This morning we visited my son, Tom, at the cemetery. There is such peace and beauty there, but even more so this weekend with many family members taking extra care to freshen up their loved ones’ final resting places. Tom’s headstone has been in place about 11 months, long enough to have hard water spots and a caking of dust and dirt, so it was definitely time to do some work on it.

We started with a quick washing off with water, followed by Windex brushed on to remove the more stubborn dirt. A final rinsing brought back the stone’s initial shine, at least for a bit. As we worked around each side of the stone, my broken heart flashed back to bath time in our tub when Tom was small. The process was the same. Rinse, scrub, rinse, repeat, until all of the little nooks and crannies of his baby and toddler body were refreshed for bedtime. In those moments of bath play and laughter, I would have never imagined he would not live to adulthood, nor that I would be spending a Sunday morning cleaning his headstone.

Tom died in March of 2015 — 26 months later, there are days I think I really have my shit together, others not so much. This week, I tried to close his savings account and ended up bawling in the bank line. The teller was sweet, but also unsure how to proceed. Thankfully, my husband was with me and reminded me we don’t ever have to close it. We still have Tom’s phone number activated so no one can use it, and his Netflix account still pops up in our menu. I cannot bring myself to erase these aspects of Tom from my life. I even joked with my husband about making our Alexa activation word “Tom,” so it would be like him working the magic of turning on and off the lights and the radios in our house. We kinda laughed about it, not doing it, but not altogether dismissing it either.

Finding the balance of celebrating his life without lollygagging there too long has been a challenge. Most days I think we are doing a pretty good job, although the last two weeks I seem to be more emotional for a reason I cannot pinpoint. Perhaps spending some time with him this morning, communing with his spirit by serving him as I once did, will bring me some needed peace.

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“When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them.” — President Reagan

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Since that time, specifically October 15, this day has been set aside to remember those sweet babies who aren’t in their parent’s arms. I truly appreciate President Reagan for doing this for I have had four pregnancy losses. I do wish, however, that it was a day/month designated for all bereaved parents no matter what age our child may have been when they passed on. This statement of his was actually a rearranged quote from another:

“A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child. That’s how awful the loss is.” — Jay Neugeboren, “An Orphan’s Tale”

The most common names for us who have had to bury a child are: grieving parent or bereaved parent. I am a bereft mother of five, including my 20-year-old son. I think about my children every single day, and it has been 18 years and three months since my 20-year-old left this world. I think about how many more months and years I have before I am reunited with him, and meeting my other four for the first time. I still have days of “grief fog.” I still have days that are completely debilitating. I am forever abiding in a holding pattern…waiting. I still find myself unconsciously placing my hand on my abdomen when I think of them. There are other days when I can embrace the love intertwined in the memories I so cherish — days in which I can see my son’s gleaming smile in my mind’s eye…and I smile, too.

How do we break the silence?

How do the nameless become known?

I am the Unknown, the Undesignated, the Anonymous.

When I type “bereaved parent” in Webster’s Thesaurus, a box pops up that states:

Words fail us

How apropos and to the point is that?

Perhaps there is no word possible to “define” us. There is certainly no adequate word to describe our excruciating pain; there is no way of measuring the depth of our heartache.

Perhaps, we shall always be the: Nameless, the Unidentified.

Jude’s book, “Gifts from the Ashes,” is available at Direct Textbook.

A version of this post originally appeared on Jude’s website.

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Mothers Day, for most, is a day of relaxation, breakfast in bed and bouquets of flowers picked from the garden. But for those of us who are bereaved, who have buried a child and who have spent their years mourning that loss, Mother’s Day can be nothing more than a cruel reminder of grief. I dread its coming each spring. I turn my head away as I walk by the Mother’s Day cards at the store. I flip the channel when the commercials for “Happy Mother’s Day!” pop up on the TV. I change the subject when someone asks me about my big plans for the big day. Despite all of my internationally avoiding it each year, somehow it still sneaks up on me. Each year I find myself shocked by how deeply her death still hurts.

My daughter did not die on Mother’s Day. She died silently early one morning in July, almost 13 years ago. But Mother’s Day is still one of my hardest days of the year. It feels like just yesterday that I was pregnant with her in my belly. I was young and hopeful and so excited for my new life as a mother. That, my very first Mother’s Day, is as vivid as any memory of my life. Both my sister-in-law and I were seven months pregnant and we gathered together with my mother and father to celebrate the upcoming births of the two girl cousins. At the brunch table there were pink flowers and pink gifts wrapped with silken ribbons. One was wrapped particularly beautifully, and had a tag with my name on it. A special gift from my mother to me, her only daughter. She beamed as I opened the gift and dug through the layers of pink tissue paper to see the sweetest pink baby gown with delicate pink roses on the tiny pink hat. It was the outfit my Madeline would come home from the hospital in. I loved that small pink outfit and laid it in the crib when I got home, looking forward to seeing my baby girl there very soon.

