A few weeks ago, one of my dearest friends lost her 21-month-old daughter forever when the sweet baby girl died unexpectedly and suddenly. My friend and I live on opposite sides of the country, so I took a trip to visit her for this past weekend. Admittedly, I was a nervous wreck about what I was going to say to her and her husband. How was I going to find the words to comfort them? How would I avoid saying the wrong things? I wanted to find perfect words, and, as I am a writer, words happen to be one of the few ways I truly know how to express myself.
Except I was at a complete loss over her loss. Having two healthy children at home, I felt I couldn't truly relate to her pain, so how on earth was I going to be able to comfort her during a situation that I have very little experience in? Armed with a pocket full of Bible verses and a slough of rehearsed things to say, I walked into her home and could never in a million years have foreseen the life-altering and powerful words that would be spoken between us during our time together. Except the words came from her, to me.
From her. To me.
That's right. My friend, who at this point is proving to be one of the strongest people I know, said something during her time of grief that will forever hold a spot in my heart. It was a phrase so simple, yet it has hit a chord deep inside of me. As she was describing the events leading up to the death of her daughter, she tried to express to me her complete heartbreak as she held her sweet child in the hospital during the minutes and hours after she died. Describing the time only as her worst nightmare, she said to me with tears rolling down her face, "You're a mum, you know."
You're a mum, you know.
This phrase took my breath away — as well as any composure that I had managed to keep together up until then. Because it was at that point, with that phrase, that I was able to start to understand the magnitude of her sorrow. Sure, I was completely heartbroken for her before, as death is difficult for anyone. But I'll admit that I didn't fully understand my role as her friend or as a fellow mum. See, all this time I had been looking in the wrong places for the perfect thing to say to her while I should have just looked at our simplest bond: motherhood. And while I have not experienced the pain that comes along with losing a child, I do understand the joy that she once experienced from holding her child. And to lose that? There are no words.
Except maybe "I'm a mum, I know."
Losing a child is every mum's worst fear — no matter who you are or what kind of mum you choose to be. In the days since, I've been keeping this simple thought in mind when relating myself to other mummies. Sure, we all have our different ways of mothering and raising our families, but we do have one thing in common: our hearts are directly connected to our children. It makes the whole mummy wars thing seem, well, totally ridiculous.
You're a mum, you know.
So as I went with my own mum, who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, to her radiation treatment, I glanced over at the young mother of a small boy in the waiting room. He was maybe 3 years old (though it's hard to tell because he was so tiny). He sported a colourful Superman cape and a bland hospital mask as he sat cradled in his mum's arms. She said something quietly to him. My heart stopped. This mum ached for that mum. And the tears started to fall from my eyes despite me not knowing her one bit. Despite me only sitting in the waiting room for maybe 30 seconds. Despite my own mum sitting next to me about to have her own radiation treatment. This is crazy, I thought. I don't even know this woman.
But what I do know is that I'm a mum.
And later I was getting dinner at a takeout restaurant, and one of the employees was on the phone in the restroom. She was struggling to find a babysitter for her child while she finished her late shift. She was frantic. She was upset. She was mad. My heart skipped another beat, and the tears welled up in my eyes once again.
I know, I'm a mum.
As I went back to my mum's house, heartbroken over my friend's loss, my mother was trying to comfort me. Asking if I was OK. Me! She was the one going through radiation, I should be comforting her. And then it dawned on me as to why she was so worried about how I was doing.
She knows, she's a mum.
And on the plane on the ride home there was a new mum standing with her infant son nearly the whole four-and-a-half-hour flight because if she attempted to sit down, he wailed. She looked exhausted and frustrated. She checked her watch frequently, but she also kept on task all while kissing on his little bald head.
I know, I'm a mum.
See, it's a thread that unites us all. Helicopter mums. Free-range mums. Breastfeeding mums. Formula-feeding mums. Rich mums. Poor mums. Mums of sick kids. Mums of healthy kids. Mums. The crazy, heart-stopping love that we feel for our children runs deep through each and every one of us as mums.
And this knowledge is painful at times. It's why every sappy commercial brings us to tears. It's why we can't watch the news. It's why we get in the car and cry after we drop our kids off to their first day of school. It's why food allergies are terrifying. It's why our hearts ache when we hear about miscarriage or fertility problems. It's why we are up at night worrying about our teens. It's why the thought of our children eventually leaving the nest makes us weep into our coffee. It's why the death of another mother's child is so utterly heartbreaking . . .
It's also why we should always provide a blanket of support to all fellow mums. Not only to those who are suffering through the unimaginable pain of losing a child, but also to those mamas going through plain ol' rough times . . . and even those mums who are just having one of those days. Hug her, and if you are struggling to find the right words, all you may really need to say is, "I know, I'm a mum."
But you probably already know this. After all, you're a mum.