Mother’s Day is the worst day of the year since he’s been gone. There are two others that are actually more heartbreaking, but they are private and in that there is some consolation.
The day he died, the day two Army men told me what I was already told as cruelly as possible, was the end of me. The end of me being a mom. But even though I knew, even though I was told with malice and unspeakable viciousness “Andy is dead. They killed him. You killed him”, I knew. I told myself as I was screaming “No! You’re wrong! It’s not true!”, if such a thing were true I wouldn’t be told like this. I wouldn’t be told my son was killed in war on the phone, while I was in the middle of a parking lot, standing all alone, by myself.
After I got my face off the ground, my mind gave me a Grace. It told me, “It’s a mistake. It’s just a mistake. I don’t get told like this. This is the most hateful, hurtful thing someone can do, and though I knew there was no end to the cruelty this person was capable of, I couldn’t understand why I was being told this. It simply had to be a mistake.”
Those words were the only ones I could manage to speak and became an endlessly repeated mantra my mind was using to calm my soul. Perhaps because there is no end to the cruelty of some people, the universe balances that with no end to the kindness of others.
Some one, strangers, heard me, saw me and came to me. They helped me call his unit. They helped me try to reach the Red Cross. Because the truth had to be that my son was maybe injured, that the unit was attacked and in all the frantic activity, wires got crossed. But I’d get to see my son again. Alive. Maybe not even whole, but alive.
When I got ahold of a very kind man at his unit, he told me to go home. And when I saw the two Army men with somber faces at my door, I knew the mistake was not the news, just how it was delivered.
November 1st will always be the very worst day of my life, both that first one five and a half years ago and every November 1st since. And every November 1st forever more. That first one was not private after that initial phone call, as it was shared with those I loved, and those who loved him. The Army men didn’t know my son, but they loved him too, he was their brother. But even still, in the midst of that unspeakable horror, I was given a Grace.
The kindness of the Army man on the phone, even though I was everything but kind to him. The front door bursting in with friends, begging to be told it wasn’t true. And then spending hours with a houseful of kids, classmates, childhood friends and neighbors coming together. No one knew what to do but we all just needed to be together, and in that togetherness, some of the pain of being alone when I was told eased.
Now, on each and every November 1st, my grief is private. There is Grace in that as I can mourn how I see fit. I’ve spent from dawn to dusk at the cemetery, visitI got with those others who loved and lost my son. I’ve gone out to dinner to his favorite restaurant, even getting those who hate raw fish to eat a piece of sashimi in his honor. I’ve even done the release of balloons filled with messages of love and longing.
But the rest of the world goes on, oblivious to this private day of horror, and there is a Gift of Grace in that, too. As much as I may occasionally wish the world would stop, just for a moment, and recognize the light is a littler dimmer without his shining smile, having that private grief is a comfort.
The other terrible, horrible worst day is November 11th, the day I put my son in the ground. It seems a special and needless cruelty to stand and watch as the casket holding my only child’s body was lowered, but it was a necessary cruelty that was really a kindness. It is the end, and the signal that it is really, finally, fully and forever true. My son is dead. The Gift of Grace in that is the permission to take those first, faltering steps on the road to acceptance. I choose not to look at it as the end of that hope that my mind tried to convince me of, that it was after all a mistake.
Every November 11th I am not alone in thinking of my son, though that day is not about our war dead. It is Veterans Day, and the nation does stop, at the 11th hour for at least a moment, and reflects on the service all those who are now his brothers and sisters gave for who and what we are, for the freedoms we treasure. In that moment in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month we come together in honest and heartfelt appreciation. And there is Grace in that.
So on each November 11th, I am privately grieving but comforted by those who recognize, respect and honor what the day means to us all. And there is a gift of Grace in that too because I’m alone, but I’m not.
There is another day on the calendar that recognizes my loss. The last Sunday in September is Gold Star Mothers Day. Every year by Presidential proclamation, the nation is asked to recognize all of us who have buried a child because of their decision to put on our nations uniform in a time of war. It takes a special type of person to do that voluntarily, and having that public acknowledgment is another small Grace given. And appreciated.
Then there is Mother’s Day. Most people don’t know that Mother’s Day began as a day of recognition for those of us who are now called Gold Stars, and was the original Memorial Day. Over time, the day was changed to honor all mothers, which is good and right that we now mean all mothers when we say Mother’s Day.
Those of us who need to understand the history of Mother’s Day most are the Gold Stars for whom the day was originally intended. All mothers are now being honored on this day, because it was meant as a recognition of what it means to have a mother, be a mother and know the love that only a mother can. Our day of recognition of the grief that only a mother can know is now in September, appropriately separated from all the rest of the days of honor in understanding of the absolute uniqueness of our loss. For My Onlys, for those of us who will never again receive flowers or a card or hear “Happy Mother’s Day” from our child, I hope you too can find at least a small bit of Grace in this as I have.
