We Met in the Mausoleum
There’s no greater bond between mothers than with those who have lost children. I learned that very quickly after the death of my beautiful Emily. Several moms whose children had died reached out to me and comforted me. They brought me presents and books. Others sent cards and letters to let me know I was not alone. There is something reassuring about that—knowing that your suffering is not unique; that others have walked down this same painful path. It’s not that any of us would wish it on someone else. We wouldn’t. But no one can empathize with a grieving mother like another grieving mother.
Call it serendipity, call it fate, or God working in mysterious ways—but I keep meeting people at exactly the moment when I need someone to truly understand what I am experiencing. This was one of those days. The evening prior, I stood in an aisle at a craft store, picking out small Christmas decorations to put in my daughter’s vase in her niche, which holds her ashes at the mausoleum. I passed by pinecones, teddy bears and berries. I whispered softly, what would you want Emily? Flashbacks of Emily and I walking through that very same craft store flooded my mind: “Ooh Mom, look at this!” she’d exclaim. “Isn’t this cute? Maybe I can make something out of this?” Or if she were helping me pick out something for my project, “Mom, check this one out. I think this would work.” We must have made at least a dozen trips or more to that store together.
But now I was alone surrounded by Christmas decorations. I began sniffling a bit. But then I saw them — pink fluffy puffs — and I heard her voice in my mind: Mom, look at these! They are so cute, don’t you think? Next I saw a lollipop—the kind she always loved as a kid — then a unicorn, followed by white sequined holiday lights and some sparkly snowflakes. Oh, this was soooo Emily. I felt as if she were picking out each item instead of me. When I brought my arrangement home I showed her sister and brother. The recognition in their eyes that these were symbolic of Emily’s personality and the knowing sadness that followed, told me I’d nailed it.
I made my trip to the mausoleum over my lunch break and arranged the items in the small vase attached to the glass cubby that holds her cremains. I stood there for a few moments; alone in the building immersed in my thoughts. In all of my visits, I have rarely encountered other mourners at the same time. However, I heard the doors open and footsteps coming from across the room. I looked over and saw a woman placing a small balloon at a niche across from Emily’s. She then walked over to me. Oh no, I thought at first—I didn’t really feel like talking; plus I had to get back to work. The shorter woman, with a blonde bob, perhaps just a few years older than me, walked past me and to a niche by Emily’s. It was that of another young girl who had died just over a year ago. “I always tell these girls that their mom misses them,” she said to me. Tears welled up in my eyes. “I do,” I said, “I miss her every day.”
“I know,” she replied, also tearing up. “I miss my daughter too. And she died three and a half years ago. I just brought her a birthday balloon. She would have been 35.” My heart went out to her. I let my guard down and we began to talk—compare notes, so to speak.
“Do people tell you you’re brave?” She asked me.
“Oh, every day,” I replied. “But I don’t feel brave.”
“Neither do I,” she said.
“I think we just put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Most people think if they lost a child they couldn’t survive. But when it actually happens to you, you realize you don’t really have another choice. But I wouldn’t call it bravery,” I said.
“Neither would I,” she said.
We continued to talk about how people now reacted to us, the deaths of our daughters and how the pain never subsides. I refer to myself and other moms who’ve lost children as The Walking Wounded.
Brave? No. But I do believe the only choice we have in life is our reaction to whatever fate brings us. I had a decision whether or not to crawl into the pit and stay there. And boy was that tempting; some days it still is. Or I could claw my way to the top, get up, look around and try to stop others from falling in. The way I see it, my only real choice was to go on and use the platform I have to share my experience, my personal tragedy, to change hearts and minds.
This mom in the mausoleum and I also shared another thing in common: gratitude. She told me she kept a gratitude journal and wrote in it every day. I told her I had found that gratitude is the only antidote to grieving. When I find that I am in deep despair, I force myself think of something to be grateful for in that moment—and I try to keep adding to the list. Before long I can cope a bit better. On this day, I am grateful for the chance meeting of two moms who’ve come to an even deeper understanding that we are not alone.
Faith, Hope & Courage,