A Mother’s Heart and the Loss of Debbie Reynolds

My wife is a huge fan of old movies. She has opened a whole world of black and white classics to me over the years and I do admit there is something very special about Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, and My Fair Lady that you don’t get in modern cinema. I even have an appreciation for the sweet old Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies she loves so much. With that in mind, it would be no surprise to you that she adores Debbie Reynolds. In fact, we used to sing Good Morning and Lullaby in Blue to our kids when they were little.

After you watch someone on screen for decades and peek into their candid lives, you sort of feel like you know them. You can almost pick one of their roles and choose the personality you think you would like best (which would almost certainly leave you disappointed should you ever meet them.) Unfair or not, we all do it and she chose the wholesome, determined, and loving Polly Parish from Bundle of Joy for Debbie Reynolds. (Ironically, during the filming of that movie she was pregnant with her husband and co-star, Eddie Fisher’s baby.)


This week, she was very sad to hear news of Debbie Reynolds’ passing shortly after the death of her daughter. She was sad, but she also understood in a keen and tragic way. There is something unique about a mother’s heart and the toll the death of her child takes on it. That grief cuts an unfair swath that simply can’t be mended. I don’t discount the pain a father feels, but there is a unique and special bond between mother and child and quite frankly, a woman’s heart has a larger capacity to love which intensifies the pain when that love is ripped away.

I know this because I have watched my wife.

I have watched her rejoice over birth, love through pain, feed, nurture, and invest her heart into four precious lives that were supposed to carry that same torch to their little ones – perpetuating a cycle that started long before her and should have outlived her by many generations.

I have also watched her hold the hand of one of those daughters as her life slipped away and I’ve seen her heart break over and over again as she relives that moment. I’ve watched her rally to be confidant and I have seen her give up and sink into a puddle of confusion and tears.

Shortly after Kylie’s death, I sat with her as she received her own potentially dire diagnosis. In the moment of discovery, I witnessed in her face an attitude much like a song from one of her old movies, Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be). Fortunately, her illness was easily treated, but that attitude of capitulation to fate was birthed solely from the loss of her daughter. I am convinced that she would have been unafraid had the prognosis been terminal because her heart is so broken.


I wonder sometimes how her mother’s heart doesn’t just give out and maybe that is what happened to Carrie Fisher’s mom. The piece pulled from her eighty-four year-old heart might have been too much to allow another beat and grief wrapped it up like a giant iron fist and squeezed the life right out.

I get it, I really do.

Were it not for the other children that call my wife mommy, I am not sure if she would be here today. I think her heart may have been too heavy to continue its rhythmic march, but those three became a lifeline and a purpose – little ones who still need her. I am ever-thankful for the way they doggedly clung to their mommy and delicately pieced her heart back together. They became three tangible reasons to continue that maybe Mrs. Reynolds lacked. I understand that she has a son, but he is a grown man long independent. I am sorry for his losses.

All Girls


For a mother, a child’s death can break not only her heart, but her will to live. Unfortunately, in our childhood cancer community we know too many mothers who have experienced this pain. This week, I have heard some say they are jealous and would rather be gone with their baby than facing the pain of absence. Grief is that hard. Most say they weren’t surprised when they heard of her death and they understand – they get it.

I get it, too.

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Reynolds. May your heart be whole once again as you unite with your daughter in that galaxy far, far away.


16 thoughts on “A Mother’s Heart and the Loss of Debbie Reynolds

  1. Yes Mark, exactly. I felt just the same as you have described your ‘lovely wife’s’ feelings. Thank you for validating and honoring our grieving Mother’s hearts in this way. You always write so well and it is comforting to read. Wishing you and all your treasured girls, a happy & healthy 2017.
    LOve from, Kriss in Australia where it is 2017 already 🙂 xxx

  2. You honor Mrs. Reynolds and all mothers with your compassion and masterful prose, Mark.
    I hope 2017 is good to you and yours, Mark.
    You certainly deserve many days of joy and laughter, my friend.

  3. yes, and i understand every word of this. peace to all mothers (and fathers) who lose their children. i do believe it is possible to die of a broken heart.

  4. I noticed after my brother died (the only boy surrounded by 5 sisters) mom changed and eventually that change turned into Alzheimers. That Alzheimer’s spared her from knowing about two of my sisters passing before her as well. If she had known I think that would’ve pushed her over.

    1. That makes total sense to me. I had never thought of it before, but I wonder if Kylie’s death accelerated my mothers Alzheimers. She had trace signs, but really fell off a cliff after the emotional experience of the funeral. Interesting and tragic.

  5. Mark, The picture of your wife & daughters shortly after Kylie’s birth is most precious. In fact, your entire post is priceless & precious. It is a true look at the tremendous heartbreak of Moms & Dads when their child dies! The loss & reality never ends and the grief Is forever.
    You write beautifully with each blog. However, some of your writing knocks the wind out of me and fills my eyes with tears. Your love of your family, beginning with your wife is the best gift, you give to them! I admire you greatly!

    1. Thank you, Michelle. After what I’ve seen up close, I can totally see how her mama’s heart just burst. Happy New Year! Looking forward to more Lipstick and Laundry in 2017.

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