I am still a person like you, with a life like yours, yet not. I am still a mother like you, yet not at all like you, all at the same time. I wish there was some way you could understand me, without becoming who I am now.
You see, there’s a pain I carry, unlike any pain you carry, unless you are a bereaved mother too. This pain I carry is always there. It doesn’t nap during the day, or get safely tucked into bed at night. It follows me everywhere, it never leaves my side– like my son used to do, only grief is not cuddly, nor sweet.
No, a mother’s grief is a torturous life sentence, that no one wants to live. It’s bargaining for a different ending, over and over again, one where no one dies. It’s the panic of it happening again, any time, anywhere… It’s the toxic self-blame that never turns its finger around to blame itself. It’s the spiraling of obsessive thoughts, (what if… if only?) seeping its poison through every crevice of my mind. It’s the regret, so convincing that I failed as a mother, powerless to protect my child from death. Yes, grief’s emotions are as unpredictable as the ocean tide, crashing down on me to drown me alive.
I have three kids, not two. My first son died.
There, I said it. I know you may not want to hear it. Neither do I, yet I have to say it over and over and over again to slowly wrap my mind around the incomprehensible truth. My son is dead.
It might make you uncomfortable for a moment, yet I am uncomfortable for a lifetime.
Either I pretend he never existed, for your comfort, or, to my own discomfort, this new life of mine comes with dreaded and sometimes hostile reactions– blank stares, awkward silences, big eyes bugging out of shocked faces; or worse, looks of despair, pity, shame, judgment; even, turning of backs, that walk away, leaving me in mid-sentence of my pain. Or, worst of all, altogether ceasing to be my friend, upon discovering that, I am a bereaved mother.
Please, do not judge me by circumstances beyond my control. Do not think you are more powerful than God, that this could never happen to you. Do not imply by your words or your looks that I am a bad mother because my child died. Do not think I didn’t try everything humanly possible to save my son from death.
Let me tell you something, if a mother’s love was enough to protect her children from all harm then children would never die.
Please remember, I did not choose this version of my life. I am living yet dying, breathing yet suffocating, laughing yet crying. I am a mother like you yet a bereaved mother all at the same time. I am a mother’s worst nightmare, only it’s not a dream. It’s my life.
While you complain about your kids spilling milk or painting on the wall, I swallow my grief whole, silently choking on my wish for my problems to be just. Like. Yours. Paint splattered all over my walls, milk spilled, covering my kitchen floor. I am aching for the signs of my toddler living, breathing, playing, alive in my home. I am longing for the iterations of what could have been.
Instead, I have an empty chair at every meal, the contents of my son’s entire life neatly stacked in sharpie-marked boxes in storage that now smells more like mildew and dust than of my son.
Instead, my lap seems full, but it is always one-third empty. I’m left with a math equation that never equates. No matter how many times I count, my children never add up to three. One is always missing. And a million more could never replace or erase the pain of missing the one who now lives only in the confines of my memory.
There is an eternal hole in my heart, in my life, the size and shape of him and only him, that no one and nothing will ever be able to fill.
I am a bereaved mother, a grieving quasi-supermom; I straddle time and space. You might feel pulled in two directions, but let me tell you how it feels to be pulled between heaven and earth, as a mother to an angel and a mother to two living, breathing, laughing little boys. A mother to the living and the dead.
Let me tell you how it feels to have my son deleted, his existence denied because it makes people uncomfortable to hear he lived and he died.
He is as real to me now as he was in life. He is not some inconvenient truth– he is my son. He will always be my son, just as I will always be his mother, because love never dies.
Next time you see me in the grocery store, at the playground, or across the street, please remember:
I am still a person like you, with a life like yours, yet not. I am still a mother like you, yet not at all like you, all at the same time. I am a bereaved mother, a grieving quasi-supermom; I straddle time and space. I wish there was some way you could understand me, without becoming who I am now.
I wrote this after becoming disheartened and frustrated by being constantly misunderstood by the world. I wished there could be a bridge to close the gap between us– the bereaved and the non-bereaved parent– but in writing this, I realized that the only bridge of understanding, is a one-way bridge. One we would never wish upon anyone, for to understand means to be become bereaved. The only bridge is your child dying. Then you understand, and there’s no going back to that place of blissful ignorance. Before it happens you cannot go there; you cannot imagine it; it is too hard, too painful, too much like every parent’s worst nightmare. Still, if I could create a two way bridge of understanding, this would be it.
** Originally published on Still Standing’s Poetry Sundays