So 2020 is a little different. Different on the surface, but at the core, where you and I co exist, it’s the same. It feels weird that we can’t celebrate you in the same way that we always have, especially since it’s your 5th birthday. 5 years is a milestone, but one that is ironically being hit without much celebration.
This year, there’s an overwhelming, persistent numbing feeling that has not resurfaced since the early days of grief. But your love is the constant and that’s what I’m trying to stay focused on.
There will still be balloons, and cake and sunrises and we will still be surrounded by your love and those who love us, and that’s all that matters.
Every year, leading into your birthday, I dig deep into the ocean of my heart where you live and ask you “how do you want to celebrate your birthday? You always have an answer for me, but not this year. This year your silence was truly deafening and my heart finally aligned with the fact that maybe this year’s inability to celebrate you in the same way was more to do with your wishes then the rest of current life events.
Today, as I stood in the sacred silence that is only present in the morning dawn and watched the sunrise, I noticed the calm of the water on the horizon. It glistened with the orange yellow highlight of the sun coming over the horizon crest and I felt ok. I felt calm. I felt at peace. Following the path of the gentle sway of the water, I noticed that closer to the shore, the waves still hit the rocks aligning the shore with fierceness, splashing water well above the marked shoreline. That fierceness reminded me that no matter how calm and how at peace I feel about you, grief will always crash against me. And that’s what I’m ok with. That’s what I’m at peace with. That’s what I’m numb to.
The celebration planning leading up to your birthday provides me with an unhealthy dosage of distraction. This year, there was no planning, no organizing, no noise, no distraction. Stripping all of that away left me with nothing but you. And in a way, I’m grateful for that. It’s just what my bereaved mama heart needed to realize that sometimes, doing things differently may not be what you want, but what you may truly need.
It slowly creeps up on you – shortly after the retailers have cast aside their Easter / Hello Spring! merchandise and shift their strategies to closing the second quarter strong with one of the hallmark holidays mid year. Mother’s Day. Ugh – just seeing the combination of letters boldly staring back at me, stirs up this unsettling cocktail of emotions that triggers mainly the flight response in my body.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Mother’s Day and when I lost my son Jude, it further amplified the mixed emotions I had about this seemingly innocent celebration of honour. But the fact is, for so many, Mother’s Day is a massive trigger point and it can be extremely difficult to navigate the anticipation of the day, especially when there is so much pressure (from what it feels like the entire universe) to celebrate it and acknowledge it, but only in it’s traditional form. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment (despite having a living child in my life who innocently embraces the opportunity to honour me) and I also know that it can feel extremely overwhelming to try and navigate the fast approaching Mother’s Day Tide heading straight in our direction.
Just like there’s so many facades of Motherhood that the day is intended to honour, there’s also so many dimensions to why so many of us dread and repeatedly wish the day away – year after year.
For some of us, the day is just too overwhelming to bear after the loss of a child. For others, the longing to mother a child crushed by infertility or false hope experienced through a rigorous adoption process can make us feel invisible. For those who have lost their own mother, the day can be filled with sadness and longing for our own mother’s love. For others, complicated relationships make it impossible to live up to the expectations of society’s idealism of the day, leaving us filled with shame, guilt and anger. Whatever dimension you find yourself in, the truth is, Mother’s Day is yours to honour however you feel is right for YOU.
YOU get to decide how you choose to honour your own individual motherhood on that day without having to answer to ANYONE.
It is extremely difficult to not conform to the idealism of the day, and it requires courage, intention and boundaries to protect your heart and do what feels right for you. Over the years I have navigated the tide of Mother’s Day in many different ways, but it wasn’t until after loosing my son Jude, that I unapologetically embraced the approach of honouring myself in a way that conformed to my own standards exclusively. Since embracing that approach, every year, the day is different for me. Some years the tidal wave is much stronger, loaded with grief that crashes fiercely against me, while other years, the waves are calm with the occasional undertow that pulls me under for short periods. On either end of that pendulum, I have come to recognize, be still and listen to what my heart is telling me it needs in the anticipated lead up to the day, allowing me to draw upon some strategies I’ve leveraged several times to navigate not only Mother’s Day, but other hallmark holidays that can leave a bereaved parent depleted.
