I watched the miniseries "Mildred Pierce" and had no idea what the story was about, only that the very talented Kate Winslet starred. As I viewed the scene where Mildred's youngest daughter dies quickly and unexpectedly, a familiar and sharp pain gripped my heart. The camera shows a stricken mother, holding her older daughter as she lays sleeping in bed, looking over at the neatly made bed across the room, knowing that it will never again be slept in by the child to whom it belonged. I watched the mother cling to her daughter with ferocity -- and tears welled up in my eyes.
My reaction was not only due to how sad the scene is -- but to the deep-seated grief of losing my own precious daughter. It's been two years, yet the on-screen reminder brought anguish to the surface, as if it was yesterday.
What defines us mothers? It is our children. To lose a child is surely the worst and greatest loss one can experience. On Mother's Day, this loss is magnified tenfold -- the very essence of the day brings about grief so intense that words will never describe its ache.
As with other milestone days, what once brought joy brings sadness and pain. Birthdays, graduations, the winter holidays ... all force me to acknowledge that there will never be new milestones to share with my daughter. Mother's Day, however, is the worst and most poignant of all.
My beautiful, kind, loving, funny youngest child is gone. A man having a bad day drove like a maniac for 17 miles and ended his rage by turning his wheel at 70 mph straight into my 13-year-old as she walked towards a crosswalk. She was on her way to meet her dad who was going to drive her home. From one moment to the next, my life changed forever.
And yet ...
I am lucky.
I have two other children -- two daughters. Emily's older sisters. They are here. They are alive.
I have a great relationship with my husband; we have a bond that has been strengthened by 25 years of marriage. Our tragedy did not change that.
I have dear friends who really care. I live in a beautiful, supportive community.
Nothing can fill the void of Emily's loss. Not the foundation we started in her honor to help middle school children with learning differences. Not my fanatic workout schedule or my visits with a grief therapist. These all help; yet one chance meeting with one of Emily's friends, seeing how they've grown, their braces are off, their faces more mature, now in possession of their driving permit or license -- these are harsh calls back to reality -- to that void within me.
I once ran into one of Emily's friends with her mom at a restaurant where I forgot a vest and had returned to pick it up. I fought back the tears as I said hello. The mother was treating her daughter to lunch; it stabbed at my heart as I remembered taking Emily there after a soccer game.
I still look at the specific items I would purchase just for Emily at Trader Joes. Each of my kids have their favorite treats and foods that I would make sure to bring home to them. Hers were maple cookies and giant milk chocolate bars.
On this Mother's Day, two years after being a mother to one less child on this earth, I think of all the other moms who share this same circumstance. We are bonded by this tragedy and share a grief that will never dissipate. It is always there, lurking. I can certainly have happiness again in my life, but it will never be the same. I will never be the same. Perhaps after many more years, the ache will be less intense, the tears less quick to happen. Perhaps not.
Is she in some other realm, trying to tell me that she's OK? I have explored this and many other questions that I would never before have been compelled to investigate. Wherever she is, she is not here. I will face this Mother's Day and be grateful for who I do have in my life. I will carry the pain as one who lives with a disability, as a permanent mark on my heart and soul. But I will try to put that pain in its place. It must not overtake or consume me. I do have the gift of two other children. I have my husband. I have my relatives, friends, and neighbors. I have my dogs!
And I say this to every mother reading: take nothing for granted. Love your children and know that life is precious. Don't forget this for even one day. Especially on Mother's Day.