When Mother's Day Becomes Mourner's Day

My mother and daughter, April 2010.

The death of a child is unimaginable for most of us, and for those who have experienced it, surely a tragic, life-altering event.  The Chicago Sun-Times ran an emotional piece this week serving as a reminder that Mother’s Day lacks all sense of celebration for those who’ve lost a child to violence

Mothers gathered Sunday at St. Sabina Church in Chicago to attend a ceremony unveiling a sculpture by J.S. Kenar depicting “a young girl being menaced by an unformed stick-like human figure with a gun,” “aimed at reminding all who see it that the battle to save lives is an ongoing one.”  Violence against children and teens in Chicago has been a major issue in the last year or more; CNN reported in May of 2009 that 36 school children had been murdered, more than one a week during the school year.  At that time, “The Rev. Michael Pfleger… ordered the American flag at St. Sabina Church hung upside-down — a historic sign of distress — to symbolize the growing death toll among the city’s youngsters.”

Other types of loss were noted this Mother’s Day, including a silent vigil in front of the White House by Mothers of Lost Children, which according to CNN’s iReport represents women whose children are in the custody of abusive fathers.  Attendees included “Mildred Muhammad, ex-wife of the DC sniper, and… Katie Tagle and Amy Leichtenberg, both who lost their children in murder-suicides with their abusive fathers.”  And of course mothers who have lost children to illness and accident feel the same grief.

Though women mourning their children have heavy hearts on what should be a holiday, losing a mother in young adulthood can sting badly, too.  New York comedian Mindy Raf, who was 28 when her mother passed away, says she tries to keep a sense of humor about being bombarded with all of the Mother’s Day gift ads that pop up each May.  “It’s hard not to feel left out, or feel like there’s extra salt in the wound on Mother’s Day. Like when you get an e-mail reminding you it’s not too late to save on your flower order. Um, sorry, but you’re wrong ProFlowers. It IS too late to. . .”save 10% on my mother’s day bouquet to Carol.”  Bex Schwartz, a 31-year-old writer/director and pop culture commentator, is still grieving the loss of her mother, who died of cancer last year.

Schwartz says, “My mom passed away last year at the end of April.  I didn’t watch tv for weeks after she died because every commercial break was full of spots talking about things like “she’s the one who loves you the most and she’s always there for you” — except, she wasn’t there, not anymore.  This year, I wasn’t prepared for watching tv on the elliptical and crying my face off every time the commercials came on.  It is hard to work out and sob and the same time!  We spent this Mother’s Day in the cemetery, unveiling my mom’s tombstone.  I feel like I will forever associate Mother’s Day with being in a cemetery, standing over my mother’s grave.”

Being a motherless mother can be particularly hard, as Susie Felber of TruTV’s Dumb As a Blog attests.  “My mother died when I was pregnant with my second. She tired to make it to see the baby but realized she would not. Almost one year later I still can’t make sense of it. The person who is here now wasn’t then, and the one who was here then, isn’t now. I look at my little girl and get weepy far too often. I was so depressed about Mother’s Day it wasn’t until a few days before that I remembered I was a mother and that might be celebrated.”

I feel very fortunate to still have my mother, especially given that I’m a single mother.  She’s been a tremendous help in raising my child.  And my mother is no stranger to loss; we lost my grandmother (and grandfather) in a double suicide in 1995.  My mother finally opened up to me about her grief on her most recent birthday.  I’ll never forget how she broke down and sobbed, telling me how her birthday just hasn’t been the same since she lost her mom.  On Sunday my mother covered her kitchen table with a delightfully kitschy tablecloth that belonged to my grandmother, and she swears there used to be a hole in it that’s no longer there.  Here’s to everyone who grieved this Mother’s Day watching their scars magically heal, too.