This year, marks my 8th Mother’s Day since loosing my son Jude and one would think that by now, I would be a pro at this, but the truth is, every year is different and every year I rely on any one or several of these strategies to help me cope. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the fast approaching tidal wave of Mother’s Day, consider how some of these strategies may support you in surviving and navigating the day.
#1 “No” is a complete sentence.
Say no. No to brunch. No to Tea. No to Dinner. Just say no. It’s perfectly acceptable to say no to anything that will not bring your heart happiness and will deplete what little energy you have left just to make it through the day. We’re often pressured to just conform to what is expected of us to celebrate and mark the day in honour of all “mothers”, but if whatever you’re being pressured to be a part of doesn’t honour (or worse, acknowledge) your own motherhood, what’s the point? Respectfully bow out and say no. Period. No explanations required.
#2 Stay away from Social Media
The idealism of Mother’s Day is amplified on Social Media, with endless images and anecdotes dominating your feed. Spare yourself the heartache and stay away for the entire weekend. Turn off notifications, temporarily delete the apps from your devices, or better yet, place your phone on airplane mode or shut it off completely. Give yourself the space and time to just honour yourself in a way that is authentic to you and not invaded by what everyone around you is doing or thinks you should be doing. Even if you think you can manage without taking some of these measures — trust me. There’s always something that hits you and it’s just not worth it.
#3 Nurture in Nature
There’s something so healing and therapeutic about surrounding yourself with Nature. Decide to spend the day hiking, biking, walking or pack a picnic if you can and if the weather co operates. If the weather is not co operating, opt for a drive in the country side exploring new areas. Being outside and surrounded by nature will soothe the soul and give you the opportunity to connect – with your child(ren) and with yourself.
#4 Set Boundaries
Decide ahead of time, what your boundaries are. Even if you don’t communicate them to others, it’s good to have a clear view of what your boundaries are for the day. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to others on the day (if any) and what types of activities you want to participate in (again – if any. Staying in bed all day is perfectly fine too!). I always like to share boundaries with my husband so that he knows what I need and how he can support on the day. It’s ok to set a boundary even with respect to celebrating your own mother(s) and mother figures in your life. There’s ways that you can navigate this within a boundary parameter. On several occasions, I have opted to celebrate with my mom on a different day ahead of Mother’s Day as a way to mange my amplified emotions and sensitivity on the actual day. Although not always feasible, I have also purposely scheduled business trips over Mother’s Day as a physical boundary to protect myself and not “have to” be present on the actual day. However and whatever you decide to do, it’s important that you have those clear boundaries noted for yourself and if you choose to, share with others around you that will respect and honour them with and for you.
#5 Honour Yourself, your children and YOUR Motherhood
Whether you need to physically write one for yourself, or get someone else to write one for you, give yourself that permission slip to honour yourself, your children and your motherhood on the day. However and with whomever you want to. Whether you spend the day doing acts of kindness in honour of your children, or decide to pull out a blanket and just sit and spend the day at the resting place of your child(ren) – do it. Don’t be fussed about what other’s around you may think or say — there’s no manual that you must follow. And if there is one, please let me know because I’m yet to find it.
Attend a yoga or meditation class and dedicate the practice in honour of yourself – if you don’t think you deserve it, let me tell you, you do. Mothering a living child is hard. Mothering a dead child is heavy. Use the day as an opportunity to acknowledge yourself as a mother in whatever form it is, and give yourself permission to just for one day, place all of the heaviness, burden, anger and grief down and give your heart a place to rest. A place to be seen. A place to love the mother that you are.
Regardless of how you choose to navigate this hallmark holiday, show yourself some grace with the knowledge that motherhood is a journey. It’s unique to you, ever changing, and needs to be honoured in a way that acknowledges where you are in that journey. Don’t conform to someone else’s view of what it is and how it should be honoured. Conform to you and only you.
Be gentle with yourself and remember you are enough.
