Yes, You're still a Mother
"God's finger touched him, and he slept."
Today is the anniversary of my son's death.
Lately I've been thinking about other mothers - and fathers - those who've lost a child. I've thought of how many thousands have lost a son or daughter since that day twelve years ago.
I picture them sitting on the first morning of the first day after their child has gone. Stunned. Frozen. Encased in a void, the world outside swirling patterns of blurred, formless colors. Alone...starkly alone. No matter who's with you...it's you and images of your child. Baby images. Ten-year-old images...the last time you spoke. His voice. Her eyes. His death.
How do you move? Where do you step - put your feet? Think! Lift! You can't get it - connections never considered now fail.
You do what you have to do. You make a pot of coffee. Take the dog out. There is everything to be done and nothing to do. What matters? You call on those who will help with 'arrangements'. The word you use when you can't say "planning my child's funeral". Giving back my little son. My daughter. My child. You weren't ready.
The front half of you is gone - sliced off.
"What am I now?", you ask. " Am I still a mother? Can I be a mother if I have no child?" Is that cheating - a lie? Am I no longer allowed to call myself that? Does anyone know? Who will tell me?
And those mothers - and fathers - I wonder who will comfort them. I live in a world with therapists and doctors and bereavement groups. I live in a world of resources. It was my brother who carried me through the first week. My kind brother who eight years earlier lived through this same unimaginable experience. Quietly, in what to me felt like reverence for life lost, he walked every step of the way, his gentle strength taking over for a mind temporarily gone.
Of those thousands I think about, too many may have no one. Poverty, isolation, a rampant drug epidemic taking children every day - 300,000 in the past 15 years. That many more expected to die in the next five. How does hope so strained hold up to the added burdens of grief?
I think about the single mother with no choice but to show up for work the next day. She has to. She has to pay the rent, feed other children. I think about the father tormented with thoughts of having not protected his dead child as he thought he would on the day of her birth. That father is now a little crazy. A little out of his mind. Helplessness can make a man crazy.
And, as I think of these souls, I pray they have someone...a friend, a spouse, a parent - God. I write this to tell them they're never alone.
And, time does make a difference. In time you will hold your child differently, tucked under your heart, a steady part of your being. Wherever you are, whatever you do - standing on the train platform, pushing a grocery cart, holding complete conversations, whispering prayers at the end of the day - your child is with you.
But, even with the passage of time, you will cry when you talk of your child or think of something he or she said...something smart, something funny...something that let you see his compassion. When you walk, you feel your child's step. A word as simple as, "really", is heard by you as he would have said it. You carry his social security card in your wallet. You carry a scribbled note to see the work of the hand you held on the day he or she was born. You picture those hands and you love them.
You will laugh again. You will plant flowers in your garden and marvel at the miracle of rebirth. You will be more compassionate. You will feel like never before when a parent you meet shares their story of loss. You will listen better. You will judge less. Wrapped in a blanket of humility, you see how little you know.
You will wonder why people waste time with bitterness and resentment, why they make the unimportant important, why they insist on judging others. But, in the wondering, you also know this, it is folly that makes us human. You let it go and remind yourself to not judge the 'judger'.
You want to tell the woman lost in her cell phone while her child strains in her walker, hoping to catch her mother's eye - please, put your phone away. Put it away now and tomorrow and the day after that. Cherish that dear child soon to grow up, so soon to leave.
And, if your child left a child behind, you will watch closely as they tell a joke, as they look at you out of the corner of their eye. You know that look...you remember it from times past. You don't say a word, but, you notice. For a moment you pretend everything is as it used to be.
You go on.
This post is a post of hope. A post meant to comfort. If you, on this day are one of those parents, allow yourself to feel. Don't let anyone rush you away from your grief.
Whether your child was two or forty-two, ignore those who would tell you it's worse or better at one time of life or another. Every child buried is buried at two...no matter their age.
And, if you cry...ignore those who would tell you your child doesn't want you to cry. You must cry. You will never stop crying. In time you will do it less, but you will always cry.
Know those who say what sounds like the 'wrong thing', mean well. They're doing their best. There are no right words. We should not expect them.
And while in your grief, keep going. Small things. Walk. Go to the woods, the lake, drive on a backcountry road. Let birds sing for you. Write your thoughts. Photograph things of beauty. Talk to your child. Then listen. Read what will bring you comfort. That person who seems unfriendly may themselves be grieving. Be kind. Small things will bring you to the next day. And the many days after that.
We will never know why, why we were chosen, but this is the way it is for us - those parents who will forever be mothers and fathers.
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