Mothering a Child Lost

What does it mean to be a mother to a child who died?

I remember back in the first summer after our daughter died, about six to nine months after her death – I started feeling “good” again.  It wasn’t that I was bouncing back 100% or that I felt I had moved on, but there was certainly a shift in my grief where it was no longer all-consuming.

I remember noticing that we were having more fun, laughter started to seep in to our days with greater ease.  We took more time out for leisure activities as a couple. I remember feeling that I didn’t want that to happen.  Not yet.  I was afraid of the implications of showing anyone that I was not still in such a dark place all the time.  What if they thought I was “over it”?

I wonder if at times we do equate actively “being sad” with making sure that we are not forgetting. As though we have to prove, using our outward emotional face, that we are still hurting.  Prove to whom? Maybe to ourselves, maybe to our deceased children, to our family and friends… The answer to that is something for introspection and reflection. I also think that it is a normal part of grieving. I know that you cannot deny your feelings even when you are feeling pretty good… your feelings just are.

I believe that it is important to work through the intellectual things that you can toss around in your head, just as its equally important to let go of tangible things that will never be.  A large part of losing a child is that you lose all of the things that go along with having that child; your hopes and dreams for their life as they grow, caring for the baby when it is small, touching and holding and feeding the baby. The entire sensory experience is gone. All of “being” that child’s mother in an active way goes away.  Or does it?

For me, a big part of healing in my grief was letting go of those things related to having our daughter here with us physically.  Our daughter is gone, I will never hold her again, and I miss all of the dreams that I had for her when I thought she would live. But she didn’t live, she couldn’t stay.  My grief never felt right when I thought about wanting her back, my focus always came back to coping with her being gone. That must sound like a different way to say the same thing – but I think of those two things very differently. By letting go of the experiences and the things I could never have, I found myself working on finding the things that I did have.  Things I could create, and seeking out ways to make her stay with us now that she is gone.

With each passing year after losing her, our daughter still occupies my thoughts daily. We have photos of her mingled among the family pictures in our home as well as her cremated remains on a shelf where we can see her.  I have jewelry that came much later, but brings me happiness to wear for her.  She is beginning to take a place in her younger siblings’ lives, as they notice her pictures and we talk about her.  We have planted trees for her, and over the years have found ways to remember her openly.

The feelings of loss are still the same, but their impact on my daily life is profoundly changed.  The new me that continues to emerge reflects back upon my experience in different ways every day.  I do not worry anymore about forgetting, I no longer think it is possible to forget much of this experience. I have learned that although I do remember so very much, I have indeed forgotten some of the details. I think that is ok too. It actually feels good to acknowledge that, it means that however unconscious it has been, I have been letting go.

I have found that for me, it is most important to make heads or tails of all of this; to process it in my own mind and find my own sense of peace within it all. I will always be Rowan’s mother. But since I cannot be a mother to her, I try to focus on what being her mother can mean for me today and in the future.  There is much talk about legacy in the bereavement world.  Legacy being anything that is done in your lost child’s name or honor, something that you do privately or publicly that is inspired by your child.  A friend of mine recently said that she realized that all of these things that so many of us do are our way of mothering our children that we did not get to keep with us.  I think she was right.  Being a mother is not necessarily about having a child to raise, it is about having had a child who you love.