Saying goodbye is never easy. I don’t think there is anything more difficult than a mother having to say goodbye to a child. It seems unnatural, unfair, and unimaginable. Yet, it happens way too often and I hate it! I know bad things happen to good people. I know life’s not fair. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times my mother told me that life is not fair! That doesn’t make it any easier to process losing a child. Then there’s the question, “Who has it worse?”
A mother who has just found out she’s pregnant. She’s expecting her first child. Her husband was speechless when she told him. They’d been trying for months and yet the concept of becoming a father was shocking. He was thrilled but terrified at the same time. In the weeks that passed they dreamed, imagined, and maybe went a little crazy shopping for their little miracle and then… It was over. The baby was gone. She lost the child, not misplaced, but gone forever. Was it her fault? She wondered. What could she have done differently? Why did this happen!? All she wanted was to go back in time. She needed to go back to when everything made sense, to the time when her heart wasn’t torn in half. Her husband was devastated. He seemed to be grieving in a more silent way. She wondered if he secretly blamed her. Was he angry with her? Did he still love her the same?
Some would say that her pain was not so bad. After all she hadn’t even met her child, hadn’t held the baby in her arms, changed his diaper, or rocked him to sleep. Miscarriages happen all of the time. It’s perfectly normal. Just give your body some time and try again. What they couldn’t understand was how that all made the pain so much worse. Everything, everything was stolen from her! How could people not understand that! She was so tired of everyone telling her to get over it. Her baby was gone!
What about a mother who has gone through a routine, if not exhausting pregnancy. Her baby was born healthy. Life was a sleep deprived whirlwind, but it was wonderful. Crash! The morning came and the baby didn’t cry. Her mother radar was going off like a siren on a sinking submarine. She wanted to run into the nursery, but at the same time she wanted to tiptoe in slow motion. She had a terrible imagination, that was all. Nothing was wrong. She always did this to herself. She should be thrilled that her colicky baby had slept this long. She should be sleeping in while she had the chance. The alarm in her brain could not be silenced. She looked over the side of the crib. Her princess was perfectly still. She scooped her up and knew instantly. The baby was too limp, too still. She screamed, but no noise came out. She found herself on the floor, still clutching her precious child to her chest. How long had she been there? Hours? days? Who was she? In a trance she stood up and carried her little princess into the bedroom. Her phone was lying on the nightstand. She picked it up. She didn’t remember dialing her husband’s number. His voice was calling her from a long way off. Tears were streaming down her face. She started to speak without knowing what words she was looking for. It didn’t matter because out of her mouth all that escaped was a wail. Her husband screamed her name. She couldn’t answer, she couldn’t breathe. Then the sobs came. Gut wrenching heaves of pain tore through her. On the other end her husband was screaming her name as he raced for the car. His life would never be the same.
Some would say it’s easier to lose a small child, an infant really. At least they’d only been parents for a few months. They could still have more children. It was much worse for the parents who lost an older child. She wanted to scream at them to shut up! She wanted to beat them with her fists. Idiots.! Her little princess. The child who would not let her sleep. Who cried more than anything else. She had dreamed of her as a two year old, toddling around. Imaging her saying, “momma.” Words she would never hear. She was so angry. Furious! Every time she saw a mother and infant she wanted to run up and shake them. Tell them to kiss the baby and hold it. Smell its sweet baby breath, and feel the feathery soft hair tickling their neck. Her husband was angry too, but not at her. He was angry at God. They weren’t speaking right now. Nothing could be this ugly and wrong, nothing. She just wanted her sleepless nights back. She would give anything to close her eyes and be trudging through the dark house at 4AM packing her crying daughter. Now she spent sleepless nights staring at an empty crib, clenching empty fists, listening to her husband’s sobs in the other room.
A mother who has survived the terrible two’s, the defiance of pre-teens, and is working every day to survive the teenage years. No matter what they say, teenagers are scary! They are all grown up and they are like little babies all at once. They are mature and trustworthy and completely irresponsible and liars. One day she can’t imagine life after they have grown up and left home, the next day she prays for that day to come quickly. Right before her, stands the potential for an amazing human being who may possibly cure cancer and then she blinks and sees a lifelong McDonald’s employee on government assistance. Oh the joys of teenagers. Slam! The phone rings. “Mam, I’m sorry to tell you there’s been an accident.” She’s so confused. She’s sure her children are all at home. He must be mistaken. This is all wrong. He’s still talking. The words sound like an adult on a Charlie Brown cartoon. The room has started spinning. Around and around. His voice is getting louder but she blinks her eyes and makes it go back into the distance. His words are not for her. He has the wrong mom. Her daughter looks at her. She is concerned. “Mom, are you okay?” She slides to the floor staring at her cell phone. Her daughter is standing in front of her and shaking her. “Mom!” Her voice is afraid. She looks at her daughter and everything breaks. It feels like someone very large has squeezed her and she’s nothing but a mashed up mess. A wet noodle. She whispers her baby boy’s name. The little guy that is now taller than her. The man she raised, is raising, was raising.
Some would say, “Life goes on. It will get easier. Just hang in there. I’m praying for you.” That’s easy for them to say. Their little boy is not gone. The boy she was watching turn into a man will never get married and make her beautiful grandchildren. Never graduate from high school. Never stick up for his little sister again. Never never never! The world should end. Everyone should stop living. This life is over. Without him life isn’t right, it isn’t real. How can she eat, or drive, or go to work. It’s not possible. Stop! Make it stop. This is all a nightmare and she needs to wake up. She closes her eyes. She opens them. She’s still alive and her son is still dead.
