To the bereaved mother.

In my circle of friends are more than a few bereaved mothers. There are a few bereaved fathers and grandparents, too, but this love letter is primarily to the bereaved mothers. I see you. I know the pain you feel as the holidays approach. I am you.

Melancholy. Albert Gyorgy.

Some parents who are left in tatters after the loss of their child turn to art, poetry, primal scream. Some start foundations and honor their dead children with scholarship endowments, memorials, parks, or even films. I have struggled with this so much. Though I’m someone who always has a lot to express, I suppose it was so devastating to lose my daughter, and I was so sure it was my fault, that I couldn’t put pen to paper, could scarcely muster the energy it would take just to get through the day, much less to start a major project. Do I want people to remember my daughter? Of course I do, but it was all so complicated. I admire the strength in those who can do what I could not.

There’s a gutting that happens when you lose a child. That little person you carried inside your body for nine months (or however long your body could carry it) was your responsibility. You feel you failed somehow. The truth is none of us could have done a thing to stop what was about to happen. We all did our best. Do you hear that? You did your best. You loved that little creature for as long as you had her, whether she ever got to breathe air or whether she was an old lady. You cherished your son as long as you had him. He was a source of great pride for you, even when he failed in the eyes of the world. When your child dies, there is a hole in you so big you think nothing could ever fill it. You wonder if you’ll even be able to take your next breath. The prospect of waking up each day, one day further from having your child with you, is impossible! It is wrong and it is devastating.

And the hardest part is that once the funeral is over, once the last casserole is delivered, once all of the family members have flown back to their homes, you sit in the silence alone while the rest of the world goes about its business. The stores are still open. The traffic still snarls. The world of finance churns and fluctuates. People laugh, make love, go to dinner, watch movies. You wrap your arms about yourself and try to hold the pieces that you’ve been shattered into together. You might pray for your heart to stop, as I did. You might get careless, as I did. You might contemplate ending it all, as I did. The prospect of going on with your life in the midst of such loss is unfathomable. I see you.

And yet you wake up every day. You breathe. You make some breakfast for your other children. After you send them off to school, you crawl back under the covers to try to shut out all the thoughts about your dead child, how they died, what they felt, how you failed. I see you. Some of you, like me, had to force yourselves out of bed and back to work. You had to try to ignore the clock that Friday when it turned noon, the anniversary of the time you were notified. You had to try to sleep on a cold night, remembering standing in the snow and screaming.

Nothing in this world sounds like a mother who has lost her child. A guttural, primal-sounding moan-wail-scream seems to emit from her mouth, but really it comes from her soul, the deepest, darkest part of her soul. She is being ripped into pieces, the greatest focus being on her heart. It is an indescribable sound, perhaps because when it came from me, I was scarcely the one to hear it, but I felt it. I saw my daughter lying in that coffin at the front of the chapel in the funeral home after the gentleman ushered us in, just my husband, my son, and I. The chapel was empty except for the coffin at the front, with a light shining down on the face of my child. Though I had known since Friday – intellectually – that she was dead, it was Monday and it was finally real. I was seeing her in that damnable box. As we took our first steps forward down the aisle, my knees started to buckle, and a sound rose up in me that I hope to never utter or feel again. It was the sound of my soul ripping in half. The reality of seeing her almost drove me mad. My husband grabbed one of my arms, and my son grabbed the other. We were all trembling and weeping, yet still we walked forward as if in a nightmare, being pulled toward her. My son finally collapsed into a pew at the front. I went to her. I smelled her hair and kissed her face. Held her hands.

Leaving that chapel then was hard. As long as we sat there with her, they couldn’t take her away. She was still here. But eventually, I don’t know how long, the gentleman returned and stood by the doors, waiting. We knew after we left, she was going to the cremation chamber. They wanted to know if we wanted to be there, to maybe even push the button to close the door and start the process. How horrific would that have been? In hindsight, I wish we’d had a green burial for her so that we would have someplace to go. Instead, we each have some of her ashes. Someday I might be able to scatter them in a beautiful place. It’s been thirteen years. Too soon.

If you know a bereaved parent, particularly a bereaved mother, never impose your own ideas onto their grief. Never imply that it’s been “so long” or “long enough” and that they should be over it. Never do that. It will never be okay for us.

An unfortunate and horrifying incident occurred for me at work a few years into my grief. We took our boss out to lunch and gave her gifts for the impending birth of her daughter. Her boss was in town. At lunch, even though he knew I had lost my daughter, he turned to my boss and said, “Now, you have to be sure to have a second one in case something happens to the first.”

My lunch rose in my throat. My coworkers all looked at me and back at him in disbelief. One touched my hand. I got up and went to the counter to pay for my meal. He followed me and said sorry. I looked at him and asked him which of his children he would be okay with losing. Never say anything of the kind to anyone. Ever. No one. You never know what someone is dealing with. Don’t be flip about child death.

There are reasons I enjoy working remotely. I will never have to endure another lunch like that one.

Here is something you can do. On December 11, 2022 at 7:00 pm EST, The Compassionate Friends, an organization for families who have lost children, is holding a virtual worldwide candle lighting. I hope you will light a real or virtual candle for the children we’ve lost. Let’s light up the world in their honor.

Namaste, Jude



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