Family Business: A Story of Focused Grief

Though it’s not always easy to be born into something, and we don't always make the right decisions, don't regret the journey towards your own legacy.

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Diana McKenna’s parent’s died in a car accident when she was 14. They left behind Diana, her younger sister Maggie, and the family business, a bakery. Diana and Maggie were devastated, and Diana was left with a lot of lingering remorse. Before the accident, Diana sometimes felt like she hated her mother: “People would always compliment my parents on their ‘incredible family business,’ but I never wanted anything to do with it back then. In my mind, I was jealous, and the bakery was their favorite child.”

Diana, now 20, struggled to find purpose in her life in the wake of the accident. “It’s not always easy to be born into something, especially when it feels you have no choice but to follow the path set before you, but there’s always a choice,” Diana says. Though Diana admits to not always making the right decisions, she doesn’t regret her journey towards understanding and appreciating her parent’s legacy. Over time, she has developed a passion for sharing that legacy with the next generation of her family, beginning with her three-year-old daughter.

Immediately after Diana’s parent’s died, her father’s parents, Louise and Stu came over from Scotland to live with the girls and help run Nancy’s, the bakery named after Diana’s mother. Maggie was only six at the time. It was a huge adjustment.

Diana remembers the day her grandparents moved in, “We knew them, they were people we knew from Christmas visits and summer holidays, but they felt like perfect strangers when they came after Mom and Dad died.”

Stu smelled like the tobacco from the pipe he stepped outside to smoke each evening, far from her father’s fresh aftershave, and Louise didn’t know how to bake and often forgot to pack lunches for Diana and Maggie to take to school with them. They weren’t her mother and father.

Louise watched Diana’s demeanor change as she worked through her grief: “One day she was up, and the next day she was down. Then, one day, she was really down.”

Instead of focusing on schoolwork, Diana began spending more and more time with an older boyfriend. She skipped class and wanted almost nothing to do with her grandparents or her responsibilities at home. At night, Diana was haunted by memories of her parents.

Stu made a habit of checking on the girls each night to make sure they were safe in bed, “I would always find Diana curled up on the edge of Maggie’s bed. She just didn’t want to be alone.”

Diana had always been bored by school and quickly finished her coursework to graduate high school when she was only 17 and found herself pregnant with Laura.

To some families, a teenage pregnancy would be a curse, but it brought the McKenna family back together. Diana experienced extreme complications during her second trimester and spent four months on bed rest at home. The doctors recommended Diana abort her pregnancy, but she refused. Louise never left her side.

“When I had to fight for Laura, I realized that I wanted this baby, I wanted my life, and I missed my mom. After all the hard stuff, Laura is our family’s miracle,” Diana reflects.

She began to read her mother’s favorite books, and Louise even dug some of Nancy’s old maternity clothes out of storage in the attic. After Laura was born, Diana began baking some of her mother’s classic recipes. She found she had an aptitude for pastry. She worked hard at it, sometimes crafting four or five different types of cookies and cakes each day. Eventually, she even completed an apprenticeship with a local baker.

Diana now helps Louise and Stu run the bakery.

On any given day, the case at the front of the shop boasts some of the best pastries in British Columbia, or so Maggie claims. Fruit pies and chocolate tarts glisten beneath the glass, and there’s a faint clatter of activity from the kitchen.

When asked about Diana’s journey, Louise just chuckles softly, “It’s funny how we feel so out of sorts and against the world, but really we just want our mama.”

“Nan isn’t my mom, but she’s pretty fantastic,” Diana smiles at Louise.

“I feel her here. Sometimes I close the oven doors and turn around expecting to see her,” Diana explains. Her fingers seem to have a life of their own as they knead the dough. Everything in the kitchen is stainless steel. The large ovens, the vast countertops, rows of shelving, and a pair of industrial sinks all gleam silver. It should be a cold space, but it feels cozy and smells like Christmas.

Laura coos and giggles from Louise’s freckled arms as they listen to Diana’s steady storytelling. The chubby-cheeked toddler has no idea what events and miracles brought her here.

It can be hard to be “born into” something—whether it’s a business, a religion or a way of life. It’s a feeling of helplessness that comes when you feel like you don’t have any control over your life. The family-run bakery took up much of Diana and Maggie’s parent’s time. Diana remembers feeling “like the business came first and we came second. Mags won’t remember, but it was hard to have my mom’s undivided attention.”

After the accident, Diana felt a large amount of guilt for the resentment she harbored against her parents. “It wasn’t my fault that my parents died or that the business took up so much of their time,” she says, “But I still felt awful for the way I treated my parents for pursuing their passion, which, ironically, is now one of my passions.”

Diana has learned a lot from the way she felt out of control as a child and a teen, both in missing her parents while they worked and after their deaths: “I just want to make sure Laura knows she’s more important than any business. I’m in control now, or at least I’ve had to realize that it’s okay that I can’t control everything. I have to make my own choices.”  Laura and the bakery are Diana’s choices now.

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