Emily Sue Allen shares a story about navigating both grief and joy when entering a new season. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by Sourav Sur on Unsplash.
He’s driving. I’m looking out the window, my eyes skipping across snow-dusted fields. I’m thinking about things I have wanted to say out loud for months now, but haven’t found the words. I stay quiet because I know if the words come, the tears will, too, and I’m not ready for them.
Our seven kids are in the rows behind us, spaced out through our 12-passenger van. One plays DJ with daddy’s phone, landing on a popular movie soundtrack with an assortment of her favorite musicians and an upbeat tempo to accompany our forward motion.
We are all together on our way to a donut shop (a favorite Saturday-morning pastime), then headed to visit grandparents we haven’t seen for a long time. We now live just a half-hour away, but a particular virus has kept us from regular time together.
We’ve been in an especially challenging season for nearly three years now, and I’m ready for a new season—out of winter, into spring. Out of crisis, into healing. Out of struggle, into smoother days. I feel rather desperate for it, but I also feel stuck. Sad. Not really sure how to let go of the past and make space for the future—my former certainties and optimism smeared blurry by the present grief I struggle to articulate.
Four months ago, we moved to a new area, eager to gain space for our large family after being sardined into a 1500 square foot house for over a decade. We welcomed baby after baby into that house, reconfiguring sleeping arrangements a dozen different times to make it work. The day we drove away, I ordered my kids to stand in front of the fireplace and took a ridiculous picture of all of them wearing stick-on mustaches so I could smile my way out the door for the last time and keep the tears to a limited few.
I was really sad to leave, but our lovely new home promised a quiet neighborhood with more than enough space for our family. Room to spread out. Room to breathe. I wanted to start fresh, welcome joy, and leave grief behind so it couldn’t wreck this new beautiful experience. After a long season of struggle and healing from a near death experience, I wanted a hard break from the heavy stuff.
The moving truck arrived at our doorstep after a long journey across the state, containing all our material possessions, including an Ikea bookshelf we knew ahead of time might not survive the trip. Having been shuffled around our old house a number of times, the structural integrity of the shelves had been compromised and a gentle nudge could rock the corner joints slightly off 90 degrees. I knew for sure the pieces would not fit back together if they were deliberately dismantled before loading, so the unit went on the truck as a whole piece—squares stuffed with odds and ends and boxes piled on top. It wasn’t until it was being carried off the truck in our new driveway that the boards started pulling apart. Within seconds, the once-whole and useful bookshelf toppled over the side of the loading ramp and broke into dozens of scattered pieces in the driveway.
The past few years have changed me in similar ways. The life I once knew is now unrecognizable—broken apart from pressure, change, and events I didn’t see coming. I can’t put the pieces back together like they were. No one asked me ahead of time if I was ready for an epic season of struggle. I did not consent to this. I did not ask for stormy weather.
But the weather isn’t up to me.
“Mama, can we snuggle and look at pictures on your phone?” My five year old has discovered I have thousands of photos from past seasons of life, photos of his older siblings when they were young and events he doesn’t remember. He is thrilled by these glimpses into the past.
“Sure, buddy, we can do that for a few minutes.” He grabs the couch throw-blanket to spread over our legs and scoots in close to my side where he’ll be able to see the screen as I scroll through photos.
“I want to see when I was in your belly,” he quips with a smile and expectant, raised eyebrows. He’s seen the photo before, but it left an impression and he continues to request it.
I find the right folder and swipe to the only images I have of the ridiculous, torpedo-shaped belly I snapped in the mirror a few days before his arrival. I knew then, as I know now, time is fleeting, and even when photos show the messy, uncomfortable moments of our lives, it is priceless to have them captured.
He giggles about how big my belly was. I smile at the memory and also feel the pang of sorrow for the reality that those days are gone. I know now, we will have no more babies. We can’t. Our family is in a new season, and there is no way I can have another pregnancy without significant health risk and personal trauma. I’m not saying I want or need another baby—after all we have seven healthy kids—but I am sad this chapter is closed.
“That’s a big baby in there!” I say with a conflicted smile and contrived enthusiasm, suppressing the lump in my throat.
I would never say my child-bearing years have been easy. My body stretched beyond reasonable limits and I scrambled and scraped my way through the baby and toddler years, like every mom does. But even though it was really hard, the season of having babies was so full of good things for me: joy, purpose, growth, and self-discovery. Now, grief and joy are wrestling things out, and I mostly feel helpless, unable to stop the passing of time, and also grateful time keeps moving despite really big mom-heart feelings.
I squeeze him close and kiss the side of his head, well aware this moment is fleeting, too.
We’re minutes away from the donut shop, and I still can’t seem to spit out what I’m trying to say to my husband as he drives. I’ve kept quiet for several minutes.
“Are you ok?” he asks.
Yes. No. I don’t know. There are so many words I want to say. I pause a minute and take a deep breath.
“I feel so eager to move forward into a new season—to leave behind the struggles of the past few years and embrace the new adventure we’re on, but I still feel horribly…painfully…sad. I just want to speed ahead through the grief, to get it over with, but…”
Tears slide down my cheeks and my voice trails off.
Wide-open fields pass by, and I see, maybe for the first time, there is space for everything I’m feeling. Joy. Sorrow. Hope. Uncertainty. I’ve said goodbye to a season of life that was full of good things, and the one ahead…there is no reason it can’t be full of new and different good things.
These mixed-up emotions can hang together. I can give grief some room as I welcome Jesus’ comfort and healing in the present; as I long for a renewed sense of strength and vision for brighter tomorrows.
Grief is hard, but I am growing to see it is necessary for healing, necessary for moving forward.
There is space for grief, and there is space for hope.
The seasons themselves are beyond my control. The weather is what the weather is, and there is no way to pin down the weatherman and guarantee spring temperatures before they’re due. I have to let the weather be what is today, and if it’s wet and cold, give myself permission to sit near the fire with a cup of tea. When the sun comes out, I’ll be sure to step out in it with my eyes closed and my bare face turned up. Moving into a new season means embracing where I am, internal mess and all.
My husband stretches his hand open on the center console, and I put mine in it.
I’m grateful we’re in this together.
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.