Processing curiosity and grief with my child

“As grieving moms we want to …[make] a memorial, and [start] an organization, and [write] a book…It’s okay if you don’t do that.”

-Ashlee Proffitt, podcast episode 144


We have been memorializing Millie through the garden, although I have found in the time that has followed our loss, my real priority and purpose is to take care of Mon Cœur, and now Mon Amour.

Ashlee’s most recent podcast featuring Michele Benyo, founder of Good Grief Parenting, was very timely.

“Childhood is the best time to learn about grief.”

Michele explains that childhood is the best time to learn about grief. Teachable moments include learning about life and death with flowers, pets, and people. Understanding and facing these losses helps build the coping framework.

Mon Cœur has built a strong framework for coping, and at four and a half shares candidly her curiosity about death and loved ones we’ve lost. She says things that sometimes even catch me off guard.

This morning she asked to light a candle for Millie.

“Can I sing her happy birthday?”

“It’s not her birthday, baby.”

“Ugh – I thought it was her birthday. I want to sing it.”

“Okay, you can still sing her happy birthday.”

She sang loudly, so Millie could hear her.

“Can Millie sing, too?”

“I bet she can. We just can’t hear her.”

“How old is she? Does she get bigger?”

“Golly, you have some good questions. I am not sure how that works. I don’t know if people get older in Heaven or if they stay the same age.”

“I think they get older. Like old people get older.” Pause. “I want to … be with Millie. I miss her.”

Pause. Deep breath. Exhale. “Come sit on my lap.” Another deep breath. “You miss her, huh? I do, too. The problem is, if you go to Heaven to be with her, you will leave Daddy, and Mon Amour, and me, and Mooma, and Sissy and all of our family and friends. And then you’d miss us right? It doesn’t matter where we are, we will always be missing someone who isn’t with us. You have important work to do here on Earth before you go to Heaven to be with Millie.”


These conversations sometimes knock the wind right out of me. How do I validate her loss and grief? What’s the right answer to her questions? Am I saying the right thing? Am I talking too much?

“They are grieving whether you see it or not.“

Michele mentions kids process through play. Give them opportunities to talk about it. Kids need opportunities to talk, and even if they don’t have anything to say at the moment, knowing that it is okay to talk about death, feelings of grief, and remembering loved ones out loud, then it will lay the groundwork for them to speak up when they are ready.

We talk all the time about Millie. We still pray for her every night during prayers.

This past Christmas, we hung a stocking for her.

We were just looking at MC’s baptism pictures, and I was naming everyone in the picture and I pointed to my belly and told them, “And that’s your sister, Millie.”

This afternoon MC asked about her eye color. “You have blue eyes like your Daddy.”

“What color were Millie’s eyes?”

“That’s a really good question- one I often wonder about too. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” (Complete with incredulous tone of a four and a half year old)

“No I don’t. Millie’s eyes never opened.”

Time has allowed me to accept what is. These questions, while they will always be difficult, are easier now for me to confront.

This may sound crazy, I feel blessed to be living in a time when it is acceptable to share our feelings around such traumas. The resources that have been available for me as we navigate our grief- and its ebbs and flows as we grow as a family- has been so valuable.

Ashlee’s podcast episode spoke to me, validated how I am navigating communicating with MC, and gave me some points to ponder.

One point that really gave me pause to consider is: the parent grieves her loss and is also walking this path and grieving through her living child’s feelings of loss.

In this moment, MC is feeling a true curiosity and grief in missing her younger sister. And I walk alongside her doing my best to validate her curiosity and grief and answer her questions as best I can.


Italian Tartiflette

With the beginning of the winter season, Chou Chou and I were craving a hearty dish, one that we had while in France – tartiflette.

Tartiflette is a dish originating in the Savoy region of France. It is a hearty, creamy dish featuring potatoes, Rebluchon cheese (which is nearly impossible to find in the US and when you do, is ridiculously expensive), onions, ham, and cream. We have made the dish before substituting the Rebluchon with Gruyère cheese.

