You Can’t Switch Off a Mother’s Love
by Katie Stifter
This is my guy! He is funny, athletic, serious with a side of goofy, and everyone likes him! Looking in from the outside you would never know that he lost his dad when he was just 6 years old. You wouldn’t know the impact that loss has had on his heart and how much he misses his daddy!
But I know his heart, a mother always does. I am the keeper of his heart and I take my job very seriously. If I could take away his pain and add it to mine I would do it in a heartbeat! But I can’t. Yet, I have to find a way to help him cope, move forward and live a happy life despite the pain. We as grieving mothers have to teach our children to “move forward” while we grieve the loss of their father- Not to mention, run a household, support our family financially, along with taking care of our children’s physical, emotional and spiritual well being (and somehow grieve and take care of our own needs). It seems like an impossible job. But just as a mother would take her child’s pain away if she could, we find a way to juggle, finagle, and claw our way through the depths of grief to make a healthy path for our children.
When you are a mother whose children have experienced the loss of a parent- worry and guilt follow. You question all of your decisions, because you are the only one left to make them. You worry that the grief will have lasting effects on your children that you won’t be able to repair, that their life will turn out negative, and the worst fear of them all is that you as mother simply aren’t enough.
No matter how much I have worked to help ensure a healthy path for my children: including all the coping skills instilled, the hugs given, the modeling of self-care I tried to provide, and the continued conversations about feelings regarding the loss of their dad, I can see the ripple and waves that grief has brought to my young child’s life. This sweet boy, that his late father would describe as the most empathetic person he had ever met, began to worry excessively about his mom. He was worried I didn’t love him, that I loved others more than him, that when I would leave the house I wouldn’t return, and the worst fear that I too would die. All very reasonable concerns, when you have experienced loss at a young age. The behaviors from these feelings were all aimed at me and would come out in a variety of ways- obsessive calling to see when I would be home, becoming angry if I would show love to others, and many tearful moments when confronted by these behaviors. This is the wave of grief that he was living but he was to young to understand that the anger he exhibits on the outside is really his fear of loss on the inside
So what is a mother to do? Of course, I bare the burden of his emotions, the outbursts, and tears. In my head and heart all I want for him is to have his father and be that boy pre-loss. It takes a toll on a mother, already stretched to thin with life and grief. The guilt and worry of parenting through loss are ever presently lurking. I wasn’t getting through to him that I loved him unconditionally and that I would never stop. I decided it was time to seek outside help. Which as a widow, you get used to handling it all of your own- but widowhood has taught me the importance of putting pride aside and accepting help for the well-being of yourself and children! So we scheduled an appointment with a counselor. He needed it, I needed it…
He had been to the school counselor early in loss, which had been very helpful, so he knew what it would be like to talk to someone. After the initial routine questions of his background and health the counselor asked if I could step away so they could speak alone. That was a hard walk away, as I said before I had always been the keeper of his heart, but I knew that there were others put in this world to help me tend it. I waited impatiently until the session ended.
After the session he came and gave me the biggest hug. I didn’t want to pry because I wanted him to feel like he could have the privacy to work through his grief with his new counselor. All I said was “how did it go?” His eyes welled up and he hugged me tight, and said something that I will never forget. “You can’t switch off a mother’s love.” I replied “that’s right.” He proceeded “even if a mom could she would never turn the switch.” And just like that we as a mother and son began to heal.
There will be many more ups and downs in our grief journey but what I want others that have experienced loss to know is that grief impacts our lives and our loved ones so differently one person’s wave may only be another person’s tidal wave. Be gentle on yourself, accept help, or seek out help if you feel it necessary. If you have children know that you are doing your very best as you navigate this uncharted territory of loss. But most importantly: You are not alone! You are enough! Because you can never switch off a mother’s love❤️