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Gone Too Soon

As I think about Mother’s Day this year I become very nostalgic. Every spring during my elementary school days, I looked forward to the day the order form for our plants for Mother’s Day came from our local florist. I always ordered pansies for my mom, the ones with purple and yellow or yellow and brown. I could hardly wait for the delivery day to come, so that I could present them to my mother. She always received them with much surprise and appreciation, as if it were a gift she had never received before or even expected.

As a child, Mother’s Day was an important occasion to my family. My dad always insisted we wear the traditional carnations: white if one’s mother was deceased, red if still living. He would make a special trip to the florist to purchase them. We would attend church, and then drive to a nearby city for lunch. I remember clearly my first Mother’s Day being “the mom.” Our Anna was only about three weeks old, so I had a very limited idea of what it really meant to be “the mom.” But I do remember being treated like a queen and enjoying every minute of it.

Over the next several years as we raised our two daughters, my husband continued to affirm the women of our family. On Mother’s Day he always bought roses for each of his girls. Anna would get a yellow one. Debbie would get a peach-colored one. The red roses were for me. When the girls were young I would receive and treasure their hand-made cards. As they grew into young adults, their choices in purchased cards were just as significant. Every year as Mother’s Day approached, we looked forward again to spending the day together as a family. We would attend church, go out for my favorite brunch, have lots of conversation, fill our bellies to the max, laugh until we cried, be silly, make memories. That was before…

Then the unthinkable happened. Our daughter, Anna, died. How could those special days of love and togetherness, laughter and fun become among the most dreaded days a mother must face? How could those days that we had once anticipated with joy and excitement bring such unbelievable heartache and confusion, loneliness and tears?

During those first few years we were simply lost. This was new, undesired, and certainly not requested, territory that we had been forced to enter. What were we supposed to do? How were we supposed to act? I just wanted to run away or stay in bed with the sheets over my head. The traditions we had come to love and enjoy became intensely painful. It became an impossible task to attend church services or go out for brunch. Seeing families enjoying their togetherness pierced my heart with an endless ache. My tear-filled eyes burned at the thought of being surrounded by “intact” families. Feelings of anger and resentment overwhelmed my heart. On the inside I wanted to lash out at all those mothers and fathers who were surrounded by all of their children and those sisters and brothers who had no clue what it would be like to lose a sibling. As the day drew to a close I felt tremendous relief that it was over. Exhausted, I would lay silently with my head on my pillow as quiet tears lulled me to sleep.

The feelings that I have shared are not uncommon in the early years of grief with those who have experienced the death of a child, grandchild or sibling. If you or someone you care about has experienced the death of a child, I offer some suggestions from those who have been there to help you do to make it through this time.

  • Realize this day is full of potential for a multitude of feelings to sneak up on you and catch you by surprise.
  • Especially during those early years, do whatever works for you. This may be a time of being in “survival mode.” Trying to please everyone else can cause undo stress.
  • If you have surviving children who want to honor you, communicate your feelings to them. Let them know that while you are grieving the death of their brother or sister, you still love them.
  • Try to keep things simple and uncomplicated.
  • Visit the cemetery.
  • You may choose to pretend the day just does not exist and do something completely unrelated to Mother’s Day. Clean the house, take a nap, get out of town. One of my Compassionate Friends spends Mother’s Day at Home Depot. No one bothers her there or mentions Mother’s Day.
  • Have a good cry. If you have trouble crying, just stop by a card shop and read a card or two. Maybe even buy the card that you believe your child would give you.
  • Go to the recycle bin and break glass into the proper receptacle.
  • Know that the days before the holiday may be worse than the actual day.

As with all holidays, be reassured that what you do this year does not have to be what you do next year. As my Compassionate Friends and I have found, with proper grief work over time, the intensity of our feelings has softened. This will happen for you, as well. In the meantime, be gentle with yourself. And remember, “you need not walk alone.”

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Comments (13)

  • This was just beautiful. One particular thing that you expressed hit me close to my heart-” choices of purchased cards were just as significant”. My Ryan made the sweetest cards when he was young and then when he started to purchase them, they were always just perfect. Each card expressed the sentiment he felt and we felt as mom and son. I keep one card by my bedside- For My mom- For my Friend. I have many other cards on my bureau in my closet so I can read then often, in addition to his hand made cards. And of course pictures of my boy everywhere- LOL! I am crying now as I write this. It has been 5 years and there is some softening but there is also the hard reality that you haven’t touched your child, heard your child for all these years. Your child is dead. That is the reality. Sometimes it is hard to make it through the day with just the happy memories. Yes, you too be gentle with yourself, Mother’s day and everyday.#missmyson

  • Wonderful..so well put and even after 10 years out, I can never anticipate how I will feel from day to day!

