A few days ago, we reached out to our readers and asked for their help writing a post in anticipation of Mother’s Day. Specifically, we asked mothers grieving the death of a child to share one thing they want people to know about their grief on Mother’s Day. Our intent was to create a list of responses. We received comments and messages from close to one hundred different women. Although their collective wisdom is the result of a diverse range of experiences, there is a synchronicity to their words that made us feel they belonged together in one cohesive whole. So, instead of presenting you with a choppy and disjointed list, we’ve taken many of the responses we received and put them together in a letter. This letter is not written by one bereaved mother, but an entire chorus of mothers. Their words are not at all the same, but their message blends together to create a mournful, harmonious, and beautiful song. We tried our best to provide the glue that holds these words together, but we probably have not done the collective conversation justice. Especially because we’ve received many new responses in the time it took us to post this letter. If you’d like to read the actual responses or personally engage in the ongoing conversation, head to our Facebook and/or our Instagram.
I miss my child every day. This grief of mine will never leave me, and honestly, why should it? I love my child more than I ever could have imagined, and yes, I do mean present tense “love”. It is excruciating knowing that my child will never return to my arms. However, a mother’s love for her child doesn’t require physical presence; this can be proven by the fact that most mothers love their children well before they are even born. I will love my child forever, and therefore, I will grieve my child forever. This is just how it goes. I know it’s difficult for some people to understand my ongoing grief, I guess because they want me to “get better” or return to “normal.” However, I actually am normal. I’m just different now. I believe those who say they want to support me on difficult days like Mother’s Day, but part of this is accepting me as a grieving mother who will always love her deceased child. Again, this is just how it goes.
My grief is like the weather. Somedays it’s calm, quiet, maybe even a little sunny. Other days it’s a devastating storm that makes me feel angry, exhausted, raw, and empty. I wake up in the morning and wonder – “Am I even alive at all? And if so, how am I supposed to make it through this day?” This is why, when you ask me how I feel about Mother’s Day, all I can say is that it depends. Of course, I’m going to try my best to cope with the day, but while you’re hoping that your Mother’s Day picnic doesn’t get spoiled by actual rain, I’ll be praying that the grief storms stay at bay. Like many things in a grieving mother’s life, Mother’s Day is bittersweet to the nth degree. On the one hand, I feel immense joy because I was blessed with my child and I feel gratitude for every moment I was given with them. On the other hand, the pain of missing my child – my greatest happiness, my life’s purpose, and my best friend – is intense. Bereaved mothers live with so many of these confusing contrasts. They are like undercurrents that tug at and toss about our hearts and minds.
I am the mother of a child who is not alive. Perhaps a child who you’ve never met. You can’t ask me about their school year, or how they’re liking piano lessons, or whether they’ve chosen a major in college. In my mind, I’ve imagined my child doing all these things. People don’t realize that I grieve each of my child’s milestones, knowing they didn’t get the opportunity to experience these special days. Most people don’t know how to validate my child’s place in the world or my ongoing role as my child’s mother. This is a difficult concept for others to grasp. Heck, sometimes even I grapple with the answers to questions like “Do you have children?” and “How many?.” I know many bereaved mothers, like me, long for these questions to have straightforward answers. Sadly, mothers who have experienced the death of their only child may even wonder whether they get to call themselves a mother at all in broader society. So, in addition to the pain of grief, these mothers have to cope with a sense of being left out, forgotten, and ignored. Can you imagine how that might feel?
I think it must be like being stabbed through the heart and when you turn to others for help they say “What blood?” “What knife?” Then, for mothers who have surviving children, there is this gem of a comment – “Don’t forget, you’re lucky to have other children.” Please let me assure you, a mother does not forget any of her children. This mother loves each and every one of her unique and special children in unique and special ways, but one of her children has died and so her love for this child looks a little untraditional. Mothers do not have a finite amount of love to be shifted, divided, and spread around depending on the number of children they have on this Earth. So please be careful with your comments, because it’s difficult enough for grieving mothers who often feel torn between feeling joy and happiness for their living children and grief for the child who has died.
All that said, you asked me what it’s like to grieve a child on Mother’s Day, so here’s what I have to say: This day will forever be hard for me. I live with an emptiness that no one can fill; so I may be sad, I may be unsociable, and I may need to take a break to be by myself in a quiet place. Whatever shape my grief takes on this day, please allow me to feel the way I feel and please follow my lead. Beyond that, acknowledge me as a mother. It makes me feel forgotten and as though my child has been forgotten when people act as though my child never existed. Also, I can sense that people feel uncomfortable talking about my child and I constantly feel like the elephant in the room, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Honestly, I find it really comforting when someone talks about my child. I love hearing their name spoken out loud! I love hearing stories about them. Maybe you know a story I’ve never heard, or maybe I’ve heard it a hundred times before, but it really doesn’t matter to me. Your acknowledgment alone is one of the greatest Mother’s Day gifts you could give me.
I guess while I’m offering my two cents, I also have something to say to my fellow bereaved mothers. No one has it all figured out, but I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. If you’re worried about Mother’s Day, you’re not alone. Try not to get overwhelmed or wrapped up in anxiety. You may actually find that the anticipation of the day is worse than the day itself. You may want to plan a whole day of activities just to stay busy, or you may feel like doing nothing at all. There is no “right” way to handle Mother’s Day – but do try to plan ahead a little. You may want to reach out to others who are struggling with the day and, if you can, it always helps to face the day with people who love and support you. Whatever you do, believe you will make it through the day. With time, the grief storms will grow smaller and less frequent and you will find a little more balance and room to breathe. Believe you will be okay and have hope that in the future you will find yourself in a place where you can grieve and celebrate on Mother’s Day all at the same time. Let’s take care of each other, M
Thank you to all the women who offered their honest and genuine words of wisdom. Our hearts go out to all those grieving on Mother’s Day. We’re here.