A Mother’s Vigil
By Michelle Miller
Hospice by the Bay Bereavement Intern
This past March 25, I celebrated my daughter Carolyn’s 21st birthday. I had been anticipating this event and when it finally arrived, I decided I wanted to spend it doing something that she would enjoy doing. Since a trip to Paris wasn’t in the budget, I chose a lunch date along the Sausalito waterfront. I could have invited a friend or my significant other to join us as I have done for her birthday celebrations before, but this time I felt I wanted to be alone with Carolyn, or perhaps I should say, my memories of her. You see, Carolyn died over 12 years ago when she was eight years old. This celebration was of a birthday that never came to be.
I began with positive intention, but as the day wore on, I noticed my mood growing darker, much like the weather that day. I walked along the waterfront and smelled the scent of approaching rain as I felt an aliveness of the crisp ocean air. The connection beckoned me to remember how much Carolyn loved nature and the ocean that ruthlessly took her life away so long ago. I’d been experiencing these birthdays with her “in spirit” for many years now, and with each passing milestone, I’d become better at transforming the excruciating pain of missing her into celebrating the gift of her brief life intertwining in mine.
I tried to push away the familiar gloom and attend to the significance of the day. After all, she would have been 21 years old, fully an adult, and that is usually a momentous and joyful occasion. As I thought it over, I sadly realized that this would be my last significant celebration of Carolyn; no more such milestones would ever occur. There won’t be any university graduation, no job promotions, no marriage, no children, and the list goes on. I wondered if I what I was feeling was similar to what an empty nester might feel, minus the soothing notion of future happy events. My little girl was now all done with growing up.
As I reflected on this experience more, I realized that even though Carolyn had passed on more than 12 years ago, I continued to be in relationship with her. I’ll always be Carolyn’s mother, and I will always love her — neither time nor lack of presence will ever change that.
A few years after Carolyn’s death, I became a grief counselor specializing in working with bereaved parents. In helping others, I found a measure of personal healing. I now feel exceedingly fortunate to be able to work as a Bereavement Counselor Intern with Hospice by the Bay, an organization that exemplifies grace and integrity in its practice of caring for those at the end of life, as well as those left behind.
I find that, in addition to birthdays, Mother’s Day is another significant occasion that can be especially painful for those mourning loss. Living in a culture that thrives on celebrations serves to accentuate that pain and can leave a bereaved mother feeling invisible, left alone to cope with an aching heart.
This year, on Saturday, May 10, from 1–3 p.m., I will be facilitating a Mother’s Day Grief Support Group in Larkspur. If you are grieving the loss of a child, please join with us as we honor with grace and love mothers whose children have gone too soon.