Holidays that focus on parents are a particularly difficult time when you have lost a child. What does a mother do on Mother’s Day if she is a bereaved mom? Even if she has surviving children, a day devoted to mothers only heightens her sense of isolation and loss.
While it is impossible to know how a bereaved mom will feel, trust that the day will be hard, no matter how fresh or long ago the loss. Nothing can relieve this heartbreaking hurt, but there are thoughtful things you can do to make this time less painful. The simplest things mean the most — find a way to acknowledge her and her deceased child.
• Purchase a beautiful card: blank inside, or a thinking-of-you card. Write a message, beginning your note by acknowledging that this is a hard day. Let the mom know that you are thinking of her, her family, and dear baby/son/daughter by name and express your care or love for them.
• Deliver a bouquet of flowers or send a floral arrangement. Your note can be a simple: “Thinking of you today and your sweet baby/son/daughter by name with love.”
• Bring the mom a flowering hanging plant, one she can enjoy all spring long.
• Invite the mom to brunch or dinner. If she declines, let her know you understand and will be thinking of her.
• Give the mom a gift card for a manicure, or schedule a date for the two of you and treat her to a manicure.
What if the loss is recent? The death of a child is a devastating loss and a life-changing event. It’s hard to know what to say to comfort parents in the depth of their grief. Friends and loved ones may think the parents know best what they need, so they might ask the bereaved to call if they need anything. The sentiment is sincere, but in practice, asking “Please call me” places a burden on someone grieving a loss — someone who can barely muster the energy to get out of bed in the morning.
I asked bereaved parents to share what actually helps and what hurts. Here’s what they’d like you to know:
• Don’t avoid us. We already feel different, and your absence isolates us even more.
• Understand that you’ll have to give more than you’ll get. We just don’t have the energy or strength right now to do much more than take care of ourselves.
• Remind us of what was so special about our child: “I’ll never forget Melissa’s beautiful smile.”
• Share with us how our child made a difference: “Timothy’s courage was so inspiring, I will never forget how bravely he faced the treatments.”
• Accept that we’ve changed. We don’t like it either, but our experience makes us see the world from a different perspective.
• Stay in touch. Even if we seem unresponsive, keep up the connection. Call, email, or write a note. And don’t stop including us. Your friendship and support means the world, even if we don’t seem responsive.
• Don’t forget our child. Say their name and tell us stories — it’s music to our ears. Let us know how much you loved them, will miss seeing them grow, and how you too feel the pain of their absence.
• Be with us even if we’re not much fun. Accompany us on a walk, go to the movies, attend a support group, and invite us for coffee. Your friendship and support is the best therapy.
Thoughtful gestures will help a grieving mom feel that both she and her child are not forgotten. And remembrance, after all, is the true spirit of Mother’s Day.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available as e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.