Grief, Stepfamily, and the Process of Healing

I held my breath, waiting for words I didn’t want to hear. “I suggest you place your mother on hospice care. Her body has started to shut down.” The doctor looked at me compassionately, waiting for a reply. His suggestion didn’t surprise me. Mom wasn’t getting better. But the tears in his eyes produced tears of my own.

Gayla Grace and her mom shortly before she passed away.

He had watched me and my three sisters tend to Mom’s every need during her lengthy hospital stay. She was well-loved and well-cared for. He knew the loss would be hard for us.

Less than a week after the doctor uttered his painful words, Mom passed away, August 27, 2017.  I know Mom’s in a better place, but tears fall freely and often right now. Losing a parent is never easy.

Grief is not a new emotion for me. I wish I could say that makes it easier. It doesn’t.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is hard.

We can pack away the feeling in hopes of pretending it isn’t there. But it rears its head eventually. Grief shows up in the form of addiction, codependency, anger, depression, obesity, or a host of other issues if we don’t deal with it properly. Too often we address the symptoms of grief, instead of the root of the feelings.

How Grief is a Process by Gayla Grace of Stepparenting with GraceGrief changes relationships.

Long before my mother passed away, her mind had been stolen by the disease of Alzheimer’s. No longer the same person, I grieved for the mother who raised me. I plead with God to heal my mother. I didn’t want to give up hope. But I eventually learned to accept the reality of the situation, unable to change what was happening.

Grief has changed my stepfamily relationships also.

When I married my husband, I brought two daughters that joined his family with a daughter and son. As I began the journey with my stepson, I envisioned ball games as his biggest fan and an affectionate mother-son bond my friends had told me about. I looked forward to shopping excursions and pedicures with my stepdaughter.

Instead, I discovered loyalty conflict and distanced relationships. I endured tension at every ball game as I sat inches away from a woman who wanted nothing to do with her son’s stepmother.  I tiptoed around confused emotions as my stepchildren traveled between two homes. I uncovered feelings of insecurity and doubt as a stepmom.  And finally .. I lowered my expectations for relationships that would never materialize the way I’d envisioned.

I grieved for the life I would never have.

I cried. I fretted. I protested. I withdrew into myself. I bargained with God. I lashed out at others. I complained.

Until one day, I finally accepted the life God had called me to. And found a joy that only God can give.

I love these words penned by Sarah Young in Jesus Today:

“Make every effort to accept as your calling the life I have assigned to you. This perspective helps take the sting out of even the harshest circumstances. If I have called you to a situation, I will give you everything you need to endure it — even to find Joy in the midst of it.

Learning to be content is both a discipline and an art: You train your mind to trust My sovereign ways with you — bowing before My mysterious, infinite intelligence. You search for Me in the details of your day, all the while looking for good to emerge from trouble and confusion. You accept the way things are without losing hope for a better future.”


It’s not easy—whether in our family of origin or stepfamily relationships.

Acceptance takes time. Oftentimes, it takes prayer. But when grief shows up … acceptance is the first step toward healing.

*Come join us at our upcoming Stepmom Retreat and learn more about how to process your grief and other emotions common to stepmoms. I’d love to meet you there! Details here:

How has grief affected your stepfamily? Will you share how you’ve coped with it?






Gayla Grace on the price of forgiveness

The Price of Forgiveness

Gayla Grace on the price of forgiveness

After my first marriage ended, I held onto unforgiveness. I had been mistreated and I justified my actions from a wounded soul. I didn’t want to consider how my unforgiveness contributed to my lack of peace and affected my daily walk with others and with the Lord.

Communication with my ex-husband was strained. Co-parenting seemed impossible. One day I realized how I contributed to the difficulty with my unforgiveness.

Wounded from hurtful words from our stepchild or misunderstood by our spouse, we hang onto unforgiveness, hindering our relationships. We feel justified because we’ve been wronged. As a result, tension in our home co-exists with every interaction.

The price of unforgiveness is a burden of resentment, a poison of bitterness, and strained relationships. The price of forgiveness is love, freedom, and peace.

Why do we choose poison over freedom?

Because when we’ve been wronged, forgiveness is hard. It doesn’t happen naturally. We have to seek the Lord’s help and make an intentional choice to go against our human nature and forgive.

Christ paid a huge price so we could experience forgiveness. His death on the cross is a powerful reminder of the sacrifice He offered us. But even Christ struggled with doing what the Father asked of him. Matthew 26:39 says, “He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Some days we’d rather say, “Not your will but mine.” My will includes justifying my hurt and wallowing in my wound. My will seeks to take care of myself instead of considering others’ needs. Unfortunately, my will also leads to a life of heartache and disappointment.