But the thing is, she never came home. She died silently early that morning in July in the hospital and that sweet little pink outfit I got for my very first Mother’s Day is the outfit she was cremated in. I never even got to hold her in that outfit. They took her away from me too soon. Why didn’t I hold her longer? Why wasn’t I the one to dress her still, sweet body in that pink outfit and pull that tiny hat over all her dark brown hair? It has been 13 years and I still cannot find a way to get my heart around that. I cannot find away to forgive myself.

So as other mothers are opening homemade cards and eating pancakes in bed, I will be sobbing on the floor of my shower, broken yet again and terrified to face the well wishers who will inevitably wish me “Happy Mother’s Day!” in a cheery tone. As other mothers are flooded with happy memories of their children growing up, when I close my eyes I will again be haunted by the vision of my baby daughter being cremated, all alone, in her little pink outfit with delicate pink roses.

So, when you see me this week. Please, do not with me a Happy Mother’s Day. Let me push silently through this pain that feels unbearably still. Let me spend my Mother’s Day remembering her.

Thinkstock image by DariaZu


Mother’s Day has always been a favorite holiday of mine. I loved seeing my mom and grandmother’s faces light up when I gave them the special gifts I made for them as a child, and later picked out for them as an adult. There was something magical about making the maternal figures in my life feel special as I expressed my gratitude for all they did for me.

But 16 years ago that holiday was darkened when my maternal grandmother died on Mother’s Day; a bitter irony for my own mother and a deep loss that profoundly shook us to the core. My grandmother had been our anchor in this world and we didn’t know what we would do without her. Over time, we were able to heal and reminiscence on the many wonderful years we shared with her, rather than dwell on the loss.

The sadness of the day was further removed 11 years ago, when I was blessed with my first daughter. I loved being a mother and making memories together with my own mom. It renewed my love for the holiday, and I fondly remember how special it was the first year after having a child. Two years later, I celebrated with a second daughter, and  five years later, I had my first and only son. I had what was for me the “picture perfect” family and looked forward to sharing Mother’s Day with my completed family of five. But my hopeful plans were destroyed when my son passed away from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) one month before Mother’s Day. I was devastated. I was broken by the fact I never got to spend a single Mother’s Day with him. I feared every single one afterward would remind me of my tremendous loss. I never wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day again.

But life doesn’t work that way.

My daughters still wanted to make me cards and gifts and I didn’t want to hurt them by showing the pain the day brought me. And the most surprising thing happened through my allowing them to love on me, I slowly began to appreciate the holiday again. This year, with my two older girls and rainbow daughter, I am finally looking forward to it once more. I will always be a paradoxical mother with mixed emotions, celebrating both as a mother of three daughters who are here with me, while never forgetting I am also a mother to my  little boy in heaven. I choose to live for the ones who are still here, never forgetting the ones who are forever absent. But time does bring some healing, and three years later, Mother’s Day has a deeper meaning than ever before. Not despite my losses, but because of them. I appreciate being a mother more deeply than I did before, knowing how temporary life can be. Each day with my children is a gift, and I plan to make the most of each one.

This Mother’s Day I plan to bask in the love my family graciously chooses to give me, never forgetting that although I only see three children, I will always be a mother of four.

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I recently read a statement that popped out at me. I don’t recall the precise phrase, but essentially this person stated when talking about child loss, our children are not lost. So true. I know where my son is, I believe he is with the Lord. I don’t need to know the specifics as long as I can rest in this truth. I am often guilty of using the phrase, “when I lost my son” and I am always attempting to alter the way in which I phrase things. Old habits die hard.

I have not lost my son. Just as I did not miscarry four children. I feel both statements imply I somehow did something to cause those results. There’s always the possibility I actually did, but that’s not what I dwell on because it is a dead-end road. We, bereaved parents, can endlessly berate ourselves in order to feel as if we had some control in an utterly helpless situation. In addition, as parents, we do believe our number one responsibility is to protect our children. When something does happen to them, the first reaction can be to question ourselves to see if we can find something, anything, that could have changed and prevented such a tragedy. Perhaps some of us prefer to feel guilt over the feeling of utter helplessness. If I have done something, I pray for God’s forgiveness, accept His forgiveness, and do my best to forgive myself — that’s the tough part.

My son is still a part of me. As science has now discovered, his DNA physically still exists in me. Spiritually, since I am a Christian, I believe we are already “seated in Heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6) and are all connected as “one” in the Body of Christ (Romans 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27). The fact I can’t physically see him nor touch him does not mean he is “lost.” I believe he knows exactly where he is; God knows exactly where he is. That “lost” feeling is about me. If anyone is lost, I feel it’s me — because I am not trusting my Lord. My son’s life may have ended on a physical level, but that’s it. I believe he is still very much alive. If my son was in the military or on the mission field in some foreign land, I may not be in contact with him, I may not know exactly where he is or what he is doing, however, he would not be “lost.”