File:Duchy of Savoy.png - Wikimedia Commons
Savoy region in red. Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

For us, tartiflette is a comfort food, it is a reminder of the friends in France who hosted us when we took our family trip to heal our hearts and renew ourselves. Friends who took us to the Saturday market, where we sipped on mulled wine as we walked and explored. Where we bought local honey, fig preserves, and Rebluchon cheese. It is a meal shared among friends and made in a warm home, explained step by step in a cozy kitchen as I helped to prepare. A reminder of the lovely conversation with friends, leaning into the counter on either side of the oven, waiting for the potatoes to cook and the cheese to bubble.

I used this tartiflette recipe from Anthony Bourdain, using heavy cream instead of white wine, and using 32 oz of gnocchi instead of potatoes.

While the dense texture of gnocchi is something that Mon Amour is still unsure of, overall it was a successful swap.

What is your winter comfort food?

Galette des Rois baking adventure

“And so they left, and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the east. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house, and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshipped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him.”

Matthew 2:9-11 GNB

Today marks the last day of the Christmas season – today is Epiphany, or King’s Day. In France it is La Fête des Rois, and they celebrate with a King’s Cake (which is different from the Mardi Gras King Cake) – la galette des rois.

Before packing away our ornaments and decorations, we take this one last day to celebrate the spirit of the Christmas season- the joy of being together and the hope for what will come.

This morning Mon Cœur moved the Magi to the manger of our crèche (nativity), and I went on a hunt for the galette des rois recipe in my French cookbooks. I knew we made a galette last year, and yet I couldn’t find the recipe I used. So off I went into our hodge podge of cookbooks to find one.

Years ago, Daddy purchased a book for me on French cooking…it’s huge, very comprehensive, and explains in detail how to prepare some of the most complicated pastries, desserts, and dishes of the French cuisine. It even came with a DVD!

The recipe book, French Cooking Classic Recipes and Techniques by Vincent Boué and Hubert Delorme provided the perfect, classic recipe for a galette des rois complete with an almond and pastry cream. Sorry to say, I did not try making the puff pastry from scratch – I was being a realist and leaned into Pepperidge Farms for their frozen version which worked just as well for me!

I loved though how each technique was demystified, ingredients were in our standard measurements, and how well (by this un-trained Américaine) the cake turned out.

After dinner, Mon Cœur served the traditional role of doling out slices. No one found the fève yet – so we aren’t sure who is king or queen, yet. This year with Mon Amour digging into the cake too, I made sure our fève was edible and not a choking hazard – we placed a half of a Medjool date in the cake.

Only after getting the kids to bed did I find evidence of making a galette last year- with a recipe from Florence, from My Parisian Kitchen. No wonder no one remembers the cake- last year I used what was in the pantry- apples and applesauce- instead of making the almond cream filling!

We will begin putting away our Christmas for next year, I am getting a little anxious to clean up and declutter. The one thing that doesn’t need to be packed up, and that I will endeavor to last throughout the year is the Spirit of the Season – where friends and family come together, where we spend time making, baking, laughing, and singing throughout the season.

Family stockings

The thought occurred to me after I saw the Christmas card picture we took this year. Chouchou and I were seated in front of our Christmas tree- he had Mon Cœur on his lap, and I had Mon Amour on mine. Our four stockings hung neatly staggered on the wall behind us.

And then I saw the wooden angel MC decorated earlier this Christmas season – it was hanging from the window…Chou Chou had put this there for the picture, and I said to myself, “This is Millie – he put this angel here for her.”

And I realized that aside from a beautiful tree ornament that had been given to us, there is no representation of Millie’s spirit in our Christmas decorating.

Trouble signing cards.

Every Christmas card since we lost Millie, I have signed with our family name only, and no first names.

It’s been an internal struggle as to how to sign the pictures because we want to include “& Millie,” and yet we know some people won’t get it or won’t understand, or it would just be awkward.

And then I read about Ashlee’s Christmas tradition for her son.

And a lightbulb clicked. The Joyful Morning creator, Ashlee Proffitt hangs a stocking for her son. What better way to keep a child close to your heart than by including them with the physical presence of a stocking?

The kids’ stockings were a gift from their grandmother last year, for MA’s first Christmas. They are pretty, have lovely appliqué and beadwork, and their names are embroidered on the cuff of the stocking.

I decided that this would be a way to include Millie in our hearts and minds and not worry about how to sign the card. I took a quick look online at stocking options – I wanted something that was different, and yet had some similarities to her siblings. I didn’t find anything I liked.