I’ve had the fortune (or misfortune – depending on the lens you look through) to be consulted a few times on how to support a newly bereaved mother. By no means do I consider myself to be a professionally qualified consultant on the matter, but I do have one credential that places me in a different segmentation of the average individual. I am a bereaved mother. And so, by default, that makes me somewhat qualified to be consulted on the topic.
During the most recent ask to consult on what to say or how to help a recently bereaved mother in what I think is an impossible situation, I found myself a little lost for words at first. To be honest, swearing was the only cohesive speech I managed to share with the friend who was so dutifully asking me for my advice on the matter, admitting that she had absolutely no experience and very aware that not everything that is intentionally helpful, helpful to a newly bereaved mother.
My mind immediately raced through all of the things not to do or say – the cliches, the religious anecdotes, the “at leasts…”. But then I paused, took a deep breath in and let myself carefully drift back to those early days of grief — early hours of grief, where the shock of loosing your precious baby(ies) is still very present and you feel nothing but numbness. The early hours of grief where you stare out beyond the world, for hours, and the world stares back through you, carrying on as if nothing had happened. The sun sets, the moon rises, the traffic flows, the stars glow, the sidewalk bustles, the emails ping, the people smile, the flowers bloom, the snow falls, the clocks run, the school day ends, the tide rises and the waves crash and it all just flows through like nothing ever happened. In those early grief days, none of that matters. It’s all just swept up into the numbness and shock of the perpetual thought of “my baby(ies) just died – does nobody give a fuck?”.
So, as an innocent (and concerned) bystander, all you see is this shell of a person who you love, is maybe just stillness and silence and not responsive to the world around them and all you want to do is fix it. Take their pain away, make them smile again. See them happy. See them live. So how do you do that? What encouraging words can you offer? What actions can you take that will help them “snap out of it” and get back to life?
Before leaping into action, what you must realize and come to terms with, is this. Your loved one, didn’t JUST loose their baby(ies). They LOST their baby(ies) AND they lost THEMSELVES. So much of themselves is lost in that moment when the realization that their baby(ies) have been lost forever. Just because that newly bereaved mother is still physically alive, does not mean that she did not also die with their baby(ies). Believe me (I guess this is the qualification factor), a large part of us as individuals, vanishes when our baby(ies) die. So the best thing you can offer any newly bereaved mother is space.
Space to grief. Space to tell you about her baby(ies). Space to share her birth story. Space to cry, be angry, be resentful, be sad, be happy, be confused, be honest. Space to just be. That gift of space, can be wrapped and gifted in so many different ways. It can be wrapped up in a walk outside. A drive along the country side road. A hot cup of coffee, tea, soup broth in a quiet, private place. It can be bundled in the shape of a colouring book and colourful pencils to give her a place to rest her mind. It can be wrapped in the form of a journal with a sharp pencil or felt tip pen to give her a place to unpack her emotions and try to answer all of the unanswered questions. It can be boxed along with some bath salts, moisturizers, essential oils and soft slippers to remind her to take care of herself. It can also be just a simple stuffed animal toy to give her empty arms something to hold.
None of those things will bring her baby(ies) back. But having the space to navigate the thick grief fog, rollercoaster of emotions and process of re defining herself is a good start. There’s no timeline and no end game for the bereaved mother. Her grief will not come to a magical finish line. Her love for her baby(ies) will not end, therefore, all she is left with is the space in between – to tread the journey. Just be there. Quietly and gracefully, treading beside her.
Seven looks a little different. The lead up to seven has sped through our lives like a gust of wind that comes quickly and with purpose – a reminder that another season is upon us. Another year has passed. Another year of your present absence.
Seven feels like a pivotal year. One that signifies change. One that enables movement forward, although we have somehow managed to keep moving without you. It hasn’t always been forward, but it’s movement; and in grief, that’s all that counts.
For seven years, we have shared you within our world. We have openly and freely said your name. We have lived and loved unapologetically in your honour. We have continued onward with our lives as best we could – living in parallel realms, with and without you.
