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Katherine Heigl opens up about how the death of her brother shaped her as a mom

"The idea of loving my children the way I did terrified me."
/ Source: TODAY

Katherine Heigl was terrified when she first became a mother — and not just the regular “I have no idea what I’m doing” fear of most new parents.

She was terrified because she had watched her own parents suffer through the death of her older brother, Jason, who died of injuries from a car accident when he was 16 and she was 8.

That loss shaped her forever, the actress told TODAY Parents.

“When I first became a mother, the idea of loving my children the way I did terrified me. Because it could be all taken away. Many people have suffered through something like that,” Heigl said. “I have witnessed the worst thing that can happen to a parent happen to my parents. And I think that it definitely affects how you feel and what you think and what your core beliefs are about life and parenting and love.”

One thing that helped Heigl was talking to her mother, Nancy, about how she got through her son’s death. “I’ve come to understand that you can survive it, and it doesn’t negate the worthwhile love. So it shouldn’t hinder that love and your passion for that love in any way — because then you’ve lost before you’ve even begun.”

Related video: To the grieving mothers, a message of support

Heigl spoke to TODAY Parents after joining TODAY with Kathie Lee and Hoda to talk about her new role on the USA Network drama “Suits” in the role of Samantha Wheeler. (Disclosure: USA Network and NBC are owned by the same parent company, NBC Universal.) Heigl enjoys spending time with her family in Toronto, where “Suits” is filmed, but home for Heigl is the Utah ranch she shares with husband Josh Kelly and their four children.

Yes, four: In addition to their two daughters, Naleigh and Adalaide, and 18-month-old son Joshua Jr., Heigl said she and Kelly are also caring for her sister’s 16-year-old daughter.

“It’s a total circus,” Heigl says with a laugh. “We are knee-deep in diapers and at the same time we’re like, ‘OK Maddie, we’re going to have to start looking at colleges this year.’”

Heigl said embracing the loving chaos that comes with being a mom of four has ultimately been good for her. She’s had to move on from her previously perfectionist ways.

“There’s a perspective that was missing in my 20s that I now have as a 39-year-old mother of four. It’s like, 'OK, I know what really matters now,'” Heigl said. “I was spinning and spinning and spinning and trying to juggle so many things at once and all PERFECTLY, you know? You just miss those moments of easy joy.” So she made a conscious choice to relax and celebrate the joy in the ordinary moments — the inspiration for the title of her blog and lifestyle site, “Those Heavenly Days.”

Sure, Heigl admits, she still loves to host a fabulous dinner party or pull off a big holiday meal just so. But that’s not what her life is about now. “There are so many nights that are just sitting on the sofa with my kids and my dogs and watching ANOTHER animated movie we’ve seen a thousand times once again,” Heigl says. “And if you just take a breath, take a moment to look around you can feel that heavenliness. This is everything I wanted. This is everything I hoped for — and it’s even better than I could have imagined.”