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To those who have lost a child, Mother’s Day is complicated

By Ginny Callaway
Special to the Observer

“How many children do you have?”

When you meet someone, you each start the standard 20 questions: Where do you live? What do you do? Where does your husband work? The question of children always comes up. It opens the door to more conversation. “How old are they? Where do they live? Got grandkids yet?” Innocuous enough.

Yet I remember the first time someone asked me how many children I had after my 10-year-old daughter, Sara Jane, had died in a car accident.

My husband David, my 13-year-old son Zeb and I had gone to a community potluck where we didn’t know a lot of people. I was moving down the buffet line when the nice man next to me, after meeting David and Zeb, casually asked, “How many children do you have?”

I was stunned, frozen in place. I didn’t know what to say. Do I say one and betray Sara Jane? If I said two, did I need to say one was dead? Honestly, I don’t remember what I said then, but that moment has never left me.

For me and many other mothers who have lost a child, Mother’s Day is complicated. The day Zeb was born and the day Sara was born were the two happiest days of my life. The day Sara died was the worst day. Mother’s Day fits somewhere in the middle. Both emotions, the joy and the agony, are present every day, but Mother’s Day brings them sharply into focus.

If you know a mom who has lost a child, understand that Mother’s Day is a day of very mixed emotions, but don’t be afraid to reach out to her. I always appreciate when a friend sends a note saying “I’m thinking of you today and remembering Sara.” It’s easy to feel that you would be opening a wound by speaking the child’s name, reminding the mom, but, believe me, that mother hasn’t forgotten and she will be comforted by your caring.

One thing that I’ve learned from talking with other grieving parents is that “child” doesn’t have an age. I met a couple way up in their 80s who were openly grieving the death of their 65-year-old son. And mothers who suffer miscarriages miss the child they already loved, but never got to hold.

Today, I’ll get a beautiful bouquet full of yellow flowers from my wonderful, now 36-year-old son Zeb with a loving card. And my memories of loving Sara Jane will be my gift from her.

This Mother’s Day, take the time to reach out to a mom whose child isn’t here to give her a handmade card or a great big hug or a bouquet of yellow flowers. Your gift from the heart is the gift she’ll remember.

Ginny Callaway is the author of the award-winning book, “A Friend in Grief: Simple Ways to Help.” She and her husband, musician David Holt, live in Asheville. Ginny can be reached at www.afriendingrief.com.
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