Within the English language, as tragic as it is, there is a word to describe parentless children – orphans. A word for wives without husbands – widows. And for husbands without wives – widowers. Yet, remarkably, there is no word within our language that captures the reality and the pain of a childless mother.
Perhaps the absence of this language speaks volumes.
Perhaps the very thought of a mother burying her child is such anathema, such an affront to the expected natural order of life that to name it too simply in a mere word would feel too trivial. Such indescribable grief may be just that – indescribable.
Or perhaps, instead, there is no word because the love and the relationship between a mother and her child does not end even if her child dies. Truly, a mother’s love defies death. So, a mother remains a mother always – her title, like her love, as steady and unchanging in life and in death.
This may be so, but without language, it is almost impossible to tell this to the world. Too often, for example, Mother’s Day excludes childless mothers because it tends to narrow the definition of motherhood only to happy mothers with happy children.
Mother’s Day is a day I have been dreading from the moment we lost our sweet boys. I have lived through two Mother’s Days now as a childless mother, and each one was a dreadful reminder of all that I longed for and all that I had lost. Triggers were everywhere – endless commercials paying tribute to happy mothers with gorgeous babies, a Newsfeed full of friends celebrating with brunches and flowers, unexpected pregnancy announcements…
There is a line that I love in the movie We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon playing a bereaved widower. At the heart of the movie’s premise, a father and his two children are mourning the loss of their mother. And one night, as Matt Damon’s character tucks his daughter into bed, there is a party raging next door. With blaring loud music and the sounds of jubilant partygoers, the joyous cacophony makes an almost painful backdrop for this family’s grief. Poignantly, Matt Damon’s young daughter says,
“Their happy is too loud.”
God, I love that line. That is exactly how Mother’s Day feels for me. In a single day, it captures all of my grief and all of my still unrequited dreams. It opens old wounds by showing me all that I am missing, and then it proceeds to rub it in with a happy that is too loud.
I had hoped beyond hope that this Mother’s Day would be different. I had dreamed that this would be my first happy Mother’s Day as I celebrated my first happy and healthy pregnancy with Ezra and Leo. I had thought that this would be my first Mother’s Day that would be recognized by the world, since for the world, this would be the first year when I would be recognized as a mother.
And yet, here I am again – celebrating yet another Mother’s Day as a childless mother. It’s a truly indescribable pain.
Yet, I saw this video from the TODAY show the other day, and it touched my heart deeper than I can explain. The description says that it is a “message for mothers with an aching heart.” Profoundly, it acknowledged and validated me as a mother, in a way that I have always felt but have heard so rarely from the world. It recognized my pain. It saw my love. It reassured me that I was not alone. It called me mom.
This is exactly what I need in order to get through Mother’s Day this year. And so I share this message and spread its reassurance to other mothers with aching hearts and to other childless mothers struggling to get through a day when the happy of the world is just too loud to bear.
May you too know that you are and always will be a mother. May you have room for your pain today. Yet, I hope that you also have a chance to share your undying love. May you to be reassured that you are not alone. Love to you today and everyday, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day.