Donna Day 2016: What it means to mourn a child

Donna Day 2016: What it means to mourn a child

There are words of comfort we give to each other, in the community of parents of transgender children.

You have to let yourself grieve.

It’s a process.

It’s okay to mourn your child.

How many times had I done that? How many times had some careless gesture or word caused my whole world to come crashing down around me?

Like pulling out the Christmas wreath ornament he made four years ago, the green and red tissue faded and torn. The picture of a cherub with a pixie cut and chipmunk cheeks. I crushed it up against my heart for a moment, maybe two. Struggling to breath, struggling to hold back tears, letting the pain wash over me, wave after wave, until I was drowning in sorrow.

Then I let it recede like the tide.

It hadn’t always been so easy.

In the early days, I’d spend night after night curled up in a ball, silent tears streaming down my face. Crying for the child I thought I’d lost. Crying out of grief and crying out of guilt. Guilt for not having known sooner, guilt for being so afraid and ashamed of what everyone else would say. Guilt for grieving.

I hadn’t lost my child. My child was right where he’d always been. Only he went by a new name and new pronouns. And his life before, well…that was over. Not only over, but…tarnished, somehow.

Like all of our Mother/Daughter dates, when we went shopping and got our nails done. In my memory, they shifted, took on a different meaning. Instead of bonding with my daughter, woman to woman, I had forced my son to participate in a ritual that likely caused him anxiety and anguish. The times he begged not to get a pedicure or to stop looking in the girls sections for clothes, they all made so much sense and they all filled me with this overwhelming sense of terror. Had none of his childhood been true? Was there nothing for me to hold onto?

I had to let myself grieve. I had to let myself mourn my child. But how, when my child was right there, living the same life, wearing the same clothes, sleeping in the same bed? How could I come to terms with this overwhelming grief, when my child still wrapped his arms around me and told me he loved me?

That’s when I found Mary Tyler Mom, a (now) fellow ChicagoNow blogger. At that time, she had been nothing more than a stranger. A stranger who lost her daughter to cancer at the age of four.  A mother who grieved for her child.

donna3I wept through Donna’s Cancer Story in a single night. When she described holding her daughter tight and close for the last time, I thought of the last time I held mine. The last time I held onto that little cherub girl with the pixie blonde hair and the chipmunk cheeks. The last time I held onto the lifetime of expectations that we have, when we have children.

But my child was not gone forever. I hadn’t lost my child, not like Mary Tyler Mom had lost hers. Not like so many parents have lost their children to this ugly, awful disease called cancer. I can hug my son every day, I can hold him tight and ruffle his hair and roll my eyes at all the sassy, ridiculous things he says.

Too many parents won’t ever again.

Donna’s story helped me deal with my own grief, helped me come to terms with the pain that I was feeling and closer to the acceptance that my son required. Just as Donna had, near the end, helped her mother deal with her daughter’s impending death, my own son had prepared me for his transition.

Donna’s story showed me what it meant to truly mourn a child.

And Mary Tyler Mom inspired me to choose hope, to choose life, to choose to love my child unconditionally and to always honor the person that he is.

Today is Donna Day. A day when writers who have been touched by Donna’s Story urge everyone to help put an end to pediatric cancer. Mary Tyler Mom has made it her mission in life to honor Donna’s memory by doing all that she can to make sure no other parent must hold their child tight for the last time.

Maybe you don’t realize the threat that pediatric cancer is. I didn’t either. So read all about it here and then read about the funding gap that exists and how urgently this needs to change.

Then get involved by making a donation to St. Baldrick’s or participating in the event, by clicking here.

Donna and her mother continue to touch lives and inspire goodness every day that passes. Be a part of their story and help change lives.


 Don’t miss my video on Listen to Your Mother  where I share my story of Jake’s transition.

 Interested in learning more about my son? Read Portrait of a Transgender Child.  You can read my latest post here: The NFL would let my son play in the Super Bowl…but my husband won’t

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