But seven is not enough. It’s not enough to heal. Infinity is not enough, so why would seven be? Instead seven feels like a pause in a time lapse, where we assess our vantage point and reposition before continuing to record this journey we’re on with you.
At seven, we can pause and see the light that you have shone through the cracks in our hearts out into the world. We can see the brightness that you have lit our world with. We are starting to understand the purpose of your love in our lives. Understanding is not accepting – it’s simply understanding and opening ourselves to whatever else you teach us along this journey.
Such a small number for a big lesson when you put it into perspective. With every season and every year that passes, we are reminded that your love is present and purposeful. It’s a guiding force if we surrender to it and it will continue to be until our realms once again collide and our lights are no longer pouring through the cracks, but intertwined together. Once again whole.
Until then, we love you and wish you were here everyday.
I suppose champagne birthdays are only really a thing only when you’re an adult – when you can actually drink champagne! By definition, today we could have potentially be celebrating your champagne birthday. You would have been turning 6 on the 6th this year. And even though you’re not here, I’ll still raise a champagne flute to celebrate. Celebrate you. Celebrate me. Celebrate us as a collective family. Celebrate the fact that we have survived 6 years of this balancing act of grief and joy. Love and pain.
6 years in, I still hold this day sacred. And I know that in some shape or form I will continue to hold it sacred until I die. It’s the day I honour you but also honour the person that you made me. Honour the strength, the perspective and the grace that I had anticipated to be born on this day, but never did. Instead, all of those things were born much earlier, in a completely different setting, in the most unexpected way, shaping the person that I have become.
Self care is one of those phrases you hear as a bereaved parent very early on in the grief journey, but holds very little merit. It’s not much, much later in one’s grief journey that you come to recognize the critical role it plays, in not only surviving, but also living through the journey.
Today, on your would have been champagne birthday, I choose self care – even if it comes in the form of a champagne glass.
Six. It’s been six year since we’ve lost you and I wonder today how the weight of the grief that I carry compares to weight your little body would be at six. I’m sure your little body would have been 10x lighter without a doubt.
But I guess we’ll never really know.
The on again off again pandemic environment has once again made it challenging to celebrate your birthday in the way that somehow makes my heart feel like it’s enough, so this year, as we celebrate you differently (again), my heart looks for ways to fulfill that feeling of enough. But it has not been successful. In the days leading up to today, I wander in and out of stores looking for things that speak to me. That remind me of you. That make my heart happy. And every single time, I question whether it’s enough.
Many bereaved parents will identify with “signs” as a way to hold on to a glimmer of hope and light that they’re child(ren) continue to be with us in this universe despite not being physically by our side. To the non bereaved, these signs may seem ridiculous, but to us, the bereaved parent, they are all that we have.
And so, this week, as I wandered aimlessly to find what exactly would be considered enough to celebrate and honour you, I came across many of these signs that I know was your way of saying “hello! I’m here. And I’m with you’. From the tiniest white feathers I found every morning this week tangled in your sister’s hair as I brushed it in the morning, to the heart shaped planters and posters in the garden centre, even to the pillow that suggested a coping mechanism to get through yet another year without you, they were all there. Speaking to me. Telling me something — but never enough.
It’s just not enough to not have you here. Not enough to try and celebrate you in every way that I know how. Just not enough.
So, I carry you. I carry you in my heart and feel the weight of the grief against the walls of my heart and know that for now, in this space, this lifetime, that will just have to be enough.
Until we meet again my sweet boy. Happy 6th Birthday!
Is today a good day? What constitutes as a good day? From my vantage point, today is a day. A special day. But not sure it’s a good day — but then again, what is a good day.
What I know is that today is our day. Our day to connect. To reflect on what may have been. What could have been. What should have been.
I’ve been holding this day dearly for 5 years. The entrance into this new decade starting in 2020 has abruptly reminded me that you and I have been apart for half a decade already. Half a decade. Time still flies when you’re grieving. Nothing sits still.
I claim this day every year since loosing you to honour us. To honour you, my sweet Jude on what could have been your birthday and to honour myself for surviving this journey.
