Mother’s Day is almost here and already I can hardly breathe. It feels like my chest is literally caving in and if I didn’t know better, I’d think it was a heart attack. But I do know better as I’ve become all too familiar with this feeling. It’s just what a truly, irreparably, permanently broken heart feels like.
I’ve written before that there is no word in the English language for my condition. A child that loses parents is an orphan, a husband or wife who loses their partner is a widow or widower. But there is no word for a mother who has lost her only child.
There are adjectives, certainly, but they all feel inadequate to describe the magnitude of the loss. We buried not just our child but the larger part of our identity. When the loss is because our child decided to serve our country, we do get a title, Gold Star Mother. We may as well become mothers of a star, something that can be seen only at night when the world is still and quiet. The title is meant to honor, but like the light of the stars it carries no warmth and only a pale reflection of the light that has gone out of our lives.
I share this title, Gold Star Mother with too many others. There is a subset of us who have found one another, Gold Star Mothers of an only child. I know there are more of us out there, but so far we've only been able to connect with 40 other Gold Star once-a-moms, childless mothers, those who used to be called Mom. Just as I can’t describe the depth of the emptiness in my heart, there are no words to convey the comfort in being around others like me.
This year is the first in four I am not completely dreading the second Sunday in May. This year, since I can’t have what I want most, I will take the consolation prize of being with my other ‘Onlys’.
Operation R&R, a national nonprofit has generously donated to our little group a place, space and time to connect. Their mission is to offer military families and “Families of the Fallen” a vacation, a get-away at donated properties at little or no cost. They can do this because there are wonderful people in the world who know that those who have endured the separations of deployments or the loss of a loved one in war need time away from their everyday lives to reconnect and to heal.
So, I can face this Mother’s Day a little better, knowing that as I cry, as I am unable to stop crying, I will be surrounded with others who understand me like no one else can. It won’t be all tears as we will also laugh and talk, remember our child and joke about how we have to get to know each other better because our kids all know each other now.
We’ve planned shopping excursions, walks on the beach, and some of us will even try para-sailing and swimming with dolphins. But, there will also be lots of time to just be and breathe in the unique loving support and understanding only we can give one another. I’m not even there yet, but I’m already dreading leaving.
We are all beyond grateful for this opportunity, to be together. There is great comfort in being able to do something fun and not be embarrassed when we cry even as we smile. It is a wonderful gift and the best we could hope for when none of us can have what we really want more than anything in the world.
All we want is to be called “Mom”, just one more time.