Dear Cate, Emma Claire, and Jack,
I am so sorry for your loss.
You are probably going to hear a lot of that over the coming weeks, often from people like me who didn't know your mother at all, except for what they saw of her on television and read of her in newspapers and magazines and, occasionally, on the internet. We all feel like we knew your mother, but we didn't -- you did. Remember that when people say things that aren't so kind.
As someone who also lost her mother way too early -- also at age 61 -- I feel so incredibly sorry for you, and I can't help but give advice.
To begin with, you should probably be aware that the next few weeks, and months, and years are going to be really hard -- and really weird. It's hard to imagine right now, but you will eventually get through this. In the meantime, just try to roll with it as best you can. Feel what you are feeling. Talk about it -- to each other, to your loved ones, to your friends. Don't hold it in.
Birthdays and holidays are hard, but that's expected. But be warned: you're going to find yourself crying when you least expect it. Sometimes I cry when I see people with their children -- because I miss my mother, and because I feel sorry for my future children who will never know their grandmother. In the three years since my mother died, that hasn't subsided, and I don't know that it ever will.
You'll also find yourself laughing at times, also when it's unexpected. For me, it was when I was going through my mother's possessions. I was hysterical when I found the random things that she collected, like hundreds of dollars of quarters she had hidden in her nightstand. And I laughed while searching through her disorganized files to find the paperwork about the extension she was building onto the house, only to find my birth announcement and a newspaper clipping from my kindergarten graduation thrown in the wrong file.
Mostly, try to remember your mother -- not the public version that everyone talks about, but the person. Hold on to the stories and the memories. (I tend to write mine down, but that's just me.)
My thoughts and prayers are with you.