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Columnist
For those suffering, Mother's Day can be painful holiday
By Burt Constable | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 5/4/2010 12:00 AM

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Mother's Day commercials are adorable: Unbelievably cute pipsqueaks making a mess as they craft their handmade gifts with glue, paint and lots of love; the tight-lipped teenager finding a way to say thanks to his grateful mom; the adult siblings all getting together to celebrate with the beaming, gray-haired matriarch.

Mother's Day can crank up the joy. It can also add to the agony.

"It is a really painful holiday and I don't think many people think about that," says Renee Wood, a Geneva woman who founded The Comfort Company, which offers a variety of gifts to help people deal with a loss. "Next to Christmas, Mother's Day is our busiest holiday. It really is for so many women one of the most difficult holidays of the year."

More than 1 million women a year face Mother's Day after miscarrying or watching their newborn die, notes Wood, who used to be a social worker in a neonatal intensive care unit.

"Infertility brings up a whole other group of women who are grieving in their own way," Wood says. "And then you add the women who lost their mothers, and then you look at the mothers who lost an adult child, and grandparents who have lost grandchildren, and there are a lot of people who don't have a happy Mother's Day."

But there are ways to cope with the grief the holiday may deliver.

"Every time before Mother's Day the topic is always on how to get through Mother's Day after a loss," perinatal bereavement coordinator Theresa Salgado says of the monthly support group meetings through the suburban Alexian Brothers Hospital Network. "The process of grieving isn't forgetting, but remembering the love they have for that baby they lost."

That bond between mother and child is special, regardless of whether the loss occurred before birth or many decades later, and whether the child or the mom is the one who dies first.

"That bond-is a difficult one to break," says Beth Collier, a United Methodist pastor who ministers to all manner of loss in her role as a chaplain at Alexian Brothers. The chaplain recalls one mother in her 60s responding to the death of her mother by saying, "I feel like an orphan now."

"Physically, it gets broken by the death of the mother, but the emotional bond is there," Collier says.

Even though her mother, Valeria, died of colon cancer 26 years ago, Mother's Day still brings sadness to Ruta Grigola, 46, a leader of Motherless Daughters Chicago.

"Oh yes, always," says Grigola, who became a mother two years ago when she adopted her son, Rokas, 5, from Lithuania, where her mom was born. "Sure, we celebrate for me, but I can't help but think of my mother."

Grigola, who can be reached via e-mail at rutavg@ameritech.net, says many workshops and impromptu gatherings are available this weekend for people without mothers.

Even when no one has died, the holiday can add stress. Given all the depictions of saintly mothers and perfect kids, "Mother's Day is tough for people whose relationship with their mothers is not so great," Collier adds.

Regardless of whether the loss is a miscarriage, the death of a mother or any of the other sorrows that can make Mother's Day sad, talking about it may help, says Salgado, who explains that women whose babies die sometimes don't get recognized on Mother's Day as mothers with hopes and dreams.

"What hurts them a lot is people not remembering them at all," Salgado says. "People are afraid they'll say the wrong thing so they don't say anything at all."

While people can say the wrong things, there are plenty of good options to acknowledge the sadness.

Whether a person is grieving the loss of a mother, a child, a grandchild, a pregnancy or a child who can't be conceived, "they are devastated because people won't acknowledge it," says Wood, who is thankful to spend Mother's Day with her husband, four daughters and her own mom.

While people can't make the grief disappear, Wood says they can recognize it simply by saying, "I know it's a difficult day. I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you."