â€œYesâ€ she said. She had three, but “lost one last year.”
â€œLost,â€ she said. Actually her youngest son was killed in a car accident.
I felt her words, stated so calmly, like a punch to the gut. A motherâ€™s worst nightmare.
â€œHow are you even standing here?â€ I asked. She gave a shrug and a sad smile and said that she has to continue on with life, but that itâ€™s hard. Hard is not even close Iâ€™m sure.
I felt inadequate to properly convey my feelings to this woman and told her simply that I was so sorry for her loss.
When I told another friend about this later in the day she told me that if she lost a child they would have to admit her to a psychiatric unit.
Maybe there should be a special unit at the hospital for mothers who have lost children. On this special floor women would be allowed to howl with the searing loss, or sit in a corner and say nothing. No one would expect them to be jolly at Christmas time, and everyone would remember that they are grieving.
Thatâ€™s the hell of it, that they look like one of us, but they are suffering so deeply amidst the glitter and holiday cheer.
My mother had a stillborn daughter the year before I was born and each year on Maryâ€™s birthday my mother would take flowers to her grave. Mom was always quiet that day and spoke of Mary with reverence. She was her lost baby girl, and would always be.
Yesterday a friend of mine who lost her son to a traumatic brain injury last year, told me that she is disappointed in herself because she isnâ€™t very motivated lately and seems to forget things, -classic symptoms of grief. Because itâ€™s been a little over a year, she feels she should be â€œdoing better.â€
I told her that I think sheâ€™s doing great considering such a loss.
Once in the wee hours of the night, while working the night shift at the hospital, I found a patient of mine up walking about, unable to sleep. He was a man who was a â€œfrequent flyerâ€ at the hospital because of his emphysema, and we were all fond of him. That night I tried to get to know him better and asked how many children he had. He leaned in and quietly whispered â€œI had four, but my wife only knows about threeâ€.
He explained that years ago, his wife had abdominal pain and was rushed to surgery. It was an ectopic pregnancy and they also removed her appendix at the same time. When his wife woke from surgery everyone told her only about the appendectomy.
This man was 83 years old now and all this happened in an era where women were only told what their doctors thought they needed to know, but it was more than that.
â€œIt would have killed her to know she had lost a childâ€ he said tearfully, â€œand I have always kept this secret because I never wanted her to suffer.â€
He was tender to the bone and took this secret to his grave, but carried the memory of that child like a fragile glass ornament.
There was a time when people wore black clothing after a loss for an entire year after the loss of a loved one, others wore black arm bands. I wish this were still a cultural norm. Perhaps we would be a little more compassionate, allow a wider berth and offer a bit more kindness to those who have suffered such loss, especially at the holidays.
For those of us who know someone missing a child at the holidays, we can give the gift of remembering. A simple note, an invitation to go out for tea, or just relating a wonderful memory of their loved one would be ways of acknowledging their unspeakable grief.
Though we canâ€™t take away the suffering of those who have had such a devastating loss, just remembering may be one of the nicest gifts we could give this season.