We Gold Stars now have two days in May with very different meanings. The first is Mother’s Day, a celebration for most and a day to simple endured for us. The other is Memorial Day, one of somber reflection and sadness. But Memorial Day too is, and should be, a day of celebration. Even for those of us for whom the day is too personal. For us, Memorial Day is one of private and shared grief, followed by a celebration of all we have, all we are and who we are as a nation because of the sacrifice of our child.
But even knowing the history, even knowing that all mothers are now honored because of the recognition originally intended solely for us, Mothers Day is still just hard. There seem to be limits to what Grace can do for a mother’s broken heart.
I want us all to try to remember it is a celebration of life. Simply because if you are here, you had a mother. No matter how good or bad she was, we can choose to be grateful that we are here to recognize the ideal of the day, even if we don’t have a mother we want to or can celebrate. Even if we no longer are a mother, no longer have someone to celebrate us.
Most who have lost a child in war have other children, or maybe even grandchildren who will send flowers, a card or even just a phone call. Having other children does not lessen the pain, the longing or the sadness over the one who is gone, but the Grace of those children is a gift made more precious because of the loss.
For those who have no other children, the day is dreaded and endured in any way we can. Actually, it is many days, even weeks of being crushed with the weight of our loss. And there is no escaping it.
Every third commercial is a reminder to get your Mother a gift, one that particular advertiser is trying to convince you is the most special, most precious and will be the most appreciated and memorable. I sometimes think those advertisers just don’t understand that the most elaborate and expense gift pales in comparison to the crayon written, misspelled piece of folded cardboard carefully crafted by small, clumsy fingers.
Mother’s Day horrors for those of us who want to avoid the day include something as simple as stopping for a gallon of milk at the grocery store. That everyday, ordinary task means wading through display after display of flowers and cards and banners counting down the days remaining to get that perfect bouquet or potted plant.
The newest thing I’ve noticed is prepackaged meals to cook up mom’s favorite dinner complete with meat, veggies and potatoes. And don’t forget the dessert, a special table setting complete with more flowers and a card. It’s a brilliant advertising tactic, and for us, a not brief enough visit to another level of Hell that even Dante couldn’t imagine.
This will be the fifth Mother’s Day I will not receive a card, flowers, or even an “I love you mom” from my son.
So I’m changing it.
Today I did the single saddest thing I’ve ever done, even though it was and is meant to be a way to make the day a little less horrible. I bought flowers and a card for myself, from my son. It took a lot of looking at cards that made me want to cry, but I finally found one that almost works.
It says, “Thank you for being my mom”. It says more, but it was the best one I could find that reflects the choice I’m making to look at the day differently. Rather than think only of what I’ve lost, I’m choosing to be thankful for having been his mom, even if it for not long enough.
I even added a note, as we do even with cards with printed messages on the inside, of thanks for the Grace of having been his mom. He won’t be delivering it and the little bouquet of yellow fairy roses to me, I’ll be placing them at his grave. And while I sit there and inevitably cry, I’ll try very hard to hold on to that thought, to embrace and be embraced by that Grace that did allow me to be his mom. Even if it wasn’t for very long. And this year, I will pray for just a little more Grace, that this will be enough to make the day about more than what I’ve lost and will never again have.
Love lasts forever and because it does so do grief and sadness. This year, I’m trying to let that love and the years I did get to be his mom be the focus of the day. I’ll be praying for the needed Grace for my little self-subterfuge to work.
I have to go shopping again tomorrow. I’ll look at the flowers and cards and gifts as I get my groceries and try to guess which he would give me. The fact that I once had a child who did is a Grace I’ll try to hold on to in understanding there are those those with living children who may not have even that much.
To all My Onlys, particularly those who have asked not to be wished a “Happy Mother’s Day”, I’m doing just that. But instead of saying “Happy Mothers Day”, I’ll instead say, “I wish for you some Grace on this day that celebrates having been a mom”.
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Views and opinions from the Gold Star, Military and Veteran perspective are generally different from those of the civilian world. Much of what I write is "their" stories, as told to me as the Gold Star Mother of PFC Andrew Meari, KIA 11/1/10 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. This is how I continue to honor the Oath my son took.
I don't like labels or boxes as the former is insufficient to describe a person and the latter limits a person but if you insist, call me a Progressive Republican. I believe in this country, our Constitution and above all, in the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe our government is supposed to serve the people, not tell them how to live.
To me, this is just common sense but since it seems to be a minority opinion, it has become "Uncommon Sense".