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What I Know About Motherhood Now That My Child Has Died

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Being the mom to a child who died means that Mother's Day is never, ever the same. The cloying commercials encouraging manicures, jewelry, brunch, bouquets, and all things pastel are like sucker punches that start in April and don't stop until the day itself is over. I breathe a long sigh of relief the Monday morning after Mother's Day.

That said, even though my first born child (and my own Mom) died of cancer at a young age, that sad horror continues to shape my parenting in some unexpectedly positive ways. Cancer is a perspective changer. If you can get past the oppressive nature of the grief and make room for it in your day to day life, then you can get to a place where you start to see not just the bad, but the total experience of what living through that trauma does to you, the wisdom it provides.
And, yes, that is some hard earned wisdom. Here is some of mine:

Motherhood is an endurance event.
The day-to-day aspects of mothering can be brutal. There are diapers and sticky fingers and "Whys?" and misplaced shoes and shrieks and spilled milk and poor report cards and endless other opportunities for failure and disappointment and inconvenience. It is so very easy to get stuck in the muck of mothering. It is tough freaking stuff. I work hard to not get caught up in the minutia anymore. It just doesn't matter. This is not a sprint, this is a marathon. If we get tripped up over the little stuff, we will not be prepped for the entirely of the event. If you have a bad day, go to bed knowing that you can make tomorrow better. Even if you can't change the muck in your life, at least you can change how you deal with the muck.

It is important to enjoy the moments.
I used to work in a retirement community. During my first pregnancy I got lots and lots and lots of unsolicited advice from very well meaning older ladies who often told me the same thing, "Enjoy it -- it passes so quickly." Those words used to annoy me no end. But you know what? It's true. Those gals knew what they were talking about. Our children's childhoods do pass quickly. Enjoy it. Work hard to find the beauty in each stage of your child's life. When you are washing the jam off your face, know that someday you will pine for that unsolicited kiss of a child. When you are cleaning the crumbs from the car seat, know that one day they will be driving away from you. When you are in the midst of whatever battle royale you find yourself in, know that every moment is a gift, even the sucky ones.

Life is full of wonder.
I will always and forever, for as long as I live, be the mother of a 4-year-old. A beautiful, clever, smart, and creative 4-year-old. Four-year-olds know a lot of things that we manage to forget as we grow into adulthood. They see and appreciate the wonder of the world around them. Dandelions are not a nuisance; they are a sweet smelling flower worthy of a vase on the kitchen counter. A rainy day is not something to be avoided, but an opportunity to stomp in puddles. Public transportation is not the awful thing that happens to you when your car breaks down, but an adventure. See the wonder, appreciate the wonder, don't lose the wonder. Find it every day.

Eat dessert.
When our oldest turned one I made carrot cake as I didn't want to serve her chocolate at such a young age. HA! I laugh at that now. While our friends might raise their eyebrows, we serve our son dessert every night. Now mind you, it's not a heaping plate of chocolate cake, but there is not a single thing wrong with a few bites of sweet at the end of the day. It won't rot his teeth, it won't make him obese, it won't spoil him. A little something sweet every day is not a bad thing.

Learn from your children.
There is so much wisdom I have gained from my daughter who died. Every day I try and remember what she taught me. Harder is thinking about what our healthy 4-year-old is teaching us. What lessons can we learn from him? Each kid is unique and has something to offer. Look for the lessons and opportunities to learn. They are there, but we don't always notice them.

The hardest thing I have ever done is over.
It's true. I honestly believe that the hardest thing I will ever do in my life is say goodbye to my child, knowing that her last breath was near. Will anything ever match the feeling in my palm of the course rope that lowered my girl's body into the ground? I don't think so. Everything else related to my mothering is a privilege. Everything. I try and remember that every day.

Choose hope.
I believe that hope is a conscious choice that we make. When things are rough it is easy to jump to the worst case scenario. It is harder to believe that things could improve, to hope that life can be better, to imagine a life where even if you don't have what you want, you can live with that. All things are possible with hope. I am using this last nugget of wisdom quite a bit these days as we wait to adopt. When prospect after prospect falls through, I work to feel that either our baby is out there and will find us, or we don't have a baby out there and the life we have right now is pretty damn good. Hope is what makes that possible.

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Credit: Amy Goray Photography

For more posts in our What I Know About Motherhood series, click through the slideshow below.

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