There’s a day in May set aside to honor and remember mothers. This day is often joyously filled with dinners out, heart-felt cards, phone calls, visits, special church services, photo opps, flowers, social media posts, gifts, breakfasts in bed, and more. I love that this day exists and that so many spend it showering well-deserved extra love on some of the hardest working people there are on this planet.
But, here’s the other side….and there’s ALWAYS another side even if we choose to ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist. Mother’s Day, like most holidays, holds sadness and heartbreak for many. There are those who have wonderful moms who have passed on from this world. Mother’s Day becomes a day of remembrance instead of a day of celebration. If you had a great mom, it’s hard to live without her no matter your age. There are some things that only your mama (whether biological, adoptive, bonus, or totally unrelated) can fix. We are all so lucky to have these wonderful women in our lives. They helped shape us into the people we are.
Then there are those who’ve lost a child. It doesn’t matter at what age this loss occurs. It hurts like no other pain. These are the mothers that I’d like to talk to and about in this piece. I’ve been thinking about voicing these sentiments for a while but hesitated because they are morbid and difficult to discuss.
I’ve read a lot about grief and the loss of a child. I have seldom seen the specific subject of responsibility and guilt addressed in the way I’m going to here; however, I know that I can’t be the only one who has these feelings. I am posting on the day set aside for mothers in the hope that someone else who feels this way needs to hear that they aren’t alone.
“YOU are not responsible for your child’s death, Mama.” The words sound hollow even as I want to desperately believe them. I need to believe them to fully heal, but deep inside, I know that will never happen. Because, guess what? Mothers of dead children secretly don’t want to fully heal. We want to be responsible because we cling to the belief that we are THAT significant to our children. We WANT to be that important to our children because we would give our own life for them. We can’t ever fully recover from this loss because that would mean our child wasn’t as vital to us as our own breath. We NEED to feel the pain to make sure we don’t forget. “I was given this gift of a precious child, and my most important job was to keep him/her safe. I failed.”
After years spent nurturing, protecting, loving, and teaching, plus praying and hoping for health and happiness, how could something this horrible happen? What could I have done to prevent it? Moms are the fixers, the band-aid and kiss providers, the make the impossible (project, schedule, party) possible people. There HAS to be something I could have done!! If we could just find the answer, figure out what we should have done differently, it would all be okay. But would it?? Wouldn’t our sweet child still be just as lifeless? It’s not like we can go back in time; us mamas know that we would certainly do that if we could. SO, why do we continue to torture ourselves with these questions? As much as we’d like to be and often are expected to be, we aren’t that powerful.
If one believes in God, we know we must let him take charge and give him all our burdens. God is in control, and we have to have faith. But it is most difficult to do. As mothers, it’s hard to give up that control. Remember how much it scared you when they went to kindergarten or their first sleepover or college….that lack of control….the “what ifs” without Mom right there to fix things? How much it upsets us when our children are hurting whether they are 5 or 35? We try to figure out how to help, how to fix it. If we can’t fix it, we feel that we failed. Beyond the sadness and loss, the death of a child feels like the ultimate failure as a mother.
I know that I can’t be the only one that feels this way. Sometimes it screams at me from within. It threatens to tear me apart. Occasionally, I wake up in the middle of the night and am so angry that I kick my feet under the covers and cry out. This doesn’t occur as often as it used to, but it still does happen. Most of the time it’s just a whisper when I’m feeling particularly tired or “not enough”; sometimes it’s a tap on my shoulder out of the blue. Intellectually, I know that I was not responsible for my son’s death. Even as I type those words, there is that voice saying, “But wait! There was something somewhere somehow that you could have done.”
What to do? Time, therapy, and prayer have taught me that I can’t change anything. I’m also not in control of anything no matter how desperately I’d like to be. I acknowledged that about 6 years ago when it seemed as if my life fell apart. Little did I know, there would be more expected of me. If one keeps living this life, there will always be more sorrow (and joy).
Those who have experience with addiction most likely know the serenity prayer. It works perfectly for other situations as well, and I pray it often.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It was 3 1/2 years ago that the unthinkable happened in my life. I’ve learned a lot since then. Tragedy and hard times are very good teachers. They teach you what is most important, and they teach strength and resilience. If one lets them, they also give instruction in faith, hope, and joy. I try to concentrate on the little and big things that keep me going. For me, the big things are my family, close friends, and the belief that there is good in the world. The little things are too numerous to mention, but include my dogs, sunshine, top down rides, nature, the ocean, music, books…. I believe these are God’s way of telling us that it IS going to be okay. And, if you need to hear this today, “Mama, it’s not your fault.”