my daughter is imperfectly perfect (as we all are), and that with time, compassion, and creativity, we will figure out how to how to channel anger and frustration in healthy ways. And third, see what is positive about the situation; she is clearly embracing a newfound sense of independence in going into her room and slamming her door and learning how to take time-outs for herself (yes, we can work on the slamming part, but that's okay), and that she feels secure enough in my love for her that she is able to express big, “negative” emotions such as her anger. And finally, offer myself some grace, this is new for both of us and we both need time to figure it out, and that is my right as a parent. And in getting to the heart of this situation, which actually had nothing to do with the other person other than she helped illuminate some areas of myself that needed healing, I was able to release the feelings of annoyance and insecurity that were revealed. And so how did I respond to her advice? In short, that Ava and I would work through it together like we always did, and that if I needed advice, I would definitely ask, that she needn't worry, and that I loved her. And she responded oh so kindly. Relationship crisis averted, a healthy and loving boundary set, and a chance to offer myself some extra love and reassurance, something that we all need from time to time.

Helping Kids Move Through Painful Feelings

I noticed my three year old daughter, Ava, acting out her anger, her frustration, her sadness, unable to fully articulate or perhaps even understand what is was she was feeling. I first noticed this acting out as we started spending more time with her friend and her friend's family... As Ava began taking a liking to her friend's father, she began to talk about her own missing physical daddy more often, and then began to get angry with her friend. It didn't seem fair that her friend had a daddy, and she didn't (what I observed and helped her articulate)... And so my job, to take notice, to create space where she could be free to feel without fear of being “too much,” create healthy and creative outlets (art, dance, play) for her feelings, to create an open dialogue with her to help her understand her feelings without shame, and with a lot of love. The only boundary was to be kind toward others, so that even though she was processing painful feelings, she was not hurting her friends in the process. And interestingly, for the longest time, she was afraid of all darkness in her kid movies, all of the bad guys in the Disney movies became a source of anxiety, and she preferred to simply not watch at all. And I noticed as she started acting out some of her own darkness, her own painful, “scary” feelings such as anger and frustration, and as I allowed her the safe space to do so, without telling her all the time to “be nice,” and that everything was “ok” if it wasn't, I noticed her fears and tolerance for the darker aspects of the characters in movies begin to shift. Perhaps as she was beginning to understand, embrace her own darker parts, she didn't have to feel so afraid or rejecting of the darker parts in others. All of a sudden she was drawing giants (previously feared) in her chalk pictures on the patio, and she wanted to watch, “How to Train Your Dragon,” a movie I cannot imagine her having chosen in the past (and by the way, is an awesome movie!). As we begin to illuminate, shine the light onto our darkness, we will be less likely to hate them or fear them when we see them show up in others.... And we can understand ourselves, infuse compassion into our struggle, and loosen the ropes we find ourselves entangled in. And as we find healthy ways to express these, move through these, we will keep growing and expanding beyond the limitations of our former shell, and begin to allow the shedding of a skin that no longer fits...

Weathering through the pain in order to fully enjoy the pleasure

In the still of the afternoon after both girls have gone down for their nap, I let myself feel the sadness that has been welling up inside me since Ava's birthday party two days ago. I tried to feel happy today for Ava, but then after we ate lunch, she asked me why I wasn't happy... I guess I wasn't fooling anyone... I think putting aside certain feelings and allowing release at the appropriate time (aka not at your daughters birthday party), is one thing, but it is quite another thing to try and pretend that all is happy when it isn't. And to be okay with that. To let that emotion arise, find healthy expression, so that you can move on, a bit lighter, a bit more healed. But trying to pretend to be happy, to see all the bright things, all the while ignoring the dark things, is just simply bound to drive a person mad. And so I tried to pretend all was well. Be strong to send Mitch only love and peace, but right now, I am feeling sad, I am sad for my daughter, I am sad for myself, I am sad for Mitch, and I am sad for my family. But, time has taught me that these feelings don't last forever, I was never completely consumed by a sadness I couldn't come up from... In fact, time has taught me when I've ignored real feelings, the painful ones, they just linger in my body, eat away at my soul until I cry, write, and simply let go, and stop trying so hard to be happy all the time. But, seeing as it's Ava's Birthday, I will work through some of this stagnant emotion that has been lingering, begging for expression now while both girls are napping, so that when they are awake, I can be fully present to the joy and excitement of my daughters very special day. And then I won't be faking it because I am acknowledging what has been lying below the surface, I will express it, and I will allow for more healing. I will weather through the pain so I can fully enjoy the pleasure that is sure to follow.

Inviting in a little pleasure amidst the chaos of parenting...

All of a sudden in the midst of what felt like pure chaos, a stream of awareness stopped me in the midst of it all; my toddler refusing to nap while peeing on the kitchen floor, tiny ants crowding the juice spill on top of the kitchen counter, my three month old sitting in her bouncy chair looking like she was on the verge of tears, the sound of rain pelting the roof, dishes in the sink, and a full bladder (so busy, literally putting off peeing)... And I began to laugh, I lightened up, gathered a little perspective as the stream cleared through the muck in my mind. Everything in it's seemingly chaotic state was okay, but if I went ahead and “lost it” in that moment, things would not have been so okay... My toddler and I cleaned up her accident on the floor, we hugged, and I told her it was okay (although there have been plenty of times that I have not been so cool, calm, and collected). I turned on my i-pod, turned up the speakers and started to dance, a complete letting go, feeling-the-music kind of dancing, it felt wonderful, and it was the pleasure I needed to invite into my day at that exact moment... My toddler joined in, my newborn watched in awe, and all was truly good, except for the fact that I almost peed my pants as I was jumping through the air... I decided to allow myself time for a bathroom break. And then I went ahead and worked in squats amidst the dancing and playing because I heard that helps strengthen the pelvic floor... Yes, all was good.

Life is messy...

I am practicing being mindful about letting my daughter Ava make messes, life is messy... Letting her take out all of her barbie clothes, dolls, dress up stuff, dr stuff, without cringing, already anxious about cleaning it all up, just letting her be, letting her play. Letting her get lost in her world of make-believe, and when she asks me to play, play, really play, without playing on my phone, thinking about other things that take me away from being present with her, just being there, all there, playing, really playing. Letting go a bit and leaving the dishes until after she goes to bed some times, and fully engaging with her, learning from my daughter the art of presence, the art that we as adults re-learn through a meditation practice. Little kids know how to do this intrinsically, their minds are with their bodies, they are all present, always eager to teach us what we have forgotten; that life is now, and as we awaken to that, we stop getting lost in the past or the future. We awaken to living life by being grateful for our relationships, really listening to others, being spontaneous, seeing the beauty all around us, realizing our potential and self-worth, and loving ourselves, others, and life. A few days ago when my daughter wanted to paint, instead of thinking about the messiness of it, I painted too, and then when we were finished painting, we cleaned up together. It was beautiful.