By: Brooke Taylor Duckworth
In the months after my first daughter was unexpectedly stillborn, I began to get used to the weight of grief. I became familiar with that sense of stumbling around in a fog, the air around me feeling thick with my own unshed tears. I grew accustomed to the way my throat would grow tight at the slightest reminder that I was missing what it seemed everyone else had effortlessly—a commercial for baby lotion, a child toddling on the sidewalk, a flyer for the library’s story hour.
Holidays were particularly uncomfortable because they are so family-centered, and my own little family felt completely broken and incomplete.
If I was expected to gather with others for a celebration—church members, friends, or extended family—I often felt exposed and on display.
Holidays are often so full of expectation and anticipation. We need beautiful weather. Color-coordinated clothing for photographs. All the food to be perfect. No talking politics. Everyone on their best behavior. Bursting into tears and running out of the room, or locking myself in the bathroom for the duration didn’t seem to fit the expectation.
Among topics of conversation considered inappropriate for holiday gatherings: Money. Politics. Also, dead babies.
Among the thoughts that cannot be dismissed when one is supposed to be celebrating Mother’s Day: One’s children. Including the children who are dead.
On Mother’s Day of this year, as you miss the child you want so desperately, it might fill your soul to attend a large family gathering or go to a church service dedicated to mothers. Or being present at a celebratory event might feel a little bit like you’re being flayed alive.
This Mother’s Day, I’d like to acknowledge that you may not feel well enough to participate in any of it.
As Mother’s Day approached, particularly the first few I had to face without Eliza, I would feel a bubble of dread in my stomach. My head would hurt. I literally felt sick.
Grief is a physical sensation as well as mental and emotional. There are countless articles about the physical effects of grief—from chronic pain to digestive problems to insomnia.
The writer Elizabeth Gilbert has described it as a deep, deep flu. Grief wearies your muscles. It restricts your breathing. It makes your head and chest ache, blurs your vision, diminishes your appetite. When you are deeply grieving, you are not well.
And if you’re not feeling well on Mother’s Day, please know that you should take care of your illness. Send (early) the cards or texts that are necessary, and then spend that day in bed. Use social media to connect only with those who fully understand your pain. Eat comforting foods. Wear your softest pajamas.
Treat grief like a migraine or a flu that demands attention and care, and let your health—your grief—be your only obligation for the day.
There are countless ways to acknowledge grief in a healthy and loving way—that you may or may not have the energy to tackle this year. You might wish to light candles, to whisper names, to select carefully a gorgeous flower arrangement, to visit the cemetery, to make a donation in memory of your baby, to write a letter full of love and tuck it into a box or a drawer. And if none of those things feels like the right thing to do this year, perhaps the only thing you need to do is take care of yourself—even if that means watching mindless television and eating popcorn in bed.
Not every Mother’s Day will hurt so much.
Grief doesn’t disappear over time, but it does change shape and size depending on the year, the moment, the date. Next year may be a different experience entirely. But if what you need this year is not to participate, then please give yourself permission to explain simply that you’re not feeling well.
You do not have to educate everyone you meet about grief. You do not have to offer further explanation. You do not have to prove your love for your child in anyway.
You are already a mother. You have nothing to prove on this day to anyone.
Some days require you to demonstrate great strength. But maybe this year, you can let yourself retreat from the pain so that you’re strong enough to face it next time. Give yourself permission to get through Mother’s Day by any means necessary. If you’re not feeling well, if you’re overcome with the deep flu of grief, you can skip the holiday.