  • I’ve been there, I sometimes go back there. I’ve found truth in a “step at a time”. I think for me each day I get a little better at starting over. The triggers for me haven’t stopped coming. Sometime new,sometimes old triggers repeat themselves. 10 years since our precious child has been gone and it’s been nothing short of hard. My Family and I never Express to others that don’t know this deep pain of loss that we all learn to live with after the loss of a child. Pointless. This is something that no one needs to understand that hasn’t suffered such a loss. The deep pain and sadness is to much. When someone says I don’t know how your feeling, my response is,I would never want you to. It’s to much to bear on someone else. My Family and I has learned to appreciate our Son’s/Brother,s memories everyday. I believe that’s been “Key” in life after Blake is keeping him in our hearts and minds and the time we share together. Everyday! Key.
    I hope this is helpful❤ love is Precious

  • Thank you so much Paula as I have lost two children, My youngest son who has a twin sister died on Fathers Day wknd. 2012 ( 43 yrs. ) My youngest daughter died on her 46th Bday 2016 which is 4yr. 4 mos. 3 days apart. My oldest son and daughter( the twin ) all still live close to me and I’m grateful. The pain and grief are so intense and me having TCF in my life has been a Blessing through the yrs. and I continue mtgs. when able. God Bless our child Angels as they send me messages in many ways. Happy Mothers Day to all.

  • Thank you for that. My younger son died 16 years ago. Mother’s Day has always been difficult, but my older son and his family, as well as my husband, have been very supportive and have worked together to make the day bearable. This past February my husband passed away. I’m back to dreading Mother’s Day. I continue to pray for strength to just get through the day.

  • Dear Paula,
    Thank you for your warm and meaningful sentiments. They are so true and I often felt the same way in those early days following Adam’s death. Now the memories are treasures and the pain has softened.
    Do you remember when we had our own mini reunion parties with you and others at the wonderful national conferences? Those few hours made those difficult times so much easier for all of us way back then! Lasting friendships connected by our beautiful children. I will be in Philly this year and if you go, please look me up!
    Hugs,
    Carol (from the Boston area)

  • Dear Paula,

    I read your story about Gone Too Soon. I am truly sorry for your loss and wish that you would not have had to write something like this. I just went through the 4 year anniversary of my daughter’s passing this past March. I hurt everyday and I don’t see that as time passes my pain has softened. Is this normal after 4 years? I have gone through grief counseling with a therapist, attended group grief meetings and also visited with a priest. I work full-time which helps by keeping me focused and distracted. I can honestly say that I have cried everyday ever since. At times it’s while I get myself ready for work or while I drive home after work. She was my only child which makes it even harder although she was an adult when she passed. Again, I am sorry for your loss and thank you for reading my message.

    Blessings,

    Dina

    • Dina,

      My heart aches for you in the loss of your daughter. I too lost my only child, (my 28 year old son), a year and a half ago. The pain and hole in my heart will never go away. I always thought that an “only child” was off limits to being taken away from a family and that a mother and father would not be left with completely empty arms. I guess I was wrong.

  • Thank you for this. I feel I’m in survival mode and haven’t even scratched the surface , regarding my son’s death.

    I’m really scared that I’m pushing it down and that it’s going to erupt like a volcano.

    In the meantime, I find it incredibly stressful and confronting to deal with all the Mother’s Day consumerism that is pitched to us. Waaay before we need to be confronted with our loss.

    I mos def want to be left alone next Sunday. I have another son, who will contact me on that day. I will honor him as my child, though, it’s never going to be the same.

    I’m just bitter and twisted. Have to deal with that myself.

  • Beautiful our daughter died in 1993 & mother in1997. Did not k how how to use cellphone or a computer at the time&I still struggle it has been very difficult

  • Thank you for sharing your story, I lost my wonderful Son, Jamie in August of 2014. I miss him every single day, I hold him in my thoughts, my prayers and my heart. He was an extraordinary young man and I am grateful I had him for 33 years and 10 days.

  • What a beautiful story and they all take the words right out of my mouth, i can totally relate as i think of my beloved son Vincent who went home to Heaven going to be 6 years now and the ache in my heart has not gone away not one day! Yes and as Mothers day approaches there’s no escaping the pain more than ever. And its not just about me as i watch his younger brother, my other son Alex who grieves his big brother every single day and i
    see how he’s never been the same since he lost him just breaks my heart doublefold. He is not interested or willing to go to a CF meeting as he deals with it his own way but stories like these i do send him to read with hopes it does give him some comfort & hope.
    So thank you so much for sharing your story. Blessings to you as this Mothers day draws near. You are not alone.

  • My 28 year old son, (my only child) died a year and half ago. My aching heart will forever be broken and have a hole in it. It’s excruciatingly painful for any parent to lose a child at any age. I always thought that an “only child” was off limits and would not be taken away to leave a mother and father grieving with empty arms and no child to hold anymore. I guess I was wrong.

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