A Letter to Grieving Mothers on Mother's Day
Like most aspects of bereaved parenthood, a holiday celebrating moms feels complicated. "I feel your pain," one mom writes to her fellow grieving mothers.
Dear grieving mother,
I feel your pain. I know this day looks nothing like it should.
You don't know me, but you do know my heart—and I know yours. I carry your loss with me as an invisible security blanket as I go about my days. I think of you when I'm struggling, knowing somewhere out there, you're struggling, too. I imagine you holding your lifeless child or having to make horrific decisions, and I feel less alone. I am aware of how many aspects of your personality have shifted, how much you've suffered, how often you've felt shunned from our death-avoidant society. I will not demand that you count your blessings today, and you don't have to fake a smile.
Today, I hope you do whatever you want, although I realize that what you really want is your child and a "normal" day, ever again. But if a movie piques your interest, please, treat yourself. If junk food sounds okay, eat up. If you want to stay in bed all day, I hope you have cozy blankets and that you allow yourself that quietude. If you break down into a heaving mess on the floor, it's okay. You can't be expected not to. If you don't cry, or if this day seems insignificant, or if you feel numb, that's fine, too.
You might feel left out today. You'll likely sense the blurry line between your motherhood and your otherhood. Maybe today you won't see your baby's gummy grins, or your toddler won't give you an endearingly messy preschool creation with macaroni glued onto it. Maybe your big kid won't bring you breakfast in bed, or your teenager won't sheepishly offer you a card or say "Thanks, Mom." Maybe your collegiate child won't call you, or your adult child won't send you flowers. It's not fair, and I'm so sorry.
Ignore Mother's Day if that would be easier. Run errands, or keep yourself busy with small, achievable tasks around your home. You do not have to answer calls, open your door, or speak. You owe no one an explanation or an apology. If others don't understand, consider them lucky.
More than most others can, you can deeply appreciate why Barbara Bush's hair went gray in her 20s, or why Joe Biden didn't run for president in 2016, because, as he said, "I didn't have the emotional energy to do it." Let no one—I repeat, no one—tell you that you should or could feel differently if you would just do this or that. Your grief is not someone else's problem to solve. You're doing the best you can, and you know it. You don't need fixing. You are not a burden, today or any day.
But if you do want to celebrate or acknowledge this day, you are more than entitled to do so. You're not only a mother, you're an unusually courageous, tender, tenacious one. Your child, like mine, might be your most pervading thought, the most influential human you've ever known, and the most ignored and minimized aspect of your life. You're a mother with an unwanted but hard-earned awareness of life's fragility. You know the brutal and mysterious complexity of loving your child across time and space, in this lifetime and into the next. You have earned your place at this table.
You probably have friends who've quietly slipped out the back door, although their absence feels loud. But I also hope you have solid supporters—even just one or two—who accept you as you are, without forced nudges toward the future, or changes of subject, or fixations on the positive despite your pain. And if you don't have those supportive people, please consider me one. I assure you, you are good enough, scars and all.
Grieving mother, you're tougher than anyone realizes, especially including yourself. I'm willing to bet there's nothing—literally, nothing—anyone can say or do that will rattle you today the way your child's death did. You've already faced the most incomprehensible, dreaded news a human can hear. Somehow, although perhaps you did not want to, you still woke up the next day. And the next.
For what it's worth, I look at you with boiling-over admiration. No other mothers stoke the flames in my heart like grieving ones. Whether you're in a season of waiting, or hurting, or hoping—or all of the above—you matter. Remember this today: you are not alone. Grieving mother, we're in this together.
Missing your child and mine,
Another grieving mother