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“I am a motherless daughter, now fatherless too, but I am not without heart and resilience and grit.”

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By Valeria Palmertree

Losing my mom three years ago wasn’t easy. If you had asked me as a child—heck, just three years ago, even—to name my biggest fear, I would’ve said “losing my mom.” I was always terrified of being motherless. Yet I had no reason to fear her departure. She was never sick. She was youthful and radiant and playful and present, always present.

Until she wasn’t.

During this time, I’ve tried to grieve efficiently and constructively. When people tell me I’m “strong,” I tell myself it’s not so much strength as it is stubbornness. I have to be okay. There’s no other option. Clearly, life is short, and days can’t be wasted. My mom used to say that sadness and fears would fade quicker if we sang them away. We both sang often. As a child, I sang, then wrote, then song-wrote, and my mom, always the equally stubborn optimist, egged me on. We overcame a lot, the two of us, and we had the songs to show for it over our beautifully close twenty-nine-year relationship.

My mom used to say that sadness and fears would fade quicker if we sang them away. We both sang often.

I miss my mom. Every. Single. Day. In moments of stress and sadness and helplessness, I’ve been reminded of her goodness, her silent strength, her courage, and her positivism. I have prayed to be enveloped by it, to face life’s hardships the way she would—with a smile—and with grace and patience and love.

It’s those traces of grace and patience and love that perhaps were left to best prepare me to face more of the unexpected, as my grieving process was complicated by things well beyond my control. In the months that followed my mother’s passing, my dad fell into a debilitating depression as he battled dementia. Here I was, a motherless, grieving daughter, a nurturing guardian, and now physically fatherless, too.

Growing up, I didn’t always understand my dad. He was stern and strict and strong-willed and much too serious about everything. He didn’t always make smart decisions, and I wasn’t always a fan of his actions. But he was my dad, my one father, and as I went from girl to woman, the resentment slowly turned into sympathy, and ultimately into understanding and appreciation for the life he led and for how hard he worked to provide new opportunities for my brother and me, even at the cost of his own success.

I got to know him in a different light, and my heart opened up a space for him that had been choked up for too long.

It was when my mom passed away that I finally saw my dad's vulnerability, his weakness and his undying love for the woman who sacrificed everything for her family. For the past two years, I finally understood him (the irony of loss yielding gains isn’t lost on me). As his caretaker, I got to know him in a different light, and my heart opened up a space for him that had been choked up for too long.

Today, one year after his passing and two years and two months after my mom’s, I finally get him. I now know he's where he wanted to be—in the arms of my mom, where he was always safer and stronger. And I'm imagining Heaven as an all-you-can-eat “parrillada” where he gets to play pit-master and use unlimited vats of “chimichurri”; where red wine is flowing and “tarantella” is on loop; where Mami is dancing, timidly, and Dad is smiling and boasting about having taught her how.

It’s that optimism, that love, and that picture of grace that keeps me going, that makes things okay during a time when everything could so easily be far from it. I am a motherless daughter, now fatherless too, but I am not without heart and resilience and grit. 

And I have reason to believe that just like that, from loss, a perspective on life can be gained.

Grief & Loss Divorce & Family Challenges Building resilience Family Finding joy Loss of parent Grit
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