I am not comfortable when someone says to me, “I’m sorry you lost your son.” Instead of simply saying, “Thank you,” I am going to teach myself to respond with, “Thank you, but he’s not lost.” I now avoid the term, “miscarriage” and have for the most part replaced it with, “pregnancy loss.” I have pretty much changed the term, “stillborn” to “born still.” I no longer say that someone “committed suicide,” and have replaced that phrase with “died by suicide.” Now I want to replace, “lost” with something else, though I haven’t yet settled on another form of expression. If anyone has an alternative, I would appreciate feedback.

I believe we are not able to be a vehicle of change to the non-grieving until we first change our way of expression and the manner in which we respond to comments that grate our soul. We often express our hurt and irritation with the seemingly endless “stupid” things well-meaning folks say to us. But they simply do not know what to say for the most part, so they respond with the first thing that enters their mind or revert to common phrases. If we want the vocabulary changed, we who understand the effect of such statements must change it first.

I’m working on it. I want others to give me feedback when I say something in such a manner that causes offense or hurts another. How else am I to learn?

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(((Hugs)))

Jude’s book, “Gifts from the Ashes,” is available at Direct Textbook.

A version of this post originally appeared on Jude’s website.

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I should be sleeping, not sitting up in bed, in the dark, watching my ghostly fingers (illuminated by my laptop) tap away on the keyboard. I should be sleeping, not sitting in the dark, trying to remember the shape of the words I need to form, that capture the jumble of confusion inside of my head and the itchy, uncomfortable ache in my heart.

I should be sleeping.

For some reason the earthquakes have been bothering me tonight, not that there has been a significant quake for a while. It’s the sound that gets me, that train-like rumble, and the teeth-clenching anticipation as I wonder, how big it will be? Will my loved ones be OK? Will I sleep, or will I panic again, like I did in November, and drive up the hill because of the confusing babble of warnings spewing out on social media about the tsunami risks? Will I sleep again, if that happens, or will it be another all-nighter as I ponder impending doom?

I really should be sleeping; none of that is real. There hasn’t been a significant earthquake for a while, and if the earth decided to rupture again tonight, well, that’s just going to happen whether or not I sleep.

It’s not really about the earthquakes, though, this lack of sleeping, the ghostly fingers dancing over the keyboard. It’s not about the noise they make, and the 3 a.m. traffic jams as people rushed for the hills. It’s not about any of that.

I wonder, sometimes, how similar these feelings are: my earthquake anxiety and my grief?

I live with them both, in every day.

They can both ambush me in the most unlikely of times (or with monotonous predictability, in the darkness, when I really should be sleeping).

The waves of pain, of recollected fear, as I made my way out of the CBD with glass and masonry falling around me, and the shrieks and panic as the road moved like a wave, people flailing about, rushing for the river. The desperate anxiety I felt, not being able to get in touch with my children, not knowing whether my family was OK?

The quiet panic, in that deathly silence, as my boy lay in the hospital.

The contrasting noises: the jumble, the cacophony of sound inside my head, as the competing stressors clamor anxiously for attention; the noise.

Grief is so much like those earthquakes, the aftershocks coming through thick and fast in the early days, weeks, months and even years. And they do lessen, as those days and weeks and months and years disappear, they do lessen. They don’t go away, though. I know that sound, I know it intimately. I know the way my bed moves, as a quake takes hold of it. I know. Just as I know the shape of the flashbacks, the sharpness and clarity they pull out of my soul, as they paint my pain behind my eyes, once again. I know them intimately, these signposts, these triggers.

And in some small way, in a corner of my heart, I really, desperately want to hold them tight, these memories, these agonizing thoughts that steal away my sleep.

I want to hold them tight, because they feel, sometimes (especially when I sit up late and watch my ghostly fingers on the keyboard), they feel like a way I can hold on tight, and ride out the waves, and remember and remember, and never forget, that I still have a relationship, a living bond, with my son. He’s still here, he’s sleeping in the hospital, he’s not moving because his soul is as exhausted as mine feels right now. I can hold on to him, in my grief. I can remember, and remember, and not sleep, don’t go to sleep. Just remember.

I cannot hold on forever, though; just as the earthquake damage that is still very evident in the CBD will not last forever. I cannot maintain this level of anxiety and still hope to function. I’m just simmering in it tonight, as I watch my fingers try desperately to capture the pain, because I know that this time next week, the shape of my grief is likely to change again as we hover at the cusp of a decision on suppression.

I really should be sleeping. I have no control over any of it, the earthquakes, the flashbacks or the decision-making process. What will be, will be, whether or not I sleep, whether or not my fingers manage to capture the pain, and push it away from me.

I really should be sleeping.

Thinkstock image by KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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