Mothers Grief

The Compassionate Friends (UK)

When we first become a mother, our life changes. We experience powerful feelings of protection, and want always to be able to say, “I’m here. You’re safe”.

When our children are young, they become our highest priority, and we accept new and wide responsibilities. We give up sleep, energy, privacy, and time, putting our child’s needs ahead of our own as we adapt to their time frame. We become nurse, teacher, handyman and referee along with many other things too. Becoming a mother changes us and, through all the changes, we find strengths and skills in ourselves, of which we were perhaps unaware. We develop patience, empathy and accord with another human being who, at least initially, is totally vulnerable.

When our child dies, we lose a part of ourselves, not only because they are our children, but also because of the way they have become entwined with our own identity. We may experience an over-whelming sense of failure; we thought that we could protect them and keep them safe, and we have been shown in the harshest way possible that we were wrong. Whatever age our child is when they die, we still feel the unfairness of their death. The natural order of things is that parents die before their children; anything else is against nature, an accident, a catastrophe.

When we have given birth to our child, the physical sense of losing a part of ourselves, if that child dies, is searing. We carried our child in our womb and our body was their source of nourishment. Their birthday was literally that: the day we gave them birth. On that day, we went through the pains of labor; now we have the pains of grief. Many of us, at least in the early days of our bereavement, feel the loss of our child as an intensely physical pain. As time goes by, some of us see the anniversary of the day they were born to be a very lonely and difficult time, because our memories of it are unique to us. We may find ourselves reliving those hours each year. And that is something even the closest members of our family may not be able to share, or even comprehend.

We need to survive. We need to be there for our children, our partner, our family, for our friends and indeed for ourselves. If we are in the horrific position of being the only survivor, then perhaps we need to survive in order to bear witness to the fact that our child did live, that he or she was special, precious, loved. Mothers do survive and there are some things that can help, with perhaps the most important one being that we recognize that the loss of our child is not something we are expected to bear alone; we need to let other people help us. Sometimes we are so locked into our motherhood role that we find this very difficult. We fear that if we let ourselves go, weep with a friend, or even acknowledge to our children how much we hurt, then somehow we will lose the ability to cope at all.

But in truth it is not like that. At least in the early days of our bereavement, if we give ourselves space, let other people cook the meals, take our children to school, listen to us as we talk about our dead child, then we will gradually grow stronger and better able to carry on. Our children will benefit from the company of others, whether that is playing a game with friends or talking with someone they trust about what has happened. Our partner needs space and time also; he may choose to spend time alone, perhaps pursuing leisure activities, or he may enjoy going to the pub, or he may spend long hours at work hoping to escape from the grief at home. It is hard to recognize each individual’s needs at this time, especially when these are very different. One of us may need professional advice while the other does not. Usually it helps to seek support from several sources.

We each have to find our own way through our grief. Just as each child is special and different, so is each mother, and our pain when our child dies is unique to us, but we do not have to walk the path alone.

Credit for this article is given to The Compassionate Friends