(So I wrote this last year . Overall I still feel the same way however I discovered that while last year I took offense to finding out we had a special day and didn’t want to be singled out, this year I find myself feeling slightly glum because no one has acknowledged the day to me. Not a big deal, really. Just a passing thought. Sigh. Such is the hypersensitive, contradictory, enigmatic, unpredictable life of the grieving mom.)
Apparently the first Sunday in May is International Bereaved Mother’s Day. One of my friends reached out to me to tell me she was thinking of me on this special day, but I was completely unaware of its existence. My initial response to her was, “Every day is bereaved mother’s day for me.” I don’t know much about who founded this day or why but I did discover it is relatively new. I imagine the intention in creating this day to acknowledge bereaved moms was out of a compassionate place, but to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I mean Mother’s Day is next week. I still am a mother even though I have lost a child. Obviously the celebration of Mother’s Day for a bereaved mom can be a painful reminder of our loss, but do we really need our own day? When you lose a child you suddenly gain membership to this club that no one wants to be a part of and it often feels isolating. People feel awkward around us. They don’t know what to do or say. Sometimes it is easier for us to be excluded from normal activities because people don’t know how to handle us. Like we have some kind of contagious disease or something. People are afraid of saying the wrong thing or hurting us. What they don’t realize is it does not hurt us more to be reminded of our loss. We feel our grief all the time. If someone says our child’s name or talks about them it doesn’t make us sad because it reminds us of our loss (like we could forget…), it actually makes us feel better to know that our child is not forgotten. Life does go on and it can be healing for us to be able to see our child’s friends grow up and hear about what they are doing. Is it painful? Absolutely! But everything is painful after losing a child! As a bereaved mom, however, we need to be the ones to decide if we can handle it or not. Please do not decide for us. So when I hear about a special day for bereaved moms, a part of me feels excluded once again. Like when you lose a child regular Mother’s Day isn’t for you anymore. I am sure that whoever invented this thing did not mean for us to feel excluded, rather acknowledged and honored, but grief has a way of creating hypersensitivity, especially when you get used to experiencing subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) rejection time and time again after losing a child. Whether it be a friend who can’t be your friend anymore because your loss is too much for them to bear, or not being invited anymore to girls’ night out or play group or family gatherings. As if it’s not bad enough to face the death of your child, oftentimes more loss follows – loss of friends, loss of family, loss of identity, loss of belonging. So I’m not sure how I feel about International Bereaved Mother’s Day. I don’t really want to be acknowledged as a bereaved mom. I want to be acknowledged as a mom who loves her kids, dead or alive, and I’d like to know that my child who has passed is still remembered. The best thing you can do for a bereaved mom on this day or any day is to say their child’s name and that you remember. Tell them how their child’s life made a difference. Share a memory or a funny story about their child. Don’t exclude them. Invite them. And let them decide if they can handle joining in. And if they are having a hard day and can’t, be kind and patient and invite them the next time.
So now I know that there is such a thing as International Bereaved Mother’s Day. Maybe next year I will feel differently and I will embrace the day. But for now I will celebrate regular Mother’s Day feeling thankful for all four of my children, including the one who is with me only in spirit.
Mom to Hannah, Ellen Seth and Claire