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Discovering Hope through our Extended KinderMourn Family this Mother’s Day
Written by: Elizabeth Bennett
Whether you are a grief parent who has recently experienced the loss of a child, or one whose child died many years ago, Mother’s Day can be one of the most complicated and intimidating days to navigate. For me personally, following the loss of our first child, Nathan, who was stillborn on December 2, 2008, as that first Mother’s Day approached, I had such a strong sense of anxiety; the picture of how, or if I could make it through – both physically and emotionally – was quite unclear to me. Had it not been for KinderMourn, I would have been ill-equipped to handle the significant emotions and expectations I was placing on myself.
While I had spent many hours in Nathan’s nursery reflecting, crying, and meditating – essentially doing my “grief work” – I was worried I would be tempted to hunker down there all day, and I knew that was not the way I wanted to honor our son. I also had a sense of dread for our immediate family members. For my husband’s family, Nathan was their first grandchild, and while I wanted to acknowledge my mother-in-law and my own mother on that day, any gratitude I felt toward them was overshabdowed by feelings of guilt and disappointment that I had somehow robbed them of those precious moments with their grandson.
Thankfully, my husband and I had joined KinderMourn’s Empty Arms support group, and it was there, during one of our weekly evening sessions, that our counselor invited the moms to share what we were feeling as the day approached. As we went around the circle, I was encouraged to learn I wasn’t alone in my feelings and that other mothers were struggling with how to strike the right balance between honoring their child and practicing self-care. From our counselor, we learned that it was not only okay but imperative to give ourselves permission to handle the day however it felt right to us. She reminded us that we had been through one of the toughest losses imaginable and that placing more expectations on ourselves wasn’t accomplishing anything except making the weight of what we were already carrying that much heavier.
I knew I wanted to spend some of the day with my mom and my grandmother and honor Nathan with them, but I wasn’t sure how. Because they had been four hours away when my delivery occurred, they never had the chance to meet and hold Nathan like my husband and I had, which I felt like had created some divisions in our grief. As the day arrived, I decided it was time to share some of Nathan’s pictures and footprints with them, but I was also scared, because these were treasures my husband and I had not shared with anyone else – even family. That Mother’s Day morning, all the moms from my Empty Arms group connected - whether through text or e-mail – and they gave me the encouragement I needed. That afternoon at my mom’s house in Atlanta, sitting on the couch between my mom and grandmother, I mustered up the courage to open Nathan’s memory box. As I began placing his pictures into their hands, it felt like for the first time, I was able to really share the magnitude of the loss, in ways my own words had never been able to capture. There on that couch, huddling over the images that brought him closer to us, we cried together, three generations honoring the gift of a great-grandson, grandson, and son.
Eleven years later, my grief looks a lot different now than it did on that first Mother’s Day, and with that evolution, my needs and my ability to help others also looks quite different. As his mother, I will always ache for Nathan, and wish that he was here. That will never change. But as the day approaches, I don’t carry the feelings of dread and anxiety that I once did. Instead, it’s a mix of longing, gratitude and peace, and an acceptance that these contrasting emotions can simultaneously exist.
In that period, thanks to the incredible network of KinderMourn, I have been able to connect with families from all “walks of grief” whose losses often look entirely different from mine. What has been so rewarding and pleasantly surprising, is that even despite these differences, I continue to discover new wisdom and sources of inspiration. In speaking with a bereaved widow recently, I was reminded that while it is important to be open to receiving support, allowing your intuition to guide how and whether or not you choose to apply that to your healing process, ultimately puts you in a better position to pay it forward to others down the line.
Grief can be such an isolating feeling and experience, but that doesn’t mean we have to carry it alone. As we approach this Mother’s Day, it is my hope for all us on this day and every day, regardless if we are the givers or receivers of support, we take comfort in the hope and healing that comes from this remarkable extended family we all have through KinderMourn.