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Compassionate support for bereaved mothers

Last Modified: May 11, 2024

Family Medicine, Women & Children

To shed light on the journey of bereaved mothers, Cori McKenzie, MSW, MCH bereavement coordinator, Parkview Health, shares her personal experiences with grief and offers insights into showing recognition and compassion to all mothers.

Shifting perspectives

Growing up, I never considered Mother's Day anything other than a chance to make a sweet gift for my mom and an opportunity to spend time with and celebrate all of the remarkable mother figures in my life. Our family was fortunate to have many aunts, grandmas and extended family members who could come together, share a meal and celebrate with our moms. Flowers, favorite treats, breakfast in bed and handmade cards were the foundation of Mother's Day as a child. 

That idea completely shifted when I had my first daughter in 2010. Suddenly, I was one of the celebrated moms, and my understanding of what it meant to honor mothers deepened.  Although I was new to being a mom, I could already see how much of an impact I would have on my daughter's life and how she would change me. Every day was a new adventure and another opportunity to learn from each other.

In early 2012, we were expecting to welcome our second child when the unthinkable happened. We lost her only a few days before she was due to join our family. My idea of being a mother shifted once more when I had to learn how to be a bereaved mom. I had so many thoughts echoing in my mind about how to honor my motherhood, especially when I felt like a failure as a mom… How was I supposed to celebrate my motherhood when what I wanted the most was no longer happening and all those future moments I had imagined were lost? 

Everything felt different in those early years of grief. We were still welcomed into celebratory spaces, but the holidays, especially Mother's Day, would never be the same. 

Cori, husband, norah cori, husband, nora 2

By the numbers

No parent expects to celebrate Mother's Day without all their children physically present, but it is a path that many bereaved parents learn to walk. The numbers can feel overwhelming. 

Many grieving parents in our community look at Mother's Day through a different lens. Sometimes, these losses are repressed as they happen or gradually fade out of sight as time passes. After our second daughter, we brought another little girl into our family. Unless I intentionally share my parenting journey, new friends may not know I have three daughters, not just the two they can see.

mckenzie family

Supporting bereaved mother's

As Parkview's maternal child health bereavement coordinator, I work with families experiencing unimaginable grief daily. I've seen that each parent's experience of their loss is unique, and every family moves through the grieving process at their own pace. Every bereaved mother must decide how to commemorate Mother's Day and honor her journey. 

I recently spoke with Isla's mom, a Healing Hearts support group member, about the significance of Mother's Day. She eloquently expressed, "Mother's Day is a day that reflects the messiness of living in a world of grief and joy. We are forced to look at the world through a lens that we desperately wish we didn't have. It's a day I get to celebrate the wonderful daughter who made me a mom, but it is also a stark reminder that I am not waking up to my two-year-old bringing me flowers. Instead, I am bringing flowers to her grave. Sometimes, it feels like we suffer in silence on Mother's Day. Bereaved moms get overlooked when we don't get a flower at church like the other moms or acknowledged at the big family meal. Sometimes I think people are afraid to say something because they think they will upset us, but I think most of us want each of our children celebrated and remembered, whether they are in our arms or in our hearts." 

While it can be a challenging time for those who have experienced the loss of a child, Mother's Day presents an opportunity to show your support and care in meaningful ways. Here are a few suggestions for the bereaved mother in your life: 

Recognize all of their children.  Bereaved moms cherish the memory of all their children, including the ones who are no longer physically present. 

Acknowledge her status as a mom throughout the year, especially on Mother's Day. When I think of my family, I see myself as a mom to three daughters, not just the two who will be in our cute family photo. Many bereaved parents struggle with the question of 'how many children do you have?' because they aren't sure if they should include the ones who aren't physically present.

Ask how she would like to honor her baby. Some bereaved moms have a special place for their baby, like the cemetery, a garden or a spot at a park. Offer to visit that place with them and bring flowers the mom can keep or leave there. 

Give gifts with intention. A handwritten card or personalized gift can be meaningful, including all of her children. Some moms might like 'angel baby' items or have a special memento that reminds them of their baby. White butterflies remind me of my daughter, and I love seeing them all through the warmer months when I am out with my living children. 

Final thoughts

Mother's Day can be emotional for many people for various reasons. I hope you can find ways to show care and appreciation for all the moms in your life and honor for all their children, even those who are no longer physically with us. 

The grief and pain that accompany losing a baby at any stage is immensely personal, but you don't have to go through it alone. If you have experienced the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or death after birth, the Healing Hearts support group is here to help you in the healing process. For more information, speak with Parkview Chaplaincy Services at 260-266-1470 or view our  events calendar for a meeting near you.




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