To All Mom’s Struggling through Mother’s Day After the Loss of a Child
Earlier in March, she and her classmates made all the moms a cookie press in their first-grade art class, and Susan Walsh, her kind, patient, wise first-grade teacher brought it to me the Saturday before Mother’s Day, in a little brown paper bag with shredded paper confetti and a ribbon.
I remember opening that gift on that chilly, sunny Saturday afternoon and being flooded with emotions: gratitude for this kind sweet soul who would come to my house weekly for the rest of the school year to share a cup of tea with me while I struggled to find my balance; joy at the thought that my little sweetheart’s hands had so recently shaped this small piece of clay (her older sister Jackie had created a similar gem 4 years before, and I wept as I recalled Lauren asking me in her innocently accusing 6-year-old voice just a few days before her death, “Mommy! Where is Jackie’s cookie press? And why don’t you use it?”); and then desperation, yearning, and hopelessness all rolled up in one unpressed, raw ball of grief as I was struck with the realization that this would be the last Mother’s Day gift my daughter would ever give me.
The celebration of being a mom that our society has created for the second Sunday in May is one intended to honor and support the women in our lives who have made the universe-altering decision to bring a child into the world. We enter pregnancy or adoption proceedings with blind trust that this little soul will be healthy, grow to achieve his or her maximum potential, and, we pray, find happiness. Mother’s Day is supposed to be a light-filled, love-filled day of celebration and joy.
For those of us who have lost a child, it becomes an exhausting day of emptiness and sadness.
For all the moms today who’ve lost their babies who weren’t fully formed, or whose babies came into the world too soon and died in arms, or who lost their children suddenly to accident or to COVID-19 or some other unexpected illness, or who lost their little ones to a slow agonizing debilitating illness, to the mature moms whose adult children died in war, or whose sons and daughters died in terrible accidents or from prolonged diseases, from suicide, or drug overdose, or murder — to all moms everywhere who grieve — I recognize and honor and support your possibly ambivalent feelings towards this day intended to celebrate your identity as a mother.
After 20 years of getting through this second Sunday in May, I long to reassure the struggling members of this unwanted and hateful club, that you can do this. You can endure the first steps of this path which seems to be an impossibly steep incline at 10,000 feet, where you must grab your knees every few feet as you gasp for breath. I can assure you that eventually this path flattens out, even becomes paved. Early in grief, you don’t even want to think the way will get easier, because there’s this unspoken suspicion that if somehow your pain diminishes, so too will the love and connection you have with your child.
This won’t happen. And I promise you, you can do this. You have everything you need deep down inside you to survive this grief, to survive your sadness, and to get to the place on this path where you can breathe again. You just have to be reminded where that strength is stored.
The fact is this: you will always be your child’s mother. To quote my favorite author Ursula K LeGuin, “what cannot be mended must be transcended.”
You may not be able to make your daughter her favorite pancakes before school throughout second grade, or take her to buy her first homecoming dress. You might not watch your son win his final high school cross country race, or feel that pang on the day you drop him off on his first day of college as he walks away towards his dorm, hands in his pockets, head down because he refuses to turn around and look at you again for fear he may start crying.
But you will find a way to keep this child in your life and in your heart. You will find a way to continue to be his or her mom. It is going to look different than what you expected on the day you held those buttery limbs in your arms for the first time after he or she was born. But you will find the way to do it.
On this Mother’s Day all of us at GrieveWell hold the space for you, and honor your path of transcendence.