Sunday, May 10, 2015

Another Mothers Day: Hallmark and Anti-Hallmark Moments

(With baby Noah, Isle of Mull, Scotland, 1992)

Another beautiful spring Mothers Day. I hadn’t thought much about it in advance, unlike the dread of the past two years. I knew there would be another breakfast out with my in-laws, then quiet time by Noah’s stone in the Children’s Memorial and Healing Garden, plus a call from my living son. As if these plans might blunt the longing.
It may be a Hallmark holiday, but it speaks to a deep need for affirmation, appreciation, and connection. Many women feel conflicted, disappointed, or alienated on this day. For us mourning moms, there will be no chance of a message from a lost child or a simple meal together. Not this year, or ever again. We are banished from that particular Hallmark moment.

Instead, there are texts, cards, even an impromptu visit from women friends who are watching over me on this bittersweet day. One card said: “There are no words for the ones we have nurtured, lost, and hold in our memory.” I am touched by the mothering in these gestures. 

How to feel affirmed as a mother when your child takes his life? When you can’t shake the sense that you’ve failed in the most fundamental way as a life-giver and nurturer, whatever the complex circumstances surrounding the suicide? Early today, I couldn’t help sinking into the catalog of my flaws that sits at the ready for these anti-Hallmark moments. I’ve been trying in recent years to cultivate compassion and learn to be gentle with myself and others—a gift my own mother couldn't offer. Had I learned that lesson sooner and modeled it for Noah, might he have been gentler with himself for feeling so adrift and depressed? 

At the restaurant, I see a beautiful boy of about five strapped into a wheelchair, barely able to eat or talk. I am mesmerized by him and by his mother’s attentiveness and smiling ease. Does she enjoy this day and get the appreciation she deserves?

As I walk into the park with the memorial garden, I think of how our boys used to flop down on the grass here, sweaty and satisfied with themselves after juggling their way along the mile-long stretch of the small town’s 4th of July parade. I am grateful to have had the chance to be a mother with two beautiful, healthy boys who could take care of themselves, learn and grow and live full lives. 

(With both my sons, Thanksgiving, Chapel Hill, 2010)

If we wait for others to affirm us, we may always be disappointed, I think as I sit by Noah's stone. Rather than wait, rather than enumerate the many ways I fell short as a mother, I can affirm my love for my children. I am grateful that I got to raise Noah and love him and be loved by him and shape him and be shaped by him over 21 years. I am grateful for our walks and talks and stories and meals and travels and movies and holidays and memories. I am supremely grateful to have known Noah and been his mom. And I am grateful and so fortunate to continue to be a mom with a living, loving son (below).

To my fellow mourning moms: I hope it hasn't been too hard a day. I hope that today or on some future Mothers Day, you can allow yourself to count blessings rather than failings. Instead of waiting for the affirmation that will never come, to affirm our love of life and within it, our bond with a lost, much-loved child. And to celebrate the bond we have with our other children or loved ones.


  1. Dear Susan, thank you for this honest portrayal of deep, irretrievable loss. It helped me years ago to accidentally find an old, handmade Mother's Day card from my daughter Mary who had died years earlier. "Yes, the love in this card still holds," I reassured myself. "It's never gone away." And after almost twenty years without Mary (whom I think about hourly), I believe her love has not vanished or diminished.

  2. What a wonderful idea! I'm sure there are some old cards to be found somewhere around the house. Whenever I find anything like that with a message from Noah that I've never seen before, or not seen for many years, it's as if he's come back to life. Thanks Mary. Take good care.