After A Loss, A New Beginning


When Dawna Wilson Stafford lost her mom, she had to find a new way forward.

Ihad a really close emotional connection with my mom. Even when I became an adult and started my own life, I hated being separated from her.

She was the one person I could confide in. Whatever hardship or darkness I was going through, she was the person I turned to. 

So, when she passed away in 2021, it turned my world upside-down.

My mom had a progressive lung disease that was years in the making. She treated it with medications, but they became less and less effective over time. She kept getting repeated illnesses that wouldn’t respond to treatment, and there finally came a point when she could no longer visit me in Portland, a state over, where I lived. 

Knowing that my mom’s health was deteriorating, while I was living in another state, broke my heart. And the sicker she got, the stronger the pull I felt to be with her. 

At the same time, my long-time marriage was coming to an end. In the midst of realizing my mom wouldn’t get better, I also had to grieve the loss of a 25-year relationship.

As awful as it was to close the book on my marriage, there was one silver lining: It gave me the freedom to move to Spokane so I could be with my mom.

Saying Goodbye

Going home was bittersweet. I was close to my mom, but I was an absolute wreck.

Everything I once found pride in—my work, family, and personal growth—was gone. I was in my forties, living with my parents, sleeping in the room I’d had as a teen, trying to cope with the end of a marriage and the eventual loss of my mom. I felt like a fraction of the person I once was.

I vividly remember sitting with my mom and dad, and my mom saying, “I know you love me, but I can’t do this anymore.” When she said those words out loud, even though she wasn’t on life support or anything like that, my dad and I burst into tears. While her health had been declining for a long time, this was the moment we had to face the reality of life without her. 

She was tired of fighting. So, she chose hospice. As difficult as it was to accept the finality of it, my dad and I supported her decision. We cared for her at home for eight months. 

For the first time, I was helping my mom with basic things like getting dressed. That was hard to wrap my head around. 

My mom was extremely active and independent her entire life. In fact, she kept working full-time up until shortly before she entered hospice. She drove a school bus for many years and had so much pride in her work. (There were kids she drove to kindergarten who went on to have kids who she drove to kindergarten!) Not long ago, she had been waking up early every morning to drive her bus route. Now, suddenly, she was a 90-pound woman who was dying right before my eyes. 

Still, even as she was losing weight and becoming skin and bones, I only saw my mom. I was caring for her, but she was also caring for me. I felt like a broken person, and though I tried my best not to show it, my mom continued to comfort me the way she always had. She was mentally present right up until the end.

The last thing my mom said to me was, “Will you miss me when I’m gone?” 

She already knew the answer. Still, it was important for her to hear me say it.

The Work Ahead

Death doesn’t make sense. One minute I was talking to my mom about some political issue that mattered to her at the moment, and by three the following morning, she was gone.

On the one hand, I was relieved. The moment that I had been preparing for and dreading for so long had finally come; I didn’t have to brace for it anymore. And my mom’s suffering was over—I was grateful for that.

Still, my mom was gone. This person who provided a safe, loving space my entire life, who always knew what I was going through, good or bad, was no longer here. Simply living in a different state during adulthood and being away from my mom created a heaviness in my heart. How could I live without ever seeing her again?

I allowed myself to grieve. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my whole life or cried myself to sleep as many nights as I did after losing my mom.

After a while, though, I gave myself a pep talk. You can grieve for a time, but there comes a point when you have to tell yourself, “This is ridiculous, not focusing on my health will make me spiral.”

I also know how proud my mom was of everything I had accomplished in my life. I woke up one morning and realized, “She wants me to move forward. She wants me to succeed.”

My own health certainly took a beating while helping my mom through hospice. It’s hard to convey just how stressful that time was, not just what was going on with my mom, but what was happening in my personal life. I was so stressed that I was having regular adrenaline rushes, where it courses through your body and you go cold in the face. And when you’re caring for someone at home, you’re always afraid they’ll pass while you’re asleep. So you don’t sleep very much.

I had also developed unhealthy ways of coping with the stress. I had always been lean and athletic, but there I was sitting on the couch eating peanut butter pretzels, which wasn’t me. I could feel the cortisol in my mind and body wearing me down.

I realized that if I wanted to feel like myself again, I would have to get to work. And I had a lot of it ahead of me.

Catching Glimpses

AshwaMag was the first link in the chain. I didn’t want to medicate myself better; I wanted to support my mood naturally. In my research, I found ashwagandha, which led me to AshwaMag supplements. 

Life didn’t get better overnight, but the supplement cleared some of the cobwebs. Addressing the cortisol and the stress, it helped calmed the anxious feelings and brought me back into focus. It gave me enough of a boost to tackle other areas of my life, like renewing my work. Stripping away some of the darkness allowed me to put myself out there and be okay hearing “no.” But as I took more leaps in my professional life, I started hearing more “yes,” which gave me a confidence boost. 

Healing is a progression. You take one step that makes you feel like yourself again, and that gives you the momentum and courage to take another step… and another. 

Eventually, I started writing again—something my mom always told me I was amazing at. I also picked up my guitar and started playing music again. I used to play for my mom, and it would bring her so much joy. I stopped after she passed because it was too painful. Suddenly, playing made me feel connected to her. 

About a year and a half after losing my mom, after reviving back up my professional and creative self, I started looking at my physical self. I looked in the mirror and decided I was ready to lose the weight I’d gained during that dark period in my life. It meant resigning myself to yet another process, but I’d had enough victories up to that point to be okay with the challenge. I started exercising again and paying attention to what I ate. I’m happy to report that I was able to lose 20 pounds and I’m now in maintenance mode. 

It’s taken two years, but I’m finally catching glimpses of the person my mom knew me to be.

New Beginnings

I miss my mom every day, but I keep moving forward. With time and determination, I managed to find a shred of hope, just enough to grab onto, which gave me the strength to reach for more. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll keep reaching.

It was my mom’s idea to name me Dawna. She always told me, “Your name means ‘new beginnings.’” I’ve tried to keep sight of the intentional name she gave me, even during the darkest period of my life. I remind myself that no matter how low I feel, I always have the opportunity for a reset. There’s always a new dawn.