How it’s like to lose a parent when you’re a parent of small children

I barely have time to grieve. My hands are almost always full with the tasks I need to fulfill for my children, the house is often noisy, I barely hear myself breathe. I live each day wishing my kids will go to bed early so I can have time to cry at night.

The night before my mama died I had to sneak out of the hospital as she was sleeping. I had to drive back home and crawl my way beside my children, the youngest of which was still breast feeding then. I felt like I was being pulled apart in different directions, the pressures of loving a sick parent and tending to two young children at times were too much.

I was working full time then, and would often rush home, tend to my kids, prepare food for my mother and rush to the hospital. En route I would cry while driving. I was beyond exhausted, I felt like every part of my being was exhausted. But I had no choice, I love my children and I love my mother. I had to muster enough energy to be there for my children and be available for my mother all while keeping a full-time job.

The day my mother died I wanted to  follow her to the other side and get her back. But I have two young children who need me. Who depend on me, who look up to me. Who need me to carry on.

The morning after my mom died I remember walking out of the car and into the parking lot of the memorial place where they had prepared my mother’s body. I was carrying clothes she was to wear–a long white gown, some stockings, and underwear.

I could feel the heat of the sun piercing through my skin, and the debilitating grief piercing through my heart. I wanted to sit on the floor and cry and scream. But I had a mother waiting in the morgue. I had children waiting for me to get back to them. I remember closing my eyes and willing my feet to take the steps towards the the room where they were preparing her.

I felt the force clutch my insides as I looked at my mother–cold, quiet, and lifeless. I wanted to rush out of the building and scream.  But I knew that she was depending on me that time. She needed me to be there to tend to the arrangements. And I know she wouldn’t want me losing it because I have children.

After a year of losing her I still find myself stiffling my cries. Grief comes and goes when you least expect it, and sometimes when it hits you it does in front of other people, even my little kids. And because I don’t want to worry them I stiffle my cries,  I resist the urge to bawl in front of them.

They need to have a normal, happy life with a mother who keeps the house running properly, who takes care of them, plays with them all day as if nothing’s wrong, everything’s peachy. Life is beautiful and everything’s alright.

I put out a strong front, carry on with my life, take care of my kids as if nothing’s wrong but what my children don’t see is the grief clutching and twisting my insides. The pain I try to hide from them because I don’t want to worry them. They are too young to see this anguish.

When I lost my mother I felt a part of me die with her, and so now I wake up each morning with the remaining parts of me and carry on for my children. I’m broken, with so many parts missing, but I force myself to function for the love of my children.Because they need me.

At night after putting my kids to bed, I sneak out of the room to have a cup of hot chocolate in the kitchen. I savor the sound of a quiet house, I often look at pictures of my mother, and welcome my grief. During these precious hours at night I allow myself to grieve, it hits me like the pain you feel when you peel the bandage off a fresh wound. It slowly creeps in, until you feel the sting, and then the pain starts rushing in–throbing, exploding, overwhelming–and then I cry. I bawl, in the dark, alone, while my kids are sleeping. It’s the only time I get to fully feel the loss, the grief.

I still long to walk alone by a beach though. Feel the water drown my feet, the sun touch my skin. I will look up at the sky and think, think about my mother, allow myself to miss her, grieve losing her. I will cry alone, and savor the feeling. Drain as much sadness as I can. Write how I feel in a journal as I look out into the ocean and feel my pain float away.

But right now I have children who need me. I have kids who depend on me, who need me to carry on and run a normal household. I have a million and one things to do. For now my grieving can wait. For now I’ll just carry on with whatever is still left of me. For now I’ll just grieve and cry at night when the house is quiet and my children are asleep.

Author: Loraine Balita-Centeno

I'm a Manila based journalist who's been working in the industry for 12 years. I've written pieces for newspapers and magazines based in Manila and some abroad. I'm a work-at-home-mom of two so I spend my days writing or editing with a toddler clamped around one leg and a pre-schooler asking me questions every 10 minutes.

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