Our pastor’s words recently spoke to my heart, “Unforgiveness is demanding that other people be perfect, and that’s a standard You can’t meet!” If I fail to forgive my stepson for an imperfect action, I’m expecting he’ll never have to forgive me for a wrong. I make imperfect choices every day. Why, then, do I hold onto unforgiveness?

Forgiveness provides the key to unlock the tension in stepfamily relationships. We’re called to forgive, even when it’s not our fault.

It’s not easy, but


Have you held onto unforgiveness or experienced the peace that comes from forgiving? Let’s talk in the comments.

Gayla Grace with Three Reasons Stepfamilies Need Traditions

Traditions – Three Reasons a Stepfamily Needs Them



“Family traditions are a great way for stepfamilies to connect with one another. Family members come together and work toward a common goal in a non-threatening environment. Traditions can be as simple as making paper chains to count down the days toward Christmas (one of my kids’ favorites) or more involved such as helping serve a meal at the homeless shelter. The goal is to find activities that the family enjoys and will look forward to doing together.”

It’s been seven years since I originally penned those words. Little has changed except now the kids are older and we don’t make a paper chain. Some of the kids are now married, so we’ve adjusted our traditions to include spouses and to accommodate the schedules of these new families. Well, now that I think about it, maybe more has changed than I realized. But I still believe family traditions are one of the keys to successfully navigating the holiday season as a stepfamily.

With traditions, everyone knows what to expect and works at accommodating their schedule to allow time to participate.

There are three benefits to creating traditions.

  1. Traditions create bonds. Bonds are strengthened as the family does something together. Think of the strands of a rope. One strand by itself is weak, but when woven together with more strands, the rope becomes stronger. Creating bonds makes your stepfamily stronger.
  2. Traditions provide a means of expressing love and laughter. These emotions help protect a family from brokenness and conflict. Working for a common purpose creates a sense of loyalty to each other and the family.
  3. Traditions create special memories. Memories that will be cherished long after family members pass on. Reminiscing of times’ past with loved ones can help ease the loneliness that creeps in when celebrating the holiday without that special someone.

Traditions are important and flexibility is key to making them work in stepfamilies.

Continuing traditions already in place also helps to provide routine and predictability.  Routine during the hectic holiday time just might offer some stability to otherwise unstable emotions that seem to surface this time of year.

It’s never too late to start family traditions. They offer a sense of belonging that can help cement relationships. Bring your family together and enjoy some new traditions this year!

What are some of your family traditions?

We Need Each Other—Here’s Why!

Randy and Mom

Randy and his mom

A knot formed in my stomach as I watched my husband, Randy, take his suit out of the closet and pack it in the car. “I think you need to take funeral clothes too,” he said. “We don’t know what lies ahead.” I looked away as tears pooled in my eyes.

We had just learned that my mother-in-law was in the hospital. She had come through one surgery already, but the news wasn’t good. The doctors were taking her back for a second surgery to repair a hole in her intestines that was dumping bacteria into her system.

Driving out of state, Randy began talking about his mom’s husband, Tommy. “He’s so dependent on Mom. He has no friends or former work associates who stay in touch. I don’t know how he’ll cope if Mom doesn’t make it.”

“I know,” I said. “It makes me sad to think about.”

Arriving at the hospital the next morning, I braced myself for the worst. I knew my mother-in-law was in ICU, hooked to a ventilator. Her swollen hands and ash-colored skin revealed how sick she was. It became obvious that her time left with us was limited.

“Where’s Tommy?” I asked my sister-in-law, Lisa, as we walked out of the hospital room.

“He’s at home,” Lisa said. “He says he can’t come. It’s too hard on him.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

Later that afternoon the nurses gathered the family together to give a report. “She’s too frail to fight this,” they told us. “We’ve given her everything we can, and she’s not responding.”

Randy and his sister knew it was time to make a tough decision. Their mom had always said she didn’t want her last days to be strung out in a hospital room, surviving only on machines. They wanted to honor her wishes. But shouldn’t Tommy be there for his wife’s last breath? Read more

Dare to Love in Your Stepfamily

Words from the voice on the radio played over in my head, piercing my heart. “We must dare to love those who hurt us.” The hurt from my gaping wound lay open. A friend I thought I could trust had let me down. I didn’t want to consider that I should dare to love her again.

Dare to Love in Your Stepfamily

I recognized the feeling from another time. Hurt by words of one of my stepchildren, I found it easier to guard my heart than make myself vulnerable to love again. I learned that a heart with walls around it, however, never experiences joy or peace.

With the Lord’s help, I reached out to my friend and offered forgiveness. Recognizing God’s grace of my own sin softened my heart toward my friend.

God’s power overcomes our weaknesses. We can dare to love again.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).