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"Mother guilt" from the birthstone to the gravestone

Are we, as mothers, naturally hard-wired to feel guilty about everything we do (or don’t do) in regard to our children? Is it a reptilian-brained, archaic instinct gone completely awry? It must be - because my son Chad died and my “mother guilt” didn’t. It seems I have unwittingly transferred it from his birthstone to his gravestone.

I sometimes find myself keeping a surreal score of what, when, and how often I “do” something for my now deceased son (as if that’s even possible) - and then (usually in the middle of a long, scary night), I’ll play the twisted game of comparing myself to other mothers that have lost children. On those nights, my tally sheet screams accusingly: “bad mother, bad mother, bad mother…” I know I am not the only one that feels like this.

What suffering I cause myself as I think about these things:

There are mothers who stay in touch with their children’s friends.

There are mothers who have big parties on the anniversaries of their child’s death.

There are mothers who visit the graves every week, bringing flowers and prayers.

There are mothers who tell me their child leaves them signs everywhere they go.

For every kind of mother, and every situation, there are mothers who create beautiful mourning rituals and mark the time since their child has passed in lovely and gentle ways.

And then there are mothers who can’t get out of bed.

What suffering they endure:

There are mothers who check out by using substances or distractions.

There are mothers who ignore and neglect their surviving children and family members.

There are mothers who get stuck in their grief and sink into the muck.

(If you know one of these mothers, please pull them out. Get them help.

Don’t take no for an answer.)

Ease their suffering.

The majority of mothers who have lost children and grandchildren, I imagine, are somewhere in the middle, vacillating from one end of the pendulum to the other. Normal, right?

But it doesn’t feel so normal when I’m standing at my son’s grave, staring down at the discolored-by-calcium-buildup headstone, thinking: I’m a really bad mother.

I swear it happened overnight. I swear it went from shiny, polished black marble (I guess it’s really granite) with a fairly newly-trendy oval frame featuring a very nice photo of Chad - to this white chalky looking shadowy stuff around every letter on the stone and what kind of looks like rusty crud around the edges of the photo. Overnight.