So I went through my fabric collection and I found my favorite white appliqué fabric, some grey fabric, a few buttons, a bottle of beads, and some crochet thread to make her name.

I used MC’s stocking as a pattern and went to work cutting and preparing. Each cut, each stitch, each button, and each bead gave me an opportunity to reflect, remember, and cherish Millie.

Explaining to MC.

MC has recently mentioned Millie and says she misses her. We talk about her together and we say how we can’t wait to see her again, but Heaven isn’t a place you can just visit and then come home again, so we have to live our life here first-what a tricky concept. This has taken many conversations for her to understand, and she told me the other day, “…But we can’t go visit.”

I feel like for all of us, Chou Chou, MC, and me, we needed this reminder of Millie’s presence in our lives. It was therapeutic to make this little labor of love with MC’s help, and to talk freely to each other about Millie. I appreciate the honest truths and questions that came from MC.

The empty stocking was a reiteration in a way of an advent idea that I had read to MC. We were to set an extra place at the dinner table -“to remind us of Christ’s presence in our life.”

Making this connection for MC made it a little easier for her to understand, because she was super confused at first that Millie would have a stocking – “But she’s in Heaven. How will she empty the stocking? Can I have what’s inside?”

So I reminded her about the place we had set for Jesus. There wasn’t any food on the plate, and Jesus never physically came to dinner. It was a symbol, a reminder, a place holder.

Second or third? Third or fourth?

More than anything, I am trying to navigate the many truths about our family.

It seems so straight forward for me -we are a family of five, with one child in Heaven. Then, while in the middle of a conversation, I realize the delicacy and complications in trying to explain.

When talking about MA’s fierce spirit and energy, I hear a lot of, “Oh the second child…” And yes, what we see are two children and he is the second. What lies behind this seemingly simple family dynamic is the truth that our second child is in Heaven while MA is our third.

Sometimes people ask, “Will you try for a third?” It is both true that it would be our third earthly child and it would also be our fourth.

I always just say, “We haven’t decided if we’ll try for another.” It’s just easier for me to not assign a number.

I often tell my students, when they try to correct me, I gently explain that there are different ways of doing things. I tell them, “My way is right and so is your way – they are both correct, just different.” I try to remind myself the same when I have the urge to correct someone. We are both correct, in different ways.

We are a party of five, although you may only see four. At least with the stockings we can share our love for Millie and our complete family unit when sending our Christmas wishes.

In anticipation of Christmas

Christmas Bingo

I have always loved the spirit of Christmas and the opportunities of being together with the friends and family I love. The gifts are lovely expressions of love and thoughtfulness, however it is the intentional quality time spent with those you love that create the memories my future eighty year old self will smile at in retelling a story. I had begun a tradition in 2020 to stretch out Christmas throughout the whole month.

For the past two years, I had wrapped different objects that embody the spirit of Christmas. We had a countdown to Christmas and Mon Cœur enjoyed unwrapping one each day from Dec 1-24. It was nice because it spread the cheer the whole month long, and gave us something to look forward to.

It took a lot of time to wrap the gifts, and some were date specific, and this year it just didn’t fit to countdown to Christmas that way. I received a timely email from Ralphie @simplyonpurpose where she shares a freebie list of different simple holiday activities to complete as a family. This would be the perfect substitute to our countdown

The experiences that create the sweetest memories and the strongest bonds are the simple (and often free!) things we do as a family. And really, the greatest gift of all is TIME.

Ralphie Jacobs @simplyonpurpose

I loved this idea! First I was going to make a jar, and we’d just pick one a day. Then I thought, what if I don’t feel like doing what we picked, or if we pick bake cookies and I don’t have the ingredients? What if ChouChou’s work schedule doesn’t work out to complete an activity with us?

So I ended up creating a big Christmas bingo card that is on our fridge. I cut out red and green trees to go in each square and chose just 16 activities from Ralphie’s list that I knew would be easy enough for our young family to complete. Next I found some gold star stickers for MC to mark off each square as it is completed. Tonight we played catch up – I read each square to her and if it was something we had done, she placed a star on it. It was nice to review all the activities – she has already picked out some new ones to complete in the following week – top of her list? Dance party around the Christmas tree, write a letter to Santa, and a winter nature walk.

I hope you are finding the joy and love in being together with your loved ones this holiday season!