A Bereaved Mother Forever

Today is International Bereaved Mothers' Day, a day when women who have lost children are acknowledged in the pain and struggle they face in a world without their child.

I am not a member of this community, but I have met several remarkable women who are. These are women who celebrate the all too short lives of their children and make joy from the deep sorrow they have experienced. These are women who find a way to make the world different to honor the memory of their children.

So, if I'm not a member of this community, why am I writing about them? What could I possibly have to say on the matter. That's a question I have asked myself over and over throughout the last several years. Like in infertility, I never want to say the wrong thing about a group in which I have no stake.

However, just a few days ago, I had an epiphany. I knew someone who was close to me who was a bereaved mother. I could share her story. She would want me to share her story since she no longer can.

Most of you know I was extremely close to my maternal grandmother. Her name was Nancy, but everyone called her Mil. I just called her Gram. When many girls and teenagers were having weekend sleepovers with friends, I would beg my mother to let me spend the weekend with my Gram. Her house was a magical place where I felt like anything could happen. It was away from the world and when I visited her, it was as if we were the only people who existed. I always wondered about the magic of her house in the woods, but after her passing, I realized the magic of the place was drawn from my grandmother herself.

I don't know if all children love to hear stories of the life lived by their grandparents. For their sakes, I hope they do. I know I never tired of her stories. Sometimes I heard the same ones over and over, about life after her father's untimely passing, about quitting school to help raise her brothers and sisters when her mother went blind, about raising six children largely on her own. Most of the stories I knew by heart. I never realized how important that fact would be.

One fact I knew well was that my grandmother was the mother of seven. Yes, I said she raised six children largely on her own. These two are not mutually exclusive.

My grandmother gave birth to her first child-- a son she named Harry Paul. I know that name because she always told me he was my uncle.

Her first child never left the hospital with her. In fact, she never got to hold him and tell him how much she loved him. He was born, on August 7, with all of his organs outside his body. It was a death sentence in the late 1940's when we was born. He lived, in her words, for a day. On August 8, he passed away in the hospital, in a room away from his mother. She barely had a chance to see her oldest child.

She told me her mother bought burial plots, but her son was laid to rest before my grandmother was discharged from the hospital. She never got to spend time with her baby boy.  She never got to tell him goodbye before he was buried in his tiny casket.

Whenever we went to the cemetery, my grandmother made special care to visit and honor her infant son's grave. She made sure there were flowers there for the appropriate season. She made sure her son was never forgotten.

Moreover, she made sure others never forgot her son. I clearly remember her instructions to me as she aged. She was less able to get to the cemetery on her own, but, whenever any of us visited all of our loved ones there, she asked that we remember het baby boy as well.

When my mother passed away in 2004, my grandmother was deeply shaken. But, she had already known the grief of burying a child far too soon. My mother was laid to rest only a few plots away from her oldest brother. My grandmother asked that she be buried between her children, a wish that was honored by her children without question.

In a way, I know my grandmother appointed me as one of her memory keepers, telling me the stories of her life. I know I am not the only one, but I am glad she shared all of those memories with me.

Even though I no longer live close to the cemetery where my loved ones rest, I make certain to visit a few times a year. Each time, when I come with remembrances for my mom and my Gram, I make sure there is something for the boy who never really knew this world. I'm not the only one who does this. My entire family knows that Harry Paul was one of us... is one of us. So, we all remember him when we visit his grave, and when we think about our family.

One thing is clear to me. My grandmother lived 86 years. In her time, she saw many things. She raised her six living children and watched them raise families. She watched great-grandchildren be born into our fold. She saw WWII, Korea, Vietnam both Gulf Wars and the War Against Terror. She loved fiercely all of those she held dear and ached for them when she could do no more. She was one of  the toughest, strongest women I will likely ever know. She rarely showed her pain to the outside world, instead conveying her love and laughter in its stead.

But, even in her last years on this earth, my grandmother was a bereaved mother. She missed her children. Truly, I do not think she missed one more than the other. She might have had the opportunity to get to know my mother longer, but in her heart, she already knew her oldest son.

Though she smiled and laughed, her heart wept with the pain of losing her baby boy. It was an indelible mark that was with her an entire lifetime.

Many people say time heals all wounds. I know that time and distance helps us to feel different. But, I don't think the loss of a child is a wound that ever really heals. When her son died that day, he took a piece of her heart with him. Though she found a way to create beauty in the world and to move forward, she never moved on. Every day of her life, my Gram was a bereaved mother.


  1. Nancy was also a comic, she always made me laugh with her with and humor. I cherish an apron she made me......

  2. Nancy was also a comic, she always made me laugh with her with and humor. I cherish an apron she made me......

  3. what a beautiful story. thank you!


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