I wonder if most bereaved mothers have been there. Some-one utters the name of your child gone too soon. And there is a quick sideways glance, monitoring your reaction. Breath held. Will she be okay?
The mother of a child gone too soon talks about her son. Furrowed brows. Concerned looks. Is she sliding back?
A mother accidentally calls one of her living children the name of the baby who left. Silence. Is she delusional?
In the months immediately after Xavier died, I would talk about him all the time. His name was burned on my heart and never far from my lips. I would speak of him to ensure he was not forgotten. I would speak of him because I needed to hear his name out loud. I would speak of him, between tears, because I needed to articulate my pain and I needed to remind those around me that it still cut deep. His name remains deeply engraved in my heart, but I speak of him less these days. And when I do speak of him, it is for different reasons. His memory and his legacy feels safer now. I do not speak of him to remind people he lived, or that his death caused me immense pain. I speak of him, because simply and beautifully, he is my son.
When I talk about Xavier, I do so because I love him. It has taken time to get a point where I can talk about him simply because I love him. To a point where I can talk about him without the lingering sadness. Where I can say his name without tears. For any bereaved parent, this is a difficult and long-fought battle. Talking about a child no longer in your arms is not a sign of weakness, or sliding back, but rather a testament to strength. It is a part of integrating them into the fabric of life. It is something to be celebrated and acknowledged.
If I choose to talk to someone about Xavier, I do so because I trust them with his memory. I know that they will cherish him. It is a gift, just as some-one speaking to me about Xavier is a gift.
When someone talks to me of Xavier, my heart skips with happiness. When someone says, easily and happily, that Elijah looks like Xavier, I beam. When someone tells me something reminded them of my son, I want to embrace them.
There is a beautiful piece of advice written by Elizabeth Edwards, oft quoted by bereaved parents:
“If you know someone who has lost a child or lost anybody who’s important to them, and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died, they didn’t forget they died. You’re not reminding them. What you’re reminding them of is that you remember that they lived, and that’s a great, great gift.”
When a bereaved mother talks about their child, whether with a smile or with tears or with both, please accept it as a gift and a vote of extreme confidence in your understanding. Do not be afraid to say their child’s name, but rather know that your remembrance brings more joy than pain. Even if your kindness leads to tears – it’s only because you have given permission to drop the veil for a moment.
A dear friend of mine has written:
A bereaved mother is, above all, a mother. A child that has gone too soon is, above all, a much loved son or daughter. And a parent, above all, loves each of their children. In reality, it’s that simple.