MOTHERS, ANGELS … AND HOPE

Woman and Man in Tree Branches, Illustration

Life began by waking up and loving my mother’s face.”

George Eliot, Novelist

Mother’s Day 2020 was yesterday. The day upon which we openly recognize and honor that which we feel and embrace each and every day. While researching this article, I came across a blogsite which included an incredible, impactful message. That post is a conglomeration of letters and messages from moms who must bear the daily agony of having a beloved child taken from life:

“Dear Friend,

I miss my child every day. This grief of mine will never leave me, and honestly, why should it? I love my child more than I ever could have imagined, and yes, I do mean present tense “love”.  It is excruciating knowing that my child will never return to my arms. However, a mother’s love for her child doesn’t require physical presence; this can be proven by the fact that most mothers love their children well before they are even born.  I will love my child forever, and therefore, I will grieve my child forever. This is just how it goes.

I know it’s difficult for some people to understand my ongoing grief, I guess because they want me to “get better” or return to “normal.” However, I actually am normal. I’m just different now. I believe those who say they want to support me on difficult days like Mother’s Day, but part of this is accepting me as a grieving mother who will always love her deceased child. Again, this is just how it goes.

My grief is like the weather. Somedays it’s calm, quiet, maybe even a little sunny. Other days it’s a devastating storm that makes me feel angry, exhausted, raw, and empty. I wake up in the morning and wonder – “Am I even alive at all?  And if so, how am I supposed to make it through this day?”  This is why when you ask me how I feel about Mother’s Day, all I can say that it depends.  Of course, I’m going to try my best to cope with the day, but while you’re hoping that your Mother’s Day picnic doesn’t get spoiled by actual rain, I’ll be praying that the grief storms stay at bay.  

Like many things in a grieving mother’s life, Mother’s Day is bittersweet to the nth degree. On the one hand, I feel immense joy because I was blessed with my child and I feel gratitude for every moment I was given with them.  On the other hand, the pain of missing my child – my greatest happiness, my life’s purpose, and my best friend – is intense.

Bereaved mothers live with so many of these confusing contrasts. They are like undercurrents that tug at and toss about our hearts and minds.  I am the mother of a child who is not alive. Perhaps a child who you’ve never met. You can’t ask me about their school year, or how they’re liking piano lessons, or whether they’ve chosen a major in college. In my mind, I’ve imagined my child doing all these things. People don’t realize that I grieve each of my child’s milestones, knowing they didn’t get the opportunity to experience these special days. 

Most people don’t know how to validate my child’s place in the world or my ongoing role as my child’s mother. This is a difficult concept for others to grasp. Heck, sometimes even I grapple with the answers to questions like “Do you have children?” and “How many?.”  I know many bereaved mothers, like me, long for these questions to have straightforward answers.

Sadly, mothers who have experienced the death of their only child may even wonder whether they get to call themselves a mother at all in broader society. So, in addition to the pain of grief, these mothers have to cope with a sense of being left out, forgotten, and ignored.  Can you imagine how that might feel?  I think it must be like being stabbed through the heart and when you turn to others for help they say “What blood?” “What knife?”  

Then, for mothers who have surviving children, there is this gem of a comment – “Don’t forget, you’re lucky to have other children.” Please let me assure you, a mother does not forget any of her children. This mother loves each and every one of her unique and special children in unique and special ways, but one of her children has died and so her love for this child looks a little untraditional. Mothers do not have a finite amount of love to be shifted, divided, and spread around depending on the number of children they have on this Earth.  So please be careful with your comments, because it’s difficult enough for grieving mothers who often feel torn between feeling joy and happiness for their living children and grief for the child who has died.

All that said, you asked me what it’s like to grieve a child on Mother’s Day, so here’s what I have to say:

This day will forever be hard for me. I live with an emptiness that no one can fill; so I may be sad, I may be unsociable, and I may need to take a break to be by myself in a quiet place. Whatever shape my grief takes on this day, please allow me to feel the way I feel and please follow my lead.

Beyond that, acknowledge me as a mother. It makes me feel forgotten and as though my child has been forgotten when people act as though my child never existed. Also, I can sense that people feel uncomfortable talking about my child and I constantly feel like the elephant in the room, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Honestly, I find it really comforting when someone talks about my child. I love hearing their name spoken out loud!  I love hearing stories about them. Maybe you know a story I’ve never heard, or maybe I’ve heard it a hundred times before, but it really doesn’t matter to me.  Your acknowledgment alone is one of the greatest Mother’s Day gifts you could give me.

I guess while I’m offering my two cents, I also have something to say to my fellow bereaved mothers.  No one has it all figured out, but I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.  If you’re worried about Mother’s Day, you’re not alone.  Try not to get overwhelmed or wrapped up in anxiety.  You may actually find that the anticipation of the day is worse than the day itself.  You may want to plan a whole day of activities just to stay busy, or you may feel like doing nothing at all.  There is no “right” way to handle Mother’s Day – but do try to plan ahead a little. You may want to reach out to others who are struggling with the day and, if you can, it always helps to face the day with people who love and support you.

