(as it appears in the Still Standing Magazine)
I’ll never forget the day I gave birth to my daughter Katie. Every blessed moment will be forever engrained in my mind: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I will forever be grateful for the angel who was our labour and delivery nurse who coached us calmly through back labour and the two hours of pushing that ensued. I remember the moment of panic when it was discovered that the umbilical cord was loosely wrapped around Katie’s neck and the brief moment before she cried out.
But the moment I cherish most is when my daughter peered into my eyes with a deep knowing that I was her mom.
Maybe it’s the fact that Katie was my first baby, and the one who made me a mom, but my pregnancy, delivery, and her milestones are forever a part of me and my life.
While I love my son every bit as much as Katie, I have to admit the details surrounding his birth are a bit fuzzier. Other than a brief stay in the neonatal intensive care with the ‘big boys’ after my water broke two days before his arrival, my son’s birth was much easier.
I was pregnant and anticipating Katie’s delivery on Mother’s Day 1998. I was already starting to dilate, and my baby was healthy, head down, and ready to go. My bags were packed, my birth plan was memorized, and I couldn’t wait to meet my little prince or princess.
My brother even booked time off work to come home over Mother’s Day in hopes of meeting his new niece or nephew.
It’s funny how you can be so wrong about things. For 9 ½ months, I expected Katie to be a boy. When the delivery room staff announced, “It’s a girl!” my husband and I looked at each other with confusion for a millionth of a second and then sobbed with joy. Our little princess had arrived.
When you birth a child, you also birth dreams and hopes for that child. You envision them living a healthy life, pursuing dreams and careers, falling in love, and one day having a family of their own.
I was wrong about that too because Katie wouldn’t live to see her 18th birthday.
In grade 12, Katie died in a car accident. Everything in her life had been going great up until that moment. Her 90+ average at school had earned her an entrance scholarship into nursing.
She had a beautiful, kind, and caring boyfriend, and Katie was focused on a healthy lifestyle. With all of these things, there was nothing to worry about.
How wrong I was.
Katie died on December 8, 2015, on a clear night. The roads were dry, and the visibility was good. She swerved and hit a semi-truck trailer and died on impact.
Any grieving parent knows how each holiday cuts like a knife. We got through Christmas that year somehow. I think we were still in a fog, and I was certain it was a bad dream that I would eventually wake up from.
But then winter gave way to spring, and May arrived like a punch in the gut.
I remember staring at the calendar when I flipped it over. May meant Mother’s Day, and there was no way I could get through that day or the month since Katie’s birthday is not far behind, falling on May 26.
The anticipation of holidays or special days has always been the worst for me. I dread having to face these days and the painful grief that tears me apart.
The tears stream relentlessly, and I find bitterness and jealousy seeping through my pores.
Why me? Why my child?
My first Mother’s Day without Katie was actually quite bittersweet. I had cried all my tears in the week leading up to that day and quietly told our extended family that we would not be joining in at any family gatherings.
I just couldn’t.
When I woke up that morning, the sun was shining bright. It was warm, and the sky was blue.
We had received a beautiful stepping-stone adorned with stained-glass pink ballet slippers from our neighbours that sits prominently in the garden beside the patio where Katie used to do her homework or bask in the sun.
I sat on the bench near the stepping-stone for hours, staring into space and feeling so hollow. The tears flowed, but not like I had anticipated. As broken as I was that day, I also felt a level of peace and a presence of love.
At noon, my son came out to the garden and quietly sat with me. After a moment, he looked at me and said the one thing that I needed to hear, “I know that you are missing Katie terribly, but I want you to know that I need you and I love you, Mom.”
For a boy of fifteen, he was smarter than most. Then he gave me the sweetest gift – a tiny garden angel on a swing that would move in the wind as she hung from a nearby tree.
My son reminded me that day that I was still a mom and would always be a mom. He told me that I was still needed, even though Katie was in heaven.
That first year I learned that a day exists for moms who have lost a child, and it’s called Bereaved Mother’s Day. It falls one week earlier than traditional Mother’s Day and was created by Carly Marie Dudley in 2010 in memory of her stillborn son Christian.
She did this for the mothers who may be feeling left out on Mother’s Day, particularly those who had lost a child, infant, pregnancy, or have found it challenging to conceive.
Bereaved Mother’s Day celebrates and honours all moms and all that they have endured. The day reminds people that Mother’s Day may not be a happy time for everyone.
On this day, it is important to support bereaved moms and remember their children. Grieving moms need acknowledgement and recognition at this time of year more than ever.
They will always be a mother, regardless if they have a child in heaven or their arms. Help observe Bereaved Mother’s Day by reaching out to a grieving mom and say her child’s name.
That is the greatest gift anyone can give a mother who is missing her child. Ask if they would like to share a special memory of their child, then just listen.
Once a year has gone by, people often think the pain and hurting are over and assume bereaved moms are healed.
But anyone on this journey will tell you that the pain of child loss lasts a lifetime. The grief and the missing never go away.
The greatest fear that bereaved moms have is that their children will be forgotten. To respectfully observe Bereaved Mother’s Day, you might consider giving a small gift to let that grieving mom know you are thinking of her and her child.
You might find something with her child’s name on it or even a special piece of jewellery, such as an angel wing.
If you are a mom who has lost a child, here is some heartfelt advice, from my grieving heart to yours:
1. Allow yourself to be however you need to be.
You are allowed to stay in bed all day. You are allowed to spend the day in the garden. You are allowed to visit and celebrate your mother, and you are allowed to boycott the day entirely if you wish.
2. Reach out for support to the person or group that you know will understand.
That may be a family member, a friend, or other bereaved moms you have met online. Support on these heartbreaking days cannot be overstated.
3. Think of something you can do to honour your child.
This can give you a tiny bit of control in a situation where you seemingly have none. It can also give you a focus. You might plant a tree or perennial in your child’s memory, or buy some fresh flowers, order in their favourite meal, write a poem in their memory, or even share photos of your child on social media.
4. You may choose to celebrate your child in heaven on Bereaved Mother’s Day and spend time with your other children on traditional Mother’s Day.
It’s an important day for them too.
5. When it comes to celebrating your mother or mother in law, you might consider doing that on a completely separate day.
That way, you can have Bereaved Mother’s Day and Mother’s Day to yourself to honour your love, your children, and your grief in a way that is meaningful to you.
Wishing you peace and warm memories this Mother’s Day.
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