Surviving Mother’s Day
God can heal the oldest hurt in the freshest way.
by Debbie Fox
Eight years had elapsed, and the shards of my fractured soul were beginning their reformation. I had distanced myself from God during that time, blaming Him for my suffering and refusing to accept His will.
Back to church
Then one March afternoon a young pastor and his wife knocked on my door and told me they were forming a neighborhood church. When they invited me to the first service, I blurted out that I’d go. For the next two months, I attended faithfully and realized I had missed singing the hymns of praise and listening to the sermon. Although I shared my painful past with the pastor, I withheld it from fellow Christians.
With trepidation, I decided to attend the Mother’s Day service. Squeezed into an outdated suit, I set off for church, carrying a handbag stuffed half full of tissues. My husband preferred to stay home to ready the barbecue grill and prepare for our guests of honor: mothers. I did not fall in the mother category, having lost that privilege when my ten-year-old daughter died from AIDS.
At church I smiled with fake composure and tried to sneak into a chair without too much fuss, but a chipper young woman cut off my hasty entry. “Good morning,” she said.
“Good morning to you,” I answered, eyeing her orchid corsage and noting the toddler hanging on her hip. “Happy Mother’s Day.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Are you a mother?”
“No,” I murmured.
“I was going to wish you the same,” she said.
I forced my lips to curl into a smile and ducked into a seat.
The pastor spoke about Hannah, a barren woman who prayed to God to give her a child and promised to give the child back to God. I had believed that children were a gift from God; but when He called for my child, I resented Him for taking back His gift. Spiritually, I had known my child was on loan from God; but emotionally, I neither accepted nor understood His plan.
Throughout the service, I blinked back tears tears of heartbreak, tears of loneliness, tears for Christie, tears for what could have been. When the pastor said, “All mothers, raise your hands,” I kept mine clasped in my lap.
“Debbie,” the pastor pointed to me, “you raise your hand. You have mothered and have earned that title.”
I slowly raised my arm as tears fell.
After the service, the orchid-wearing mother approached me again. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cause you any distress.”
I shoved a soggy tissue into my purse. “That’s OK. I really don’t know what to say when people ask me if I have children, without going into a long, sad story.”
This new mother, with her sixteen months of mothering experience, sat down next to me, her brow furrowed and her eyes encouraging. She leaned toward me, silently waiting for me to begin.
Afraid of blubbering an explanation, I looked away from her and grabbed a fresh tissue. Bowing my head, I began, “My daughter, Christie, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of seven. My husband and I didn’t know she had received a blood transfusion at birth. She died in 1994.” I looked up and half smiled as if I knew eight years should be enough time to get over her death.
The woman nodded and murmured a few sounds.
“I’ve been pretty mad at God since then,” I said. “I recently started coming back to church.” I wasn’t sure what I wanted of God or of myself, but I felt as if I needed to be reassured or connected and my heart lightened.
“I’m glad you came,” she said and touched my hand.
“Me too.” I dabbed my drippy nose and said my goodbyes, hoping I hadn’t ruined her Mother’s Day.
Stories and memories
Back home, I freshened my tear-streaked face and evaded my husband’s questions about the service. “I’m busy,” I said. “I have to set the table and fix dinner.” The mothers would be arriving soon: my mother-in-law, mother of three sons, six grandchildren (one deceased), and four great-grandchildren; my friend, Donna, mother of three daughters, aged 19 to 23; and my friend, Denise, a middle-aged, first-time mother of a son, now five months old.
The day blessed us with good food and happy stories. I couldn’t help but marvel at the years of mothering experience among my guests, the sparkle that lit their eyes as they spoke of their offspring. Memories and a dull ache in my chest were all I had left of my mothering experience.
I had learned that after the loss of a child, 80 percent of marriages end in divorce. Consumed with sadness following my daughter’s death, I had barely acknowledged each new day. What was the point of living when my purpose was gone? I had wandered through my depression, licking my wounds like an animal and offering my husband little consolation. Psalm 38:6 described me well: “I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning.”
As a nurse, I had understood the grieving process, but that hadn’t made my grief over Christie any easier. I resented my husband for not being supportive, yet I could not find the energy to uphold him. I loathed my own weakness, and my despondency grew while answers to questions eluded me. I struggled to understand life’s purpose and fought myself to accept God’s will.
Determination to survive
While recovery was not easy, I realized I did not want to lose my husband along with my daughter. Being alone was a constant fear. Could my husband and I reconcile our feelings and return to the closeness we once enjoyed? Could I find some meaning in Christie’s death? Could I reach acceptance?
That’s when God sent a pastor to my door and drew me back to church.
During my two months of attending church, I still struggled to understand and accept God’s will. I knew I’d feel that all-too-familiar hollowness when mothers were recognized during the Mother’s Day service.
Then that new mother comforted me. With my tears purged and my pain unveiled, I felt unburdened as if I had begun my reformation.
As Mother’s Day wound down, my husband spied two ducks on the sidewalk. A stately mallard, his emerald-shrouded head and neck flashing in the afternoon light, guarded his less-colorful mate as she sipped sprinkler water from the gutter.
As our guests were leaving, my husband tossed a handful of breadcrumbs near the ducks, and they fearlessly scarfed down the handout. After another sip of water, the pair waddled off.
Throwing an arm around my shoulders, my husband walked me into the house. “Just a couple of old ducks.”
I laughed, feeling equally protected by my mate. “I wonder if they had any ducklings.”
“Maybe they left the nest,” my husband said.
Days later, I noticed the duck couple sunning together in my neighbor’s yard. I watched them for some time before an unknown urge drew them aloft. Like two precision jet aircrafts, the couple soared low along the street, gained altitude, and disappeared beyond the horizon. Their silent communication fascinated me. With or without offspring, the mallards were devoted to each other.
Curious about their habits, I discovered that mallards mate for life. Perhaps the couple I had seen had raised their duckling family and now enjoyed exploring new territories together. Perhaps God had sent them to me on Mother’s Day to remember . . . to encourage . . . to understand.
Like the mallards, my husband and I remain mated for life despite the loss of our child. With my companion, I am free to explore other territories. I might never understand God’s plan, but I know His shining light banished loneliness from my life.
The ducks never returned, but I think of them together, honking their happiness above. I too look forward to soaring and surviving another Mother’s Day.
Scripture quotations were taken from the New International Version.