I saw the words scripted in blue marker on the side of my cup as the barista handed me my comfort tea this morning and wondered if she could see through my broken exterior shell. Could she see that I need to be reminded to “have a good day”? Maybe. Maybe she was simply carrying out her perfected customer experience ritual that gets carried out with every customer.
But today, I’d like to think that message was unique to me. That it wasn’t the barista’s message at all. That the message came from you, reminding me that today is a good day. That today, is a day that we can hold in our hearts together and indulge in this non conventional love that we hold for each other in a way that only you and I understand.
4 years. It’s been 4 years since we had to say goodbye to you physically, but to us, you’re more alive then ever. You’ve been the first thing I think about and the last thing I think about almost each and every day. You’re in my everyday, so how could I possibly forget you?
The butterfly visits, gentle wind breezes and random song playings on the radio, are all daily signs from you that bring my heart joy. These little secret messages from you are what make your love so vivid and present. Yet, my mind often plants seeds of pressure to move on, to stop honouring you, to forget. And it waters (or drowns sometimes) those seeds with expectation, either self imposed or imposed by others. But the truth is, that my heart, simply cannot comply.
The guilt that comes with the thought of not honouring or holding space for you in our lives is a reminder that my heart is not healed and I don’t think it ever will. The space that we hold in our hearts for you is what enables are hearts to be whole. Without it, they just crumble back to a million pieces. And so far it has taken us four years to glue those pieces back together to resemble our hearts.
You, Jude, have taught me so many things in these short 4 years. You have taught me how to love fiercely and unapologetically. And because of that, my heart cannot simply move forward without you. It can only move forward with you.
I have come to accept that my grief is a reflection of my love for you. I can’t expect it to ever go away, stay the same or even dissipate. That’s just not how true love works. It changes, grows, breaks apart and molds back together – each day feeling different.
My heart too has changed. It has held space for 2, then 3, then molded back to 2, then grew to hold space for 4 and it’s now changed to hold space for 4 minus 1. It’s no wonder grief feels like one step forward, two steps backward at times. It’s love. Changing, longing, growing, missing. That’s what love is.
4 years later, I continue to wonder. Maybe if it all had gone to plan my love, you would be starting school this year. I watch those markers in my life grow up so fast and find a dose of comfort in knowing that I won’t have to watch you trek off to school independently. I relish in the fact that unlike their moms, I get to keep you snuggled up in my heart for yet another year as my baby. These are the bittersweet moments of our love, sweet Jude.
There are many reasons why your birthday feels different to me this year. Amongst the blurred busyness of this year, my heart carries heavy doses of guilt for simply not mindfully being with you. I know that’s all part of the ever changing process of grief, but my mama heart finds that difficult to accept. I hope that despite everything this year, you have continued to feel my love. I know I have felt yours, my sweet boy.
Since loosing our sweet Jude, there are so many mundane conversation starter questions that I simply don’t use anymore, and dread being asked them; including “do you have any children?” or “ how many children do you have?”. These questions for a bereaved mom are dreadful and grief triggering, irrespective of where in her grief journey she is.
During my subsequent pregnancy after loosing Jude, I was introduced to a whole new set of triggering questions such as “is this your first?” or “ are you excited to become a mom?”.
Since having my daughter, a new set of triggering questions have presented themselves, but the one that has been triggering me the most is, “ how are you enjoying motherhood?”.
Like all of the other aforementioned questions, they are often asked innocently and mindlessly which to most moms, is ok. But not for a bereaved mom — and here’s why.
I’m already a mom. I’m already experiencing motherhood.
Before I was a mom to my daughter, I was a mom to my son Jude. He made me a mom.
The question itself implies that I’m new to motherhood which denies the existence of my son. And that is the triggering point. Any bereaved parent will tell you that the only thing that hurts just as much as loosing your child is the thought of your child being forgotten. His memory diminished. His existence erased.
There are multiple forms, sides and dimensions to motherhood.
Motherhood is easy when your child gets to live. It’s when they die that it’s hard.
