How to Lose a Parent

On November 14 2017, my mother called me around 9am to discuss Christmas plans. We delighted in setting dates for Christmas Eve at my house, Filipino breakfast at her house. At 10am she sent a group text to me and my sisters confirming everything. “So much to look forward to!” she wrote. By 1pm she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital where she suffered a severe sub-arachnoid brain aneurysm and was pronounced dead on November 15.

In the spirit of her generosity, living a life teaching countless Filipino youth our traditions through dance and song, and in the end donating her organs to seven different recipients, I write this post for those in mourning. I am only a month into the grieving process. I know that everyone’s process is different and that I am not an expert in gracefully accepting loss, but I can tell you how I made it through the first few weeks in the hopes that it may help you.


I mean this. Before you read this blog post, I need you to drink a glass right now. Most likely it has been a long time since the last time you drank water. And even if it seems like you drank water not so long ago, most likely you have cried more than a glass full since then. So please drink water. I suffered from intense dehydration in the first week following my mother’s sudden death.


There is a very good chance that you read the last paragraph and even the thought of getting up and drinking water seems like too much to ask. Now is a good time to text, call, and email folks to help you. What do you need? Do you need to scream? Do you need someone to call everyone to give them the bad news? Do you need someone to sit beside you as you sift through the paperwork? Who do you feel safe with? You will be surprised how supportive people are. You honour them by asking for help.


With everyone’s generosity I felt overwhelmed to respond to each of the hundreds of messages I received from folks. They should be aware that this is a difficult time for you. There is no need to respond until you are ready, if ever you are ready. They will understand.

As well, I have become better at telling people my boundaries during this agonizing time. I am turning down gigs, I am not well enough to do readings, I am too depressed to take on any new projects. I have allowed myself to be unavailable until the spring. If folks do not understand, then it’s best not to do business with them.


One thing I have struggled with, is the common notion that feeling my mother’s presence and speaking to her out loud is simply a symptom of mourning. Praying to her, as some may see it, is just a security blanket until one day my heart will be fixed and I can go on living my life without believing in spirits. I am to work through this difficult time to arrive at a more sensible version of myself.

Heck, no. This grief has opened my eyes to how limited our understanding is of this universe. I have awakened to the wonders of how my mother’s beautiful soul left her earthly vessel and is now in constant conversation with me. In this other place, we are continuing our relationship and building our love for one another beyond the confines of our bodies. This gives me infinite hope because this relationship is real.


For my 40th birthday at the beginning of November, my mother, family, and friends all pitched in for a solo overnight retreat to a spa. Devastated by my loss, I spent most of the night and into the morning making an honest effort to enjoy myself. I fought back tears during my meals and I swallowed lumps in my throat during my massage. It was torture. Finally, during a yoga class, I made the decision to allow myself to be miserable. I balled my eyes out while in downward dog. I wept during my lunch. I sobbed in the steam room. I stopped caring about other people around me. It felt so good to let my face hang as sad and as low as it wanted it to be.

Since then, I have, in my misery, learned how to apply lip balm on my eyelids to avoid chaffing, how to wear pyjamas in public places and not give a fuck, and how to do almost anything while crying. Yes, it is pretty damn pathetic to brush your teeth while screaming “Mom! Mooooom! Why? Why?!” at the top of your lungs, but this is an authentic version of me and right now I am authentically miserable. As one friend has told me, there will be no way around this. There will be no way over this. The only way to grieve is through this.


People who have experienced loss in their lives have been extremely generous in sharing their thoughts with me. It’s like being in the worst club but with the best members and they’re all offering guidance. I want to hear from you. What was your journey in mourning like? What helped you? What didn’t help you? What mistakes did you make?


To you, fellow mourner:

May we be blessed with the wisdom of mourning.
May we mourn in a healthy way without hurting those around us.
May we be truthful in our process.
May we accept our mistakes and celebrate our triumphs in this process.

To you, my mother:

I love you.
May we continue this relationship on the other side.
May I keep dancing through this journey of loss.
May I keep growing, allowing my heart to learn these difficult lessons so that I can birth this new version of myself, this version that holds you in the ether.
May I do this with patience and love, for if I can believe that a blossom is blooming under the sun, I too can believe that I will heal in time.
As you said, there is so much to look forward to.



Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is playwright, performer and award-winning author. She is the author of M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book (Flamingo Rampant) and Scarborough (Arsenal Pulp Press). She is the Artistic Director of b current performing arts.

Read all posts by Catherine Hernandez

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