Dozing off in my daughter’s rocking chair after she had already fallen asleep in her bed, my phone buzzed in my robe pocket. I had just had a story published on Scary Mommy that day and was receiving amazing messages from other grieving moms all around the world. It’s a bittersweet solidarity we find ourselves in. I don’t think I really understood the meaning of “bittersweet” until after my son, Noah, died in a swimming pool accident six years ago. It’s so much more than a type of chocolate.
Tears started to fall as I read this message from a lady named Cassie in Minnesota. She makes hand-stamped jewelry just like the bracelet I wrote about in the story. The photo caught her eye and even though she hasn’t lost a child herself, she was really affected by what she read. She wrote that she would like to make and send me ten bracelets just like the one in the story. That way I could keep sharing the support and “LOVE” while still holding onto my original bracelet.
I was blown away by this offer from a complete stranger. But I’ve learned there are no strangers in this world of shared grief. The virtual world is filled with very real people. Very real stories of mothers and fathers losing their children. Through accidents nobody ever thought would happen and illnesses that couldn’t be beaten, the parents are left here to figure out how to go on while literally missing a piece of themselves.
And I’ve also learned that the more I share of myself, the better I’m able to make sense of this life without my little boy.
So the package with ten bracelets arrived from Minnestoa a few weeks later. Ten bracelets for ten moms that had to say goodbye to their children. Ten children. Ten stories. I wish I didn’t know a lot more than ten moms. I started to put the surprise care packages together. Inside the oversized manila envelopes were copies of my original story, a letter as to why these moms were receiving this package, and a LOVE bracelet. I added handwritten notes, simply including the name of their child and a few words.
I think back to the gifts we received after Noah’s accident. Books, an engraved locket, a picture frame, heartfelt cards and letters. How could anyone possibly know what to send or say? Yet, every single thing was so appreciated.
Some of these moms have supported me, while I’ve been the seasoned veteran for others. Many of these moms I’ve never met in person. We chat online late at night and check our Facebook posts, reading between the lines to know if we’re having good days or bad days. We’ve met through friends asking me how they can help their own friends who’ve just joined the worst club ever. We’ve met in online support groups. Because the virtual world is much easier than the physical world to navigate.
As I’m putting together these packages, I’m thinking about their children. I’m thinking about how many years or how few weeks have passed since their child died. I start to get a little nervous, too. I start to worry that receiving this package will be more upsetting than comforting. Maybe they were having a pretty good day and they didn’t need me to barge in with a reminder like this. But I’m pretty sure the comfort will outweigh any discomfort.
When I get to the post office, I dump my tote bag full of envelopes onto the scale.
“Anything fragile, liquid, dangerous, or perishable?” the postmaster asks.
“Nope just some papers. And a metal bracelet. No value.” That sentence makes me feel like a big fat liar. Because I certainly hope the