After the death of her husband, Bobbie Thomas says one of the most healing things in her life is getting to take care of her son, Miles — and one of the hardest things is watching him navigate his own grief while knowing she can't always protect him from pain.
The TODAY contributor opened up to Hoda Kotb about how she's coping, explaining that taking care of 5-year-old Miles has been a welcome port in the storm after losing her husband at age 42 six months ago.
"I can't imagine going through this alone, and I know a lot of people are," she said on TODAY. "He really is the reason I got up, and I have gratitude for being loved."
Still, watching her son grieve his loss and try to help his mom at the same time hasn't been easy for the beauty and lifestyle expert.
"Your son's trying to fix your pain. He's trying to heal you," Hoda said.
"That's the most painful because I'm his mom," Thomas replied. "He is ... looking for solutions. A 5-year-old, they grieve very differently."
She recalled a conversation she had with her son at bedtime.
"He asked me, 'Who invented it and why?' I thought he was going to ask me about a truck or something."
She asked Miles what he meant and he said, "This life."
Thomas said she was stunned, and then Miles said, "I just don't understand why we all can't be angels."
"He was still trying to figure out how we could all be together," she told Hoda.
"He does this thing whenever he catches me with a tear or crying or having a moment where I'm trying to just take a deep breath. He (says), 'Are you crying happy tears or sad tears?'"
"I haven't had time to worry about my own stuff as much, as I want to protect him," she continued. "I'm starting to realize I can't protect him from everything, and he's got a lot to unpack."
Thomas isn't afraid to bring up her late husband around her son.
"I talk about Michael, and I think it's really important that (Miles is) surrounded by him. Pictures. He has so many vivid memories. He comes walking in, he's, like, 'Mom, look, Dad's favorite candy,'" she said, laughing. "It's like, 'Is this an excuse to eat the candy?'"
Miles has Marion's old guitar and is "so proud," Thomas added. "He'll say, 'My daddy's guitar, I have to take really good care of it.'"
He's also staying close to his father through relationships with Marion's close friends. One of them called recently and spoke to Miles on the phone.
"At the end of his phone call, (he) said, 'Your daddy was my best friend, so you have big responsibility. That means you're my best friend,' and his face was just like — he was so happy," Thomas said.
She's keeping her husband's memory alive for her son through her in-laws, as well. They're spending the summer together so Miles can go to camp with his cousins.
"I think it's really healthy that he knows that I am sad sometimes and that I miss Daddy, and I want to be honest with him," Thomas explained.
Miles also provides his mom with positive memories of his dad.
"(Miles is) just so easy like Michael. He's so silly," Thomas said. "It's something that I'm eternally grateful for because I don't think I'm that silly. ... I worry, so it's good that Miles is like no part of me in that. He's always silly."
Another lesson Thomas hopes her son remembers from his father: How hard he worked after his unexpected stroke in 2019 at age 40. Marion relearned how to walk and even got strong enough to pick Miles up.
"Miles always remembers, 'Oh, yeah, when Daddy was working out,'" Thomas said. "He saw how hard Michael worked, so I feel really good that someday when he's older, he'll know that his dad did everything he could."