Whatever you do, believe you will make it through the day. With time, the grief storms will grow smaller and less frequent and you will find a little more balance and room to breathe.  Believe you will be okay and have hope that in the future you will find yourself in a place where you can grieve and celebrate on Mother’s Day all at the same time.

Let’s take care of each other,

M”

_____________

A mother’s grief. For many people, another person’s grief is a topic that is difficult to handle, let alone handle with grace, dignity, wisdom and insight. Especially when that grief involves a child’s death.

Nowhere is that more true than in the eating disorder community. When a child dies as a result of eating disorders, it does not just leave a gaping hole in the heart of that child’s mother, but it also represents the most obvious manifestation of the failure of the eating disorder industry and community as a whole.

This is only a very short list of those mothers whose beloved child was taken by eating disorders:

MARTHA DUNN

NANCY BURK

DEBRA SCHLESINGER

SHARON HOFSTRA HAUGEN

SHARON LOZIPONE MATHIASON

LOUISE KAISER

DEANNA SPEIR

ELLEN KITSEN BENNETT

ROXANNE SCOLARI  WRIGHT

KATHY ROHAN

SUZIE MARIE HEIM

LINDA MAZUR

LAUREN SILVERI

ALITA RITZEMA DORN

JOHANN MCGOWANS

STEPHANE GROSS

LINDA BERRY

ERICA ZENGEL

TANIA JOHNSON

CHERYL VELDMAN

TRACY WRIGHT

ELAINE STEVENSON

CHRISTA JAPEL

SANDY BACON

SARAH GEORGE

LORI SIRACUSA

LISA LANIEWSKI

MICHELLE MORALES

NANCY WEST

JEANETTE KIRBY

LEIGH CLARE

CINDY RAMBO SULTIS

LISA GOROVE

DORIS SMELTZER

BETTY NONENMACHER

SUE BARNES

CANDY MILLER

TRACY SMITH PICONNI

CAROL CROFT

JOAN RIEDERER

ROBIN SMITH

SHERRI FOWLER

KATHERINE HASS STARNER

JOAN ALLEN

DEBBIE BEGENY

KITTY WESTIN

STEPHANIE MOTSINGER

Mothers all, who until their last day, must live with a burden so onerous, that unless you share that tragic bond with them, you cannot possibly grasp the depth of the pain within them. Mothers all, who deserve so much more.

The death of our beloved child or loved one should be the first, second, third and final goal to eradicate in the treatment of eating disorders. And yet, we, the eating disorder industry and community, have failed them. With each death of another beloved child, we fail.

Even worse than failing, certain elements in the eating disorder community have lowered themselves to a level specifically designed to cause friction and fragmentation in the community.

This horrific reality, these facts which are so incredibly difficult to acknowledge, so painful to grasp, paralyze with fear some so-called leaders in the eating disorder community. This fear is so overwhelming, that those so-called leaders not only do not acknowledge those facts and let them inspire and motivate them to accomplish far greater things, but, they lash out in blind, irrational fear to conspire with like-minded sycophants and attempt to destroy anyone who does not agree 100% with their views. A reprehensible conspiracy conducted in the shadows … where only eating disorders live.

In the recent past, a so-called leader in the eating disorder community made the following public post on Facebook:

“The entire ED community is getting “upskirted” by certain men and we cannot put our own FOMO aside long enough to see it. Instead, we attend these men’s meetings and give them power to continue their gaslighting and lack of any willingness to see the intersections affecting our field. I’d love for other women to join me (and a few others) in being difficult when it comes to these people.”

This so-called leader and her shadowy cadre of like-minded sycophants have perpetrated certain deliberate conduct in support of their irrationality to stop progress in the understanding and treatment of eating disorders.

Mothers all, deserve better. We all deserve better.

In life, our beloved children, our now Warrior Angels, our honored dead, certainly deserved better.

But, our Warrior Angels know the identity of those sycophants. They know the underhanded conduct, both in the past and which is presently being perpetrated by those persons. They know.

Those so-called leaders and their sycophants know.

And … I know.

And yet, I fervently hope that those shadowy figures will fully understand how far they have diverged from a path of enlightenment. I fervently hope that those shadowy figures will grow, that wisdom, compassion and understanding will become a light of illumination. I fervently hope that they will begin to embrace those hurt and suffering Mothers with love, with compassion, with understanding. I fervently hope that they will embrace the endless possibilities which exist when we collaborate and think and work as one.

One great goal. One great purpose.  Our Warrior Angels will not remain silent. They demand a far better future. I fervently hope that those so called leaders and their followers become shining beacons demonstrating the power of love, of healing, of understanding, of compassion, of vision. 

I fervently hope.

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