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What Remains: An Essay on Loss and Parenting

What Remains: An Essay on Loss and Parenting

A local mom writes about parenting her young son during the loss of her mother.

lisa pisano and mom

The author, Lisa Pisano (right) with her mother, Kathryn


A book entitled Love, Loss, and What I Wore has sat upon my bookshelf for the past 10 years. I purchased it one morning in the early 2000s after seeing it featured in one of those Daily Candy emails that were the guiding force of everything hip and happening in taste and culture in New York back then (sadly, the site is now defunct). The fashion component of the book interested me since at the time I was a 20-something publicist for a well-known American sportswear designer.

Fast-forward 13 years, and the book has a whole new meaning to me. Partially because I’m no longer a fashion publicist. Mostly, though, because my own experiences with love and loss have far more to do with how they’re shaping me as a mother and a person—and a little less with what I’m wearing—as I’m navigating through the Black Forest of grief while parenting a young child.

Last February my mother, Kathryn, succumbed to colon cancer. It swiftly and unapologetically took her from us just one week after her 62nd birthday, and just two months, to the day, of her official diagnosis.

I got the call that you fear when your phone rings at 2:30am. “Lee…It’s Dad. Mom is gone.” My dad called from her hospital bedside.

It’s amazing how the ring of a phone in the middle of the night can forever change your life.

We waited several days after my mother’s services before telling our then 3½-year-old son, Rocco. It was no secret amongst our family members that Nana was “MVP.” There was a mutual adoration shared by grandson and grandmother and a bond that I’m certain continues, despite her passing. I struggled with the best way to share this news and new state of living with him, and my husband and I sought counsel from various sources: a therapist, Rocco’s pediatrician, a friend who is a child psychologist, as well as an art therapy resource for grieving children. And then we cobbled together a plan.

My husband was simply amazing and continues to be my rock. On the Saturday morning after my mom’s passing, Rocco was swiping away on his iPad in our living room when we shared the news of Nana’s death with him.

We ultimately told him that she was very, very, very, very, very, very old. And very, very, very, very, very, very sick. And loved him very, very, very, very much.

“Will she come back?” he asked in a small voice, without looking up from his tablet.

 No, she won’t come back.

“Can I go and see her in heaven?”

 No, but you can pray to her in heaven.

As the information processed in his little head over the next few weeks and months, occasionally, a random thought or question would arise: What kind of car does Nana drive in heaven? Did she decorate her new house in heaven for Christmas?

On Rocco’s 4th birthday, we included Nana by writing a message to her on a Mylar balloon from his party and releasing it up to her. We also painted seashells from the beach this summer and carved her a small Halloween pumpkin. We “sent these up to heaven,” which really meant that I brought them to her grave.

Back to the concept of love, loss, and that aforementioned book by Ilene Beckerman that still sits on my shelf. After experiencing such a sudden and painful loss, despite my former career in fashion and my affinity for stylish things, I can tell you with 100-percent certainty that I have absolutely no idea what I wore in the wee small hours of the morning when my mother died. And I barely remember what I wore to her funeral. 

Here’s what I do remember: The outpouring of love and support from folks from all walks of my life. Former elementary school teachers, colleagues, old friends, new friends, neighbors, strangers, distant relatives, not-so-distant relatives.

I have no memory of what shoes or sweater I wore to select the flowers for my mother’s funeral. But I do remember the tray of panko-crusted chicken cutlets that sat within a foil-covered pan on my doorstep when I got home. Made with panko by a friend in my community because she knows of my allergy to a component in store-bought breadcrumbs; that is love.

I recall friends and neighbors doing whatever they could to help maintain a sense of ‘normal’ for my son while my husband and I tended to funeral arrangements and services. That is love.

I’m doing my best to not let grief and anger get in the way of being a good parent. That’s perhaps the hardest part. I try to remind myself that being a model of love and light for my son is a way of honoring my mother’s memory, and also a way of pulling us through this terrible patch. It’s very difficult at times, though. I lost a mother, but am still a mother to someone who is very much alive, and who very much needs me. My 4-year-old and I have much in common, often pondering the same questions: Why? What is she doing? Will I get sick, too? I am 36 and supposed to have the answers. It’s my job to provide a safety net and a sense of security for him as my own mom did for me when she, too, lost her parents while in her mid-30s.

And so, we carry on. We carry on with love in our hearts for a mother/Nana/wife/friend that we miss so dearly. We let love guide our day-to-day activities. And for those times that we find it hard to carry on, we allow the love of friends, relatives, and acquaintances to help carry us through.

We live. We love. We carry on. 

And that, my friends, is always in fashion.

Lisa Pisano writes about family life, food, style, and travel on her blog Mom a la Mode. She resides in Bergen County, NJ with her husband and son.


If you've lost a loved one, Hearts & Crafts Grief Counseling may help you and your family cope and get to a place where you can thrive.


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Author: Lisa Pisano writes about family life, food, style, and travel on her blog Mom a la Mode (momalamode.net). She resides in Bergen County, NJ with her husband and son. See More

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