The Silent Sisterhood

I love Mothers’ Day. I love celebrating the wonderful mothers in my life. I know personally that Mothers’ Day is hard on those of us whose mothers are gone. There’s an edge of grief with the realization that I will not be able to dial her number and wish her a joyful “Happy Mothers’ Day!” But I have become aware that Mothers’ Day is also hard on another group of people — the women who have lost a child, whether to accident, illness, violence, or miscarriage.

I’ve been doing my work a long time and it has become clear to me that there is nothing worse than losing a child. My mother lost two children. It was only later in life that she began to talk about that loss but I had known all along that she carried those two girls in her heart and thought of them often. Thus, it was with joy that she said on her deathbed “I’m going to see my girls.”

I’ve learned from many other women I’ve known that the loss of a child becomes a silent pain. Not often talked about or even acknowledged yet always there. The loss of a child is such a terrible tragedy that indeed many do not want to hear about it and most don’t know what to say and so the women suffering the loss gradually don’t talk about it.

A friend lost her daughter to cancer at age 23 and, while she had much support at the time of the death, as the years past others moved on but her pain did not go away. She said one day “I am part of a silent sisterhood.” She referred to herself and the many, many women who silently bore the loss of a child every day.

Other women have taught me that the lost child lives on in possibilities unmet such as “He would have turned 35 today” or “She never had the chance to have a child of her own” or “He was smart and funny. I wonder what he would have done with those gifts.” (These are all things that have been said to me by members of that Silent Sisterhood.)

I know how inadequate words are for such a tragedy. But for those who know members of the Silent Sisterhood, give them the gift of listening. So, knowing first-hand the inadequacy of words,  to the members of the Silent Sisterhood who might read this, I share this story.

The night my mother died and in the spirit of some Algonquian beliefs, I went into my back yard to find my mother’s star. I looked for a while but then I saw it! There was a bright star with two smaller stars to each side. I knew then that my mother was with my sisters and that she was happy.