Peace bubbles

From a mother who lost a child

I feared writing about this topic, but I wanted us to be seen, heard and cared for without judgment. 
The truth that I face every day gets hard around holidays, but especially Mother’s Day. 
I have birthed three children and one, Anthony is now my 16-year-old ancestor. Losing Anthony has left me with the feeling of being penalized by the stigma, and abandoned by my peers because of their fear of an unknown grief. Imagine the solitude during a time when you most need to be tended to and cared for. I call it “bitter cup,” that mothers who have lost children have no choice but to accept and hold in their hands forever. Hands that once held tiny hands and wiped tears, hands that would rather apply a bandaid and kiss it better for the child that physically lives no more. That cup we hold is both scorching hot and below freezing cold. That “bitter cup”  burns and freezes simultaneously when spring approaches. Informing us that April showers will bring May flowers and May will bring that Mother’s Day pain. Today, I sat down my “bitter cup” to pick up my pretty marker to write our ugly truth. I will create a space for us to see the many ways that mothers experience grief from the loss of a child. I will share the secrets to solace that I have harvested from women on this journey. I will acknowledge how hard it is for our loved ones and will  invite them to just be present for those of us who see Mother’s Day in a different way because of the loss of life of our children. 
First, when we talk about mothers, I am including the people who cared for children that they did not birth. I have seen grief groups and families invalidate the sadness of a step-mom or grandma who has cared for a child because they are not the birth mother. Second, mothers who have children who suffer from mental and physical health issues, or children who are incarcerated see the transformation of their child’s life as a type of loss. Some may say, “Well you can see and touch your child,” but these women grieve, as well. Thirdly, when a child is missing or passes away from health complications, car accidents or something that does not appear to be the fault of the child or the family, there seems to be empathy for that mother. 
Then there are mothers like me, after I mention that Anthony was hit by a bullet for another child, I see the wrinkled forehead and with the head tilt, then the daunting question, “Was he in a gang?” We must remember that if a child is shot, abducted, sex traffic, aborted, adopted, miscarried, has overdosed, or commit suicide – those complex situations complicate the grief of the mother, and we often endure those things alone. I have found that I must offer myself what I need in my unique situation: compassion, understanding and appreciation that I am willing to show up for my loved ones living, different and deceased, and more importantly myself.  
When Anthony was 11, he made me the cutest Mother’s Day card. I have it with me as I write. It is a complicated trifold, pink and red with black Sharpie and scotch tape. One of the lines said, “If you aren’t the most successful, young, talented, beautiful, nice, mean, growing, smart, adventurous, goofy, fun, funny and cool mom I know the IDK who is LOLZ.” This made me smile and close my eyes, seeing his face, searching for his scent and then I stumbled into the guilt. “He said mean, was I mean to him?” Two weeks after Anthony turned 16 on Father’s Day, he was hit by a bullet intended for another child on the 4th of July and passed away. It is hard for me to say he is dead or was murdered. Those are words I don’t like to hear from others, unexpectedly reminding me of his absence and therefore I don’t use them. I attempt to seek and model a softer language in our hard times. I don’t say, “I’m hanging in there, I will shoot you an email or I’ll take a stab at it.” These words and other words can stir up (or trigger, which I don’t use either) pain for a mother, teetering on the lines of tears in the workplace.  
For the last 12 years, I have approached Mother’s Day and many other holidays wishing Anthony was here to make it alright and to kiss the tears away. Instead people futilely ask, “What are you doing for Mother’s Day?” I normally engage thinking my prayers will be answered. In Anthony’s absence, maybe someone will be with me on this holiday. I have expected my other children and family members to step in and tend to the pain. Or, maybe they will use some of the energy they have to purchase matching outfits and buy plants, cards, balloons and charcoal to acknowledge that I am without one of the people that makes me a mother. 
Then, when Anthony does not step in, nor show up in a dream, I put my mask on first. I look at pictures, watch home videos, and recreate recipes. These things bring tears that help me release, and smiles that partner with the tears to help grow through what I am going through. My gift is solitude, sprinkled with stigma and tied to broken promises, in a room filled with empty seats. As Mother’s Day arrives uninvited, and leaves a lingering taste in my mouth, I attempt to give people grace. My pain leaves little room to be upset and sometimes that little room is all I need to destroy a relationship in the name of grief. But I know they know. They hear my silence and sadness as loud as the fire truck behind them in traffic, and I acknowledge that they fear my unknown grief. 
Being the mother of a child who has been lost is not an easy feat. You are expected to continue to live and like it for the public eye, for the job, for the children, for your mate. People don’t want to see you sad. They want you to be okay. 
It’s okay not to be okay. In any situation of any loss, there is a natural ebb and flow of life that we attempt to disrupt, and often fail and break. That experience when given the space can be prime real estate for growing through what you are going through. Giving yourself grace, helping people know what you need, and sharing the sacred way you celebrate the memory and grieve the loss of your child’s life.
My whole life I have been learning from seeing my Sheroes grieving. I saw my mother go to the hospital to have twins only to return home and remove their baby pictures from the photo album. Probably too hard for her to see them in a photo, but not in her arms, although the gaping holes in the photo album were reminders for me of Shaun and Sheba, the siblings I never got to play with. The world showed us Mamie Till who was definitely not going to remove Emmitt’s pictures but she demanded that they be printed and distributed for all to see. I saw her fight.  I saw her not give up and I saw her tears. The video versions of her story were not showed until 67 years after her son was lynched and 19 years after she herself passed away. So, we Mothers who have lost, have to create the culture that sees us, hears us, lets us break and rebuild. We must create a culture of celebrating the fact that we are doing the best we can. Today I am sober and self harm isn’t of interest to me. That was not my truth for the first two years after July 4th of 2010.  
If you are a mother who has lost a child that is reading this, I too know that pain inside of the cry that we hold back because it hurts bad that you are sure you will die. I have allowed Anthony’s light to take me to a place of that painful cry, until my lip split and I experienced a presence, a sort of life energy that held my heart and offered a sort of spiritual massage inside allowing my broken heart with a hole in the bottom to continue to beat. I am here today with the courage to write because I survived that cry. Since I survived, I revel in moments inside myself when I remember feeling his heartbeat, seeing his face. I can even see the tiny hairs on his skin and inhale the joy of remembering his scent and feel the closeness to Anthony.   
If you are a person reading this and you know a mother who has lost a child, acknowledge but do not say, “I don’t know what I would do if I lost a child.” Moment by moment, we don’t know what to do either and we pray that our worst enemy does not have to deal with this bitter cup. Be present and hear their stories over and over again if that is what it takes. See their courage and speak their child’s name in the present. It may delight them and it may make them sad, but they are willing to accept all of the emotions. We have no other choice.
Parenting does not come with a handbook and neither does losing a child. Please let my attempt to bring light to this peculiar time in my life be received as a few tears in the river of many tears of mothers who live unique, indescribable, and extremely painful lives after the loss of their children.  


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