Mother’s Day to me means deep, agonizing pain. It doesn’t mean flowers and hollandaise brunches. Not yet, anyway.
I’m just not sure how Mother’s Day will evolve over the years, because it’s tightly bound to loss.
Nearly two years ago, on the day before Mother’s Day, I watched as my 3-year-old daughter succumbed to symptoms of her disease, spinal muscular atrophy type 1. We were in a children’s hospice, which was the best place for our family to be. I held her for as long as I could that night she died, before her lifeless body needed to be chilled on the icy bed. I held her until the very last minute, when the nurse said it was time to lay her down. I held her like I never could: upright, tight, without worry. I stared at her still face and blue lips and wept into her hair. Then I simply stared out the window in silence. Just the two of us, for our last embrace. It felt odd and normal. At one point, I held her on one arm and grasped a mug of warm, red wine to still my racing hands and heart and animal-like shock.
As the hours passed, I knew she was gone because I felt it in her body. It was deeply comforting for me to spend time with her body and know that her spirit was now free.
The next morning, I woke up early, with butterflies in my stomach and a knot in my throat. Her body was still downstairs in the hospice. That day, mothers around North America were getting breakfast in bed, but I was getting one last moment with my daughter. When we entered Florence’s room it was hushed and cold. The fragrance of marigolds was heavy and mingled with the musky smell of her. One look at her body and I knew this was it. She was really, truly gone. I was both scared and also completely unmoved by what death had done. My daughter was still here. Could I keep her forever? Could I somehow take her home with me?
An hour later, the caretaker from the funeral home came for her in a big white van. It was Mother’s Day and I was on the concrete, on my knees and wailing.
No. Please. Oh God. No.
She was in her comfiest clothes, but I wish I had sent her away in a beautiful dress. I would not get her clothes back. I wasn’t ready to give away her dresses. I would get nothing back but her ashes in a cardboard box, a snip of hair that smelled smoky and felt chalky, and a metal tag that had been tied to her body to identify her.
I was completely and utterly alone, even as my husband stood beside me weeping. Every piece of the world around me became alien. I grazed the bowels of Sheol that day. I tiptoed to the very edge of Heaven. But I could not leave with her. My body was rooted to the earth.
I would have to go on. I didn’t get any Mother’s Day cards or gifts. No one wanted to even whisper the words: Happy Mother’s Day.
I still had a sweet baby boy to nurse and care for. I still had my bones that moved and made way for both my children. I still had her with me. She was not yet gone. You are still a mother, I wanted someone to say, well done.
Today, as I think on what my second Mother’s Day without Florence will look like, I feel the kicks and rolls of my third baby, a boy, beneath my swelling belly. He is due to arrive sometime around her anniversary. And this year, that means he is due the day after Mother’s Day.
In 2015, Mother’s Day fell on May 10, and Florence passed away on May 9. In 2017, Mother’s Day falls on May 14, and my son is due May 15. The timing of it all sends goose bumps along my flesh. Will these two somehow meet along the way? Will her little spirit reach out to him through the walls of my womb?
I can barely wrap my mind around birthing a child in the month that we lost another. But it will happen. And once again, I will touch the edge of Heaven and cry out like a wounded animal — but this year, I will hold the wriggling, warm body of a new being.