Now I know that’s a bold statement to make, but as a mom that has the privilege to mother a child amongst the stars and mother a child below the stars, I have become familiar with the multiple dimensions of motherhood and can stand behind the statement. Each dimension has its joys and sorrows. It’s good days and bad days. It’s peaks and valleys. But at the end of the day, I get to hold my daughter and kiss her goodnight everyday — something I cannot physically do with my son. Something so many other moms who hold their babies only in their heart so desperately want, but simply cannot have. And not having that simple ritual is hard. Really hard. Unbelievably hard.
But yet, we manage to move forward every day – one day at a time. Tending to our heart and our child as if they were physically present, because to us, they are so unbelievably present in our hearts, our minds and in our souls. Every. Single. Day. That dimension of motherhood is hard.
So when asked the question of how I’m enjoying motherhood, I often respond with a somewhat mundane response sprinkled with a bit more raw honesty than most new moms would, which catches the inquirer by surprise. Just imagine how surprised they would be if I answered them truthfully and said that Motherhood is easy when your child gets to live. It’s when they die that it’s hard.
So today, on Mother’s Day, look around and acknowledge and honour all moms (and dads) – whether you can physically see their children or not. Afterall, as nurturing human beings, whether we bear our own children, raise someone else’s, have them physically with us or carry them in our hearts, we are all programmed to love, teach and nurture them in our own unique way.
Wishing you a gentle happy Mother’s Love Day today.
These days I find myself giving myself permission to do or not do a lot of things as it relates to my relationship with Jude and my grief. Allowing yourself permission is not an easy task. It often involves several hours (maybe days) of battles in your mind leading to countless sleepless hours before a final winner is declared. Sometimes I win, sometimes I loose.
I’m giving myself permission to temporarily excuse myself from certain elements of parenting a child you physically don’t have in order to parent the basics to a child I physically do have.
I see this as a way of making room in my heart for both of my children, which is proving to be a difficult task. Up until this point, I have only known one way of parenting – parenting with grief. I have had to find creative ways to honour and parent Jude in my heart in ways that are completely different then parenting a physical child. I have had to parent from the inside out – from deep within my heart in a way that ensures my love for Jude is somehow made visible. Grief woven parenting takes resources, physical energy and copious amounts of emotional energy.
Parenting a physical child takes mainly physical energy – except when you’re a bereaved parent. As a bereaved parent, parenting a physical child not only drains you physically, it also drains you emotionally. Largely because parenting your physical child(ren) is a constant reminder to your heart of all of the physical moments you are missing out on with the child you lost. Every milestone, every baby step, every everyday normal minute is a reminder to your heart of what should have been, what could have been, what you’ve missed. All of these trigger reminders are mentally and emotionally draining, leaving you spent, and if you’re like me, guilt ridden.
The guilt is triggered by so many elements. Guilt from not being able to physically carry out the small rituals to honour the child you loss. Guilt from not physically visiting their resting place as often as you did before. Guilt from realizing the child you lost is not occupying all of your mindfulness space. Guilt from feeling the love your physical child is bringing to you. Guilt from enjoying the tiny moments of joy with your physical child. Guilt from not being in the deepest depths of grief.
Balancing the guilt is what has made parenting between heaven and earth so challenging for me. The challenge is a result of all of these emotions, thoughts and feelings colliding at the centre of my heart and dispersing throughout, leaving me simply emotionally spent. Ironically, that same collision at the centre of my heart is what fuels the parenting I’m seeing to here on earth. It provides a source of nourishment for all of the characteristics that I know I didn’t embody before having Jude but am embodying now. My invisible parenting to Jude, has enabled me to now parent his younger sibling who is physically with me.
Jude taught me patience. He showed me how to be humble and appreciate the tiniest of moments and things. Jude taught me how to love unconditionally. He taught me kindness. All characteristics that I’m drawing on day in and day out as I parent his younger sibling.
Parenting between heaven and earth is complex, emotionally charged and beautiful. It forces emotions together in a perfectly balanced dance showing up in the most unconventional moments. Joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, excitement and despair, all intertwined together twirling and shuffling within the borders of your heart. It does so, so swiftly that it makes you feel like you’re no longer parenting between heaven and earth – but simply parenting.