What Nancy taught me

Jen Bradbury
May 09 · 5 min read

The weekend after I miscarried, my mother and father-in-law, Nancy & Keith, showed up at our house.

Truth be told, I didn’t want them there.

I didn’t want anyone there.

I was knee-deep in some of the most profound sadness I’d ever experienced while also struggling with the shame of miscarriage and with the feeling that my own body had betrayed me.

Nancy and Keith came anyway.

They showed up and hugged me and Nancy whispered in my ear, “This wasn’t your fault.”

Then Nancy insisted we go out.

I didn’t want to. I hadn’t left the house since that Tuesday, when I’d sat in the doctor’s office and first heard the word “miscarriage”.

But Nancy thought it would be good for me.

And if you ever had the privilege of meeting my mother-in-law, you know that when Nancy wanted something, she usually got it.

So, that Saturday, we drove to Jamba Juice and then went to the arboretum and went on a scenic drive.

I never got out of the car but as it turns out, Nancy was right. The trip out was good for me.

That day, I started to heal and to hope.

That day, Nancy showed me that mothers grieve with their kids.


Nancy Hope

Two years after we miscarried, Doug & I welcomed our daughter, Hope, into the world by a scheduled c-section.

Unsure how I’d feel after major surgery, we told both sets of our parents that they could only come to the hospital after we called them.

Nancy & Keith didn’t exactly listen to us.

The morning of my surgery, they left their house bright and early (I think before we left our house) and drove to Chicago, where they sat in a parking lot for hours, waiting for us to call and tell them they could come meet Hope.

They were excited.



They were determined not to miss a single second with their first grandchild.

That day, Nancy showed me that mothers rejoice with their kids.


Nancy was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in June 2018.

She died earlier this week, three days before Mother’s Day and so this year, I find myself wondering:

How can we celebrate a mom who’s no longer here?

How can I celebrate being a mom when I’m so deeply sad, when there is so much to grieve?

Of course, I grieve this loss. Nancy has been a profound part of half of my life. She’s showed up for every major (and many minor) event in my life over the last twenty years.

9 Nancy Graduation

She’s been the lifeblood of our family – the driving force for family get togethers, the model of radical hospitality and a table large enough to include everyone, the keeper of memories, the taker of pictures (oh so many pictures), and the instigator of Utter Chaos reunions.

The hole that she’s leaving in our family is huge.

Doug & Nancy

I also grieve for my husband, who takes after his mom in so many ways.

And I grieve for my father-in-law, who retired two years ago, only to immediately become both his brother and his wife’s caretaker. I grieve for what could have been (and what should have been) and for the years of leisurely retirement travel that he and Nancy never got to enjoy together. I grieve for the losses he’s experienced in the last 19 months and for the fact that before he’s even properly grieved one loss, he’s suffered another.

Hope & Nancy

But most of all, I grieve for my kids. Hope adored Grandma Nancy, who was never too tired, sick, or busy to put on a show with her. And so I grieve for the shows that Hope will now have to perform alone, for the cute outfits that Grandma will never get to buy Hope, and for the shenanigans that the two will never get to have together.

Nancy Hope Kendall

But I grieve even more for Kendall, our 10-month old. While Hope’s first-hand memories of Grandma Nancy will be faint, at least she’ll have them. Kendall won’t. She’ll have only a handful of pictures of her and Grandma. What she’ll know of Grandma Nancy will have to come from our stories of her.

Nancy Waterskiing

Of course, we’ll tell those stories. We’ll talk of how Grandma water skied well into her 50s; Of how Grandma always made oyster soup and a trifle on Christmas Eve in order to honor Great Grandma Frieda; Of eating at the Walnut Room; Of how Grandma Nancy brought Hope to meet Kendall at the hospital; Of how seriously Grandma took hospitality and party planning; And of how, mere months before her death, Grandma did a sky maze and ziplined in FL. We’ll tell Kendall about Grandma’s drive, her tenaciousness, her fighting spirit, and her fierce love. We’ll tell her all of these things… over and over again. But it won’t be the same.

So, this Mother’s Day, I will grieve.

And I’ll hold Hope as she weeps and cries and asks hard questions… Just as we did when we told her that Grandma Nancy died.

Because as Nancy taught me, that’s what mothers do.

You grieve.

And you show up and hold your kids when they grieve.

Sometimes, you even carry their grief for them to make room for a little hope.

Then, when the time is right, you rejoice with them.

So, this Mother’s Day, when Hope gives me the gift she spent all morning making, I’ll smile. And I’ll look at Kendall as she nurses and think, “How did I ever get this lucky?” and I’ll celebrate my first Mother’s Day as a mom of two.

Because as Nancy taught me, that’s what mothers do.

You rejoice in and with your kids, in both big and small ways.

Grief and joy.

It turns out the two aren’t polar opposites. They go together.

So, this Mother’s Day, I’ll admit what so many people know.

Mother’s Day is complicated.

It’s hard and beautiful.

Just like motherhood.

And so I’ll grieve… And rejoice.

Just like Nancy taught me.