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?






Stepparenting the Grieving Child

Stepparenting the Grieving Child

The stepmom role is hard.

Add in grieving stepchildren and it gets even harder.


Stepparenting the Grieving Child

 Author Diane Fromme recently published a book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child: Cultivating Past and Present Connections with Children Who Have Lost a Parent. In her book, she shares the assumptions and presumptions, steps and missteps that occurred within her own stepfamily.

In a recent interview with Stepmom Magazine, Fromme shares three things that surprised her most about being a stepmom to children who had lost their mom to cancer.

First, I realized that their liking me might feel to them like a betrayal to her. I expected their devotion to their mom but not the intensity of their loyalty. Next, I didn’t realize the amount of stepparenting and grief education I needed to serve the children, while also taking care of myself. I didn’t know, at first, that I needed help! And, maybe most important, I learned that I needed to be part of the team that honors the deceased parent as (a member) of the ongoing family.”

Fromme offers great tips and encouragement throughout her book that comes from personal examples, insights from other stepfamilies, and knowledge gained through experience and research.

Here are a few nuggets of helpful advice:

    •  Honoring our stepchildren’s need to keep a lost parent close ultimately builds the best stepfamily relationships. Know that your efforts and actions lay the groundwork for future milestones: rites of passage, celebrations, and the weathering of other losses.
    • In the highest functioning stepfamilies, members talk about what is seen but not heard. What is not being spoken that needs to be? By making a time and a place for straight talk, [everyone] can benefit
    • I urge you to keep on communicating with your spouse when you feel strongly that the kids should be parented in a different way. Stand up for your beliefs when they matter most. Choose these battles wisely. Be willing to let the rest go so as not to create constant control clashes in the household.

Fromme’s straightforward writing will help you gain understanding and confidence in your stepparenting role with a grieving child. Purchase your copy today and find hope, strength, and inspiration for your journey!

Click this link or the image below to go directly to Amazon. (affiliate link)


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

Coping with Difficult Emotions as a Stepparent

The memoir’s scene grabbed my attention.

Taya Kyle, widow of the American sniper, Chris Kyle, describes a fragile setting where her emotions run deep.  At her husband’s funeral, Taya prepares to say a few words about her beloved, fully aware it will be one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

To gain the courage and strength she needs, she reminds herself of her husband’s life-changing words, which get her through.

“When you think you can’t do something, think again. The body will do whatever the mind tells it to.”American Wife

Kyle’s memoir, American Wife, tells a tragic, but brave, story of love and loss amidst war and faith. A decade-long marriage survives long stretches of Chris’s absence while he repeatedly puts his life on the line in major battles of the Iraq war. Finally returning to civilian life, Chris and Taya work hard to rebuild their family.

But one day, the unthinkable occurs. While attempting to help a troubled vet, Chris is murdered. After surviving countless attempts on his life in war, his final breath is taken close to home in a way no one understands. Within moments, Taya becomes a widow and single mom of two.

Raw emotions spill out as she struggles to cope. Her authentic story-telling reveals depression coupled with fatigue and insomnia.

Amidst a heart-breaking backdrop, however, a beautiful story unfolds. Taya refuses to give up and begins to rebuild a life for her and her kids with faith, resilience, and determination to fight against her overwhelming grief.

I’ve heard it said that one never really gets over loss—you simply learn to cope with it. Taya’s story describes how she copes by finding meaning and connection to Chris through a shared mission of honoring those who serve others, especially military and first-responder families.

Stepfamily Grief

The poignant memoir reminds me of the anguish of stepfamily grief. Although not the same as Taya’s grief, it’s real. It’s often overwhelming. And it’s experienced differently in every home.

Maybe you’re grieving the white-picket fence life you yearned for that didn’t come true with remarriage.

Or perhaps your grief stems from a stepchild who chooses not to embrace you as a stepparent.

Maybe your loss comes from a deep place of hurt that your spouse refuses to recognize.

Stepfamilies experience grief. How are you coping with yours?

Will you choose to find joy and rebuild a new life with faith, resilience, and determination? Will you stand on God’s promises that He will walk with you through days that include loneliness, isolation, and grief?

Will you keep trying on days you want to give up?

If you need a lift today, check out Kyle’s memoir for encouraging words on how she coped with incredible grief.

Pick up a copy of our devotional book, Quiet Moments for The Stepmom Soul: Encouragement for the Journey.

Enlist a counselor or stepfamily coach.

Or come to our upcoming stepmom retreat at the beautiful Winshape Retreat Center.

But don’t get stuck in your grief. Reach out. Embrace your faith. Find hope for your journey. There are better days ahead if you don’t quit.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

How do you cope with stepfamily grief? Will you share your hope with others?