A mother who has raised her son. He is grown. He is independent. Well almost. Maybe he still lives at home, but at least she has him close. Her other children are gone. They have moved on. They all have new families. Without her youngest son life would be lonely. She is glad he lived at home with her. Her husband was on the road. It was often just the two of them. It was nice. He was working nights. She returned from a shopping trip and was surprised not to see him up and about getting ready for work. Well, no matter, she would go upstairs and wake him up. He was still cute when he slept. Sometimes she could almost picture the little toddler he used to be. She climbed the stairs and contemplated what to make for dinner. She called his name. Nothing. He must be exhausted. She pushed open his door. Slap! The room was wrong. This was wrong. The horror was indescribable. Her son’s face was gone. A gun lay on the floor next to his bed. She blinked. The room hadn’t changed. The nightmare was too real. She needed someone to wake her up. Her son would be late for work. She screamed his name until the The king nervously approached the deadly dragon and signaled his official trumpet blower. After the sounding of the horn, the king cleared his throat and spoke in his most official voice.
“I, the King, of this most glorious kingdom present you with…” The king was not having an easy time with giving up his treasure, but an elbow from his wife, encouraged
sound became a howl. She didn’t want to, but she had to. She walked towards her sleeping son. She threw up. She couldn’t stop. Dry heaves so violent that she couldn’t catch her breath. Finally, she backed up until her back was against the wall. Then she ran, down the stairs, out into the cool evening air, and she screamed. No one came, no one heard. She was totally alone. The police were called. Her husband was called. The rest was blank. People came, but she was still alone. The nightmare was now her reality. There would be no waking up.
Some would say it was her fault. Didn’t she see the signs? A mother should know these things. Or worse, some would say that her beautiful baby boy was going to hell! Why? Why do people have to feel the need to crush the tiny piece of her that wasn’t completely broken. They don’t know. They will never ever wake up every day to the nightmare that was her life, that would be her life forever. Alone. Some would say that it was his choice. Were they complete morons? Did they actually believe their words weren’t like freshly sharpened knives cutting and slicing into her already shredded life. She did the only thing she knew to do. She went away. Deep inside she built a very strong very thick wall and she hid there. Away.
Which mother am I? Have I lost a child? Have I grieved as only a mother can grieve? Do I have any right to imagine the pain a mother goes through when she loses a child? My story of loss is so different than any of these. My story is unusual. So much so that most people cannot even pretend to sympathize. They skip right over feeling sorry for me and jump into the judgment pool feet first! What is my loss? What is my story?
A mother who raises two very wonderful healthy children. A boy and a girl. Who is married to a wonderful handsome man. A loving happy family. Dare I say the perfect family. It feels that way sometimes. So perfect that I felt compelled to share the love of a family with someone who has never known that love. How could a child be born into this world and never be tucked in or comforted after a scary dream. Never be greeted with a morning hug and warm pancake breakfast. It was wrong. It was unthinkable, unimaginable, and unfair. I wanted to change that, if only for one child. God chose for me a son. His name was Carlo. He was 9 when I met him. He stayed with us for 3 weeks and then we began the adoption process. My heart broke every day that he was in an orphanage. I spent 9 months doing nothing but adoption paperwork and fundraising. We picked him up the day after he turned 10. Life was good! Not really. Not even close. The next four years would be the worst of my life. It was worth it, wasn’t it? To give a child love, a home, an education. I didn’t like him, but I tried to love him. Every day was another nightmare. But God had given him to me and I would die trying to love him and to help him have a future. He wanted none of it. None of me, none of my husband, none of his brother and sister. He spent 4 years trying to push us away, tear apart our family, and make it very clear that we were not the family he wanted. He chose a different family. To be adopted from a 3rd world country at the age of 10, well let’s just say you have better odds of winning the lottery. To have a family who wants you is a miracle. Still not good enough. He wanted a different family and he made it very clear. Every day was hard, but then the world exploded. I was losing my mind. I was going crazy. Someone please check me into a mental facility so I can have a break. Give me drugs, sedate me, make the pain stop. My husband said, “We are done!” What? We can’t be done. He’s our son. “He doesn’t want to be. He doesn’t want us. We can’t go on. We are not helping him, we are destroying our family.” The family he picked lived just across the street. He left that night. He called her mom. He had his new family. We were discarded like yesterday’s coffee. Easily replaced and forgotten. My son is not dead. He is alive. My hope, my dreams for the future for our future, that is dead. My son has a new mom. I am nothing to him. Don’t say it. Don’t comfort me. Don’t tell me that someday he will appreciate me, that he’ll understand how much we sacrificed. Don’t. Just let me grieve my loss. Let me process the death of my son that didn’t die. My pain is real, my loss is significant. I did not give up on my son. I did not quit. I was everything I could be to him for as long as I could. He is gone and he is here. Do you know the pain that runs through me when I hear his voice? When I see his face? No, you don’t. Can you even imagine? Probably not.
Everyone grieves differently. No one’s sorrow is more valid or more right or more deserved. From one mother to another, let’s just love each other. Let’s allow each other to grieve in the way we need to. Let’s not try to put our grief and our pain in a box and set a timer.