Dear Amy: With Mother's Day and Father's Day approaching, I want to share my perspective.
My husband and I lost our only child. I know people are hesitant to wish me a happy Mother's Day because they don't know if it is appropriate, or whether it will cause pain. I am still a mother, but my child isn't here anymore.
It's so devastating that there isn't even a word to define a parent who has lost a child.
Yes, please wish me a happy Mother's Day. After all, once a mother, always a mother.
Amy says: For insight, I reached out to the Compassionate Friends (compassionatefriends.org), the international organization that has helped many grieving families connect with one another, learn from one another, and to feel less alone as they walk the path no parent ever wants to take.
Shari O'Loughlin, CEO of the Compassionate Friends, experienced the loss of her own son, Connor. She told me, "Many parents who have experienced the death of their only child (or all their children) appreciate the acknowledgment of their parenthood on these special days. Their love and feelings of being a parent don't just disappear after their loss.
"Acknowledging the child they cherished and their journey of parenthood can feel supportive. Continuing bonds are experienced by many parents regardless of the age of their child who died. They are a normal part of healthy grieving. We don't 'move on' from our child who died, but rather we move forward with them in a different way.
"Sometimes people say nothing because they are afraid of causing hurt. But saying nothing frequently makes bereaved parents feel even more isolated and alone.
"Friends and family members can approach parents by asking an open-ended question — such as 'How is Mother's Day for you?' — giving a parent the opportunity to describe it in their own words and in their own way.
"And then, even if they don't know how to respond, they can say, 'I don't have the words, but I want you to know that I'm thinking about you, and that I care.'
"Here's what NOT to do: Don't say, 'At least ... you can have more kids or you had him in your life for a while. ... ' Any sentence starting with 'At least' tends to diminish the reality of the experience for parents who have lost children.
"Use the child's name and let the parent know something you remember or loved about her child," O'Loughlin adds. "Our children's existence impacted this world. They had identities and relationships, leaving a legacy from their lives. Using their name signifies to parents that they will never be forgotten, and is often one of the best gifts you can give them."
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