For most women, carrying a child leaves an indelible mark. I’m not talking about stretch marks or weight gain. I’m talking about something more. I’m talking about a permanent change on a cellular level. It’s a change that connects her to that child forever. She has a connection whether the child is born or dies before or as they are coming into the world (disclaimer – this is NOT a commentary on what I believe about when life begins). She’s connected whether she raises the child or someone else does. She has a connection whether she raises that child for a day or into adulthood. She remains connected whether she’s in the same house with that child or on the other side of the world from them.
I don’t know if being an empath makes me more aware of this connection or if it makes me feel it more deeply. What I can tell you is that I’ve carried two children. One of them is still alive…and one of them is not. The connection I feel to the child that is gone is just as strong as it is to my surviving child. My surviving child is grown and on her own. She lives in close proximity. She has a full and busy life. I see her often, but, as is the case for most adult children, she’s off living her life just as she should be. The connection now is an undercurrent – always there and just as strong, but flowing beneath daily life. It’s the natural order. Occasions when we are able to spend time together bring the connection back to the surface, and that’s the best part of being with her. When your experience is anything other than giving birth to the child you carried and raising them to adulthood, that deep connection is forced to exist as an undercurrent always. It becomes a connection without an expression…except that of grief.
For me, days that should be an opportunity to feel the fullest expression of the connection to my late daughter are the hardest. Her birthday is one of those days, and today is that day. It’s been many years since her death, but each year it just feels like a renewal of loss. She would’ve been thirty-one this year. We lost her when she was just sixteen. I can still see her, in my mind’s eye. I can still hear her voice and, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can feel her hand in mine. I feel her little girl hand on the way to kindergarten…and that of a silly teenager pressing mine, along with a whiny “pleeeease,” in an attempt to get her way. I still feel her whole being so deeply…down in my cells, but the connection only goes one way now. My soul calls out, expecting a response, only to feel anguish and confusion when there is none.
I’m lucky. I still have my surviving daughter. I also have a wonderful step-daughter with whom I share a loving connection. Not every mother is so lucky. I’ve been reminded of that on a daily basis since the beginning of the pandemic. Each day I hear yet another story of a mother losing her child or a child losing their mother…so many people losing loved ones. It compounds my grief and ignites my deepest fears. Will my family end up being “marked by Covid?” Will I lose another child or my husband? Will I be the one lost? Like everyone else, most of the time, I try not to think about it, but today I can’t not think about it.
We will still celebrate my daughter’s birthday today, like we did when she was with us. We just gather at the cemetery instead of the dining room table now. We lay a bouquet of her favorite red roses on a patch of ground instead of giving them to her. Sometimes we tie a balloon to the plaque that proclaims for eternity her status as a “Rockstar.” We usually share a meal of her favorite Italian food as a family, too. This year, because of the pandemic, it will be just the three of us – her sister, her stepdad, and me. The meal will be take-out instead of at a restaurant.
My thoughts, again, go back to the mothers and the children and loved ones lost in the past few months all around the world due to the virus. I think about the birthdays that will have to be celebrated the same way we’ve celebrated my daughter’s each year for the past fifteen years. I think about the holidays and the anniversaries and the milestones the ones left behind will have to celebrate in their absence. My heart breaks for all those mothers…all those families, because I know their pain, and I know some things just never get any easier.
Yes, our sorrow “marks” us. We will always feel the pain of a connection we can’t express directly to our child (or loved one), and we can’t feel the pleasure of it being reciprocated. What we can do, though, is transform our sorrow and give the love once reserved for our departed to others through acts of kindness, caring, compassion, patience, and empathy. And, yes, “Karen” that means wearing a God damn mask (apologies to any actual Karens I may have offended with that remark).