Motherhood. For so long, the word had such a simple meaning. Being a mother to a child. But what happens when you are a mother to a child no one can see? What happens when your child, or children, only live and exist in your heart and memories and not here on this Earth?
Motherhood takes on new meaning when you are a bereaved mother. Your job is no longer to protect and care for your child. It is now to protect and care for your child’s memory. To ensure they are remembered and honored. When you lose a child during pregnancy, your motherhood feels so different than everyone else’s. Fake at times. Phony even. There is a feeling of needing to prove you are a mother. To prove that even though your motherhood is invisible, your “mother love” is fierce and everlasting.
There is an even deeper layer to this when you have other living children. When you have children before your loss occurs, it’s like business as usual. You already had kids; you still do. When you have children after a loss, you have to field questions and comments about your “first” Mother’s Day.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but that village is just as important in remembering a child and supporting a grieving mother on Mother’s Day.
Wish her a Happy Mother’s Day
We often fear that bringing up someone’s pain and sadness will upset them, so we say nothing. Child loss is an isolating experience. Silence makes it that much harder. A grieving mother thinks of her missing child every day. Being wished a Happy Mother’s Day lets them know someone else is thinking about them too. I still remember who sent me texts or flowers that first Mother’s Day after losing my daughters.
Say her child(ren’s) name(s).
Again, we often do not say things out of fear we will upset someone. We fear we are “bringing up” something hard. There is nothing more beautiful to me than hearing someone else say the names of my daughters. You are not bringing up or reminding a mom of something painful. They already know and remember. Knowing that someone else knows and remembers may make them cry, but they will be tears of appreciation and love.
Do not forget about her deceased child(ren).
If you are unwilling to acknowledge ALL of a mother’s children, don’t acknowledge any. I have saved many cards and envelopes because someone took the time to write my daughters’ names on them, and not just my living son. Seeing your deceased child’s name in writing gives a sense of permanency. Someone had to take the time to remember and write them out. I can tell you every person who has ever done that for me, and it means more than words can ever express.
Do not expect a response.
Send the text or card. Have flowers delivered. Leave a voicemail. But do not be surprised if you do not get a response. Whether it has been days or years, these milestones hurt. Even if she is going to brunch or celebrating in some way, a part of her is still grieving. Trust that your message or gift has been received and appreciated. Allow her some grace to survive the day in silence, if needed.
Respect how she wants to celebrate (or not!)
If she wants to go to brunch, spend the day outside, laugh, and enjoy the day, LET HER. If she wants to wallow, cry, and lay in bed, LET HER. If she changes her mind or plans in the middle of the day, LET HER. Grief is complicated, and as time moves, it changes. Ask her how she wants to spend the day. Allow her to decide what she wants to do or not do. Respect her choice. This is not an easy day.
If she has no other children . . .
This day is HARD. She is an invisible mother. People walk on eggshells around her, fearing they may say something to upset her. She walks on eggshells around others, wanting to put on a brave face. To the world, she has no children. To her, her children are everything. Check in, tell her you are thinking about her, and acknowledge her grief AND her motherhood.
If she has other living children . . .
Do not wish her a Happy FIRST Mother’s Day if her child came after her loss. It is NOT her first. Do not tell her how good of a mom she is to her living kids. Tell her she is a good mom to ALL her kids. Most likely, she is trying to find the balance between being a good mom to her living children, smiling and gushing over cards or gifts or crafts while trying not to cry over what is missing. Grief and gratitude can sit at the same table. She can be so incredibly thankful for the children she has while still grieving the ones she does not.
If you are reading this and taking notes, you are already a great friend. Supporting a grieving mother is not easy, and it is not for the faint of heart. We see you, love you, and appreciate you for being there. Do not be inauthentic. If you usually call, then call. If you usually text, then text. If you are the friend that swings by with surprise coffee and treats, go for it! Your friendship and love will never be more noticed than when it truly comes from a place of compassion and care.
For all the grieving mothers out there, be gentle with yourself. Whether this is your first Mother’s Day after your loss or your tenth, know your motherhood is real, and you are loved. For all the friends out there supporting bereaved mothers, thank you! Your compassion and love never go unnoticed.