Grandma and grandson enjoying each other's company with mom beside him


My Mom Passed Suddenly And I Didn’t Know How To Continue, Let Alone How To Tell My Son

Dec 7, 2020

"Grief" has been a word used excessively in 2020. Along with "unprecedented" and "uncertain." Words that can apply to the feelings surrounding a great loss. Feelings that can come to the surface, triggered by anything, that you try to hide while in the kitchen making pancakes for your children.

How do you function as a person, especially as a parent, when you're grieving?

"Even in the moment of my deepest despair ... I still had to think of the parenting logistics for my son."

In October, I lost my mother suddenly. Her illness was a slow burn into a rapid descent.

There was no time to breathe in between fielding DNR calls and frantic Google searches for medical and legal terminology. The world stopped. More specifically — mine did. I did not understand what it meant to live in a world in which my mother was not living. The biggest influence in my life for all the things I do, did and don’t do.

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At 6:03 a.m., I left Sunnybrook hospital for the last time. I was two hours away from having to send my son to Grade 3. The questions swirling in my mind came fast and furious — how and when do I tell him, how and will I send him to school that day and how will I function? Sadness and depression are medical states that single parents don’t often have the ability to be swallowed by. Someone still has to pack the lunches, check the homework, sign the COVID health passes. In my case, for eight years, that person has consistently been me.

"In the days that followed, the morning school routine was the only thing that would get me out of bed."

Even in the moment of my deepest despair — the wail that escaped my lips, the exact moment my heart broke — I still had to think of the parenting logistics for my son. It reminded me of every moment in which my first thought is him: will he be safe, will he remain healthy. It’s easy to build up resentment, but I’m so used to it, I take it as a means to protect me from spiraling into full sorrow. I’ve been very good at putting my feelings in a box, to be opened at a later date.

In the days that followed, the morning school routine was the only thing that would get me out of bed.

Friends checked up on us both — worried about the fragility of this happenening during a global pandemic that took one identity from me, decimating my business and career. This loss left me an orphan at 41. I’m hour to hour, I told them. It was the most truthful response I could give. "How is your son doing?" they asked. I was ashamed to say that I hadn’t yet told him. I did that for me more than him.

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I’ve spent the summer talking on TV and radio, and writing a lot about how to talk to children about race.

"No parent ever wants to be the cause of breaking their child’s heart, and when I finally told him Grandma was gone, I had done exactly that."

I was constantly advising parents to meet their children where they are and to skew the conversation to their age level. When asked if I’ve had “the talk” with my eight-year-old, I often said no. I may answer questions that have arisen with specific moments, but I did not want to steal his innocence. He, at present time, still believes in the tooth fairy and Santa. He’s a child who, while not lacking in love, does lack in family. To remove another branch from his family tree would shatter me all over again.

So I let him go through the rest of the school week — carrying the weight of the world in my throat.

No parent ever wants to be the cause of breaking their child’s heart, and when I finally told him Grandma was gone, I had done exactly that. I’ve had hard moments as a mom, but that ranks up there with the physical pain of bringing him into the world. Just without the epidural drugs.

In the end, I don't think there is a way to parent through grief. There are books, articles and support groups to get comfort and advice from those working through similar situations. The age of your kids will play a role in how much you let them see the armour cracking. But just as parenting changes every day, so too will I as a parent navigating the daily sentiments that come with bereavement.

Article Author Tanya Hayles
Tanya Hayles

Read more from Tanya here.

Tanya Hayles is an award-winning event planner and creative storyteller, using various mediums to evoke emotions, create change and magnify moments. She spends most of her days turning ideas into reality through rsvp + co. where event planning is not just what she does, it’s who she is. By night, she is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of 14,000 and non-profit providing culturally relevant programs and resources to educate and empower the Black mother and her family. Tanya is also a contributing writer at

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