Just two weeks ago, we stood in her kitchen tossing ingredients together in a bowl for some diet-approved homemade scones; finely chopped almonds, no cane sugar, reduced salt, organic butter, and unbleached flour, among other things. I had a bandaged finger from an unfortunate incident with a kitchen knife a few days prior, so I talked her through each step and let her do most of the work, which is what she had asked me to let her do.
She wore a warm house coat over her bony body that had seen a significant amount of weight loss in the months since her diagnosis. In contrast to her diminishing frame, her eyes still shone with the strong, warm love I have come to know from her. For five years straight, I have seen this woman for two hours every week, save the summers, as she leads me and 10-15 other new mamas through studying the bible together.
I show up, sometimes with makeup on, sometimes without, always with a baby growing in my belly or sitting on my hip. I arrive late, because I drive from 30 minutes away to come each week, but I know I don’t have to apologize because she lights up with her slightly silly, bright smile to let me know she is glad I’m there, late or not. There has never been a time when anyone looks for a seat in her circle that there isn’t a piece of chocolate or two waiting for them there on the chair, like she wants each one of us to know—every week—that she knows how challenging this stretch of life with little ones really is. Just a small morsel on the tongue, but a loud message straight to the heart. You’re doing great, mama.
She doesn’t say it out loud, but she doesn’t have to. I feel her love and affirmation in many unspoken ways. I’ve given birth three times since joining her bible study group, and every time, she comes to my home to snuggle the new baby and bring me a gift. Her years of skillful grandmothering show, and while she is not as aged as my own grandmother, she reminds me of her. Chatty. Light-hearted. Constant. Deeply committed to my flourishing.
She has invested in my life in the most understated, but poignant ways. I could not possibly say how deeply she has touched my life.
Months ago, she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. It was advanced enough at the time of detection that she and her doctor decided not to bother with chemo. She didn’t want to spend her last months feeling like the chemo-truck ran over her. Instead, she started on an alternative treatment plan to hopefully prolong her life beyond the given prognosis, part of which included a strict and specialized diet.
She had shared with me many times that she wasn’t much of a home cook, but the new diet came with a long list of restrictions and most store-bought convenience items became off-limits, creating a bit of stress in the midst of an already difficult journey. One week she casually mentioned the challenge of not knowing what to eat, and that she was struggling through the learning curve of cooking from scratch. I asked for a copy of her diet guidelines, so maybe I could come up with something delicious and comforting to bring back to her.
I came back the next week with a double batch of modified almond scones and handed them to her in a couple of gallon-sized ziplock bags. I won’t ever forget the look on her face at that moment. Relief. Gratitude. Love. I felt all the same things knowing I could do this one tiny thing in the midst of her difficult journey with cancer, which she has faced with great faith and courage.
She told me again and again how comforting it was to have one of these scones in the late afternoons when she started feeling tired and worn out toward the end of the day. She asked for the recipe several times, which I gave her, but knew she likely wouldn’t make on her own. I offered to make her more anytime, just let me know.
Two weeks ago, she made the call. She wanted scones, but she didn’t want me to make them—she wanted me to come over and teach her how to do it.
I stopped by the next morning and talked her through each step. Cut the butter into small cubes. Add it to the bowl of flour and work it through by hand. She was determined, and we did see a set of golden almond scones come out of her oven that morning. Before I left, I asked if we could take a photo together. She has always been self-deprecating in the past, but she obliged my request without protest. We leaned in, facing the window light, our bare faces and connected hearts, for a moment that I’ll hold close for years to come.
In the past two weeks, her health has sharply declined. As of my writing these words, she is still with us, but I don’t know how much longer that will be the case. After a month of sharing stories of hospitality, women’s history month, food and the family, and grief in motherhood here on Kindred Mom, it feels all too personal that this would be the story I have to share with you today. I am gripped by the suffering she has endured. She is still fighting, but I am already grieving what may be the great loss of this beautiful soul.
This is my tribute to my friend Jan. Please pray with me for a miracle, for her comfort, for her family, and for my heart as the journey continues. Jan, I love you so.
Every mundane, simple moment you have with those you love is a grace, a gift, and a memory that you might one day suddenly recognize as the tangible substance of a beautiful life.
Wrapping up this month’s topics, I wanted to consolidate a few grief resources for moms. Special thanks to Jane Neiswender and Dorina Lazo Gilmore for the book recommendations for kids, and to the courageous mama-writers who shared their essays with us this month. Thanks also to all of you who have read, responded, and helped to grow Kindred Mom significantly in the short months we’ve been online. I am humbled, inspired, and grateful for each of you.
*The following links are affiliate links. If you decide to purchase any of these books through these links, at no cost to you, a small percentage will come back to help support Kindred Mom.
Books on helping children grieve:
The Hurts of Childhood Series by Sanford
Heaven (for Kids) by Randy Alcorn
Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert & Chuck DeKlyen
When Something Terrible Happens (workbook) + series
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
Heaven is For Real for Kids by Todd Burpo
God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa T. Bergren
Movies for good conversation about grief:
Cinderella (new live Disney version)
Kindred Mom Essays that touched on Grief this month:
Grieving Together – by Dorina Lazo Gilmore
A Chicken Pot Pie Story – by Heidi McGinnis
Helping Children Grieve – Angie Warren
Grieving Lost Time – Emily Green
Join the Kindred Mom Facebook Group and re-watch the FB Live broadcast done by Jane Neiswender on the topic of Helping Children Grieve
Online Grief Resources:
From their website: “Kidsaid is a safe place for kids to share and help each other deal with grief about any of their losses. At this site they can share feelings, show their art work, meet with peers online.”
Grief Net (www.griefnet.org)
From their website: “Our integrated approach to on-line grief support provides help to people working through loss and grief issues of many kinds.”
Grief Share (griefshare.org)
From their website: “GriefShare is a friendly, caring group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences. You don’t have to go through the grieving process alone.”
Emily Sue Allen is the founder and visionary behind KindredMom.com, an online community and podcast dedicated to helping women find joy and purpose in motherhood. Emily is passionate about living a deeply nourished life and celebrating the beauty of ordinary moments. She is forever marked by the rescue and redemption Jesus Christ has accomplished in her life. Emily is a featured contributor in Strong, Brave & Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, a collaborative volume of essays written to encourage moms in the weeds of parenting kids at home, a member of Hope*writers, and an ongoing devotional writer for Joyful Life Magazine. She lives with her husband and seven kids—three girls and four boys—in the Pacific Northwest. Emily’s website is emilysueallen.com. Subscribe to her newsletter “Flowers, Children & Other Lovely Things” at emilysueallen.substack.com and find her on Instagram.