​Real Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: Summer of Grief

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on September 23, 2022 # Lifestyle

lakeIt was ingrained in me to be resilient in all parts of my life. I was taught to pick myself up, dust myself off and move on no matter what has occurred. From giving an hour-long presentation with two freshly broken ribs to arranging playdates for my kids while recovering from major surgery (because we didn’t have daycare), I have always kept moving to the next thing, even from a hospital bed. But this summer, after navigating years of physical and emotional hurdles that I kept “leaping” over, I was thrown off course in an Earth-shattering way. At the beginning of the Summer, my big sister, who had always been my right hand, the person who could make me laugh through anything, who I could count on to be there, passed away suddenly. The only physical feeling I can liken it to is falling so hard you get the air knocked out of you…only I’m still waiting for the air to come back, and so are my mom, kids, and husband.

I don’t know what a “normal” sibling relationship is supposed to look like, but we talked and texted every day, and there was probably a FaceTime with my kids thrown in for good measure. While we had different personalities, we loved each other fiercely, and were each other's champions. She was my first call when anything good or bad happened. If something were to happen to my husband and I, she agreed to raise our kids, because she loved them as much as we do. And they still love her as much as they love me.

Losing her felt like my soul was vacuumed out of my body. From the time we heard the news, I ran on adrenaline. We tried to maintain normality for our kids, from a prearranged picnic that I sort of remember, to buying my own birthday cake, and making a last-minute fun fair and sleepover with a dear friend who took them the night before so I wouldn’t get stuck in traffic for the funeral. We decided it would be too overwhelming for them to attend the funeral, the feels would be too big, and they are still little in many ways. Their last memory of their beloved aunt shouldn’t be a picture and a box; it should be love, silliness and playing with her puppy.

I threw myself into the end-of-the-year activities, wanting to end the year on as positive a note as I could. But as the adrenaline waned from my body, the grief that overtook me brought pain and conditions I had ignored for another day, but now had begun to flare up. I signed them up for as much as I could muster the energy to take them to. But my spoons were spent, and my pain, which normally cruised between a level four and six, was cranked to an eight or ten. I’m very thankful for the friends who dropped off food at this time because I was just existing. I’m even more thankful for my girls who understood that we were all going through something, even if there weren’t always words for it. We talked about my sister every day (and still do), and to a point, about heaven.

I did make sure they had fun. There were camps, classes and playdates. We even took a road trip at the end. But for me, my mindset didn’t begin to ease until we had a few fun things that had been set up before – a concert with friends, a ladies’ night to see Lady Gaga, and one of the most key things that helped me start looking forward, an art class my friend suggested. Suddenly I had something to look forward to and a hands-on activity that wasn’t writing or cleaning.

The epidural in my back that greatly eased my pain was also a serious boon to my existence. Have I stopped being sad? No. But I’m giving myself some grace, and it’s made me appreciate the people I love more and be mindful of the time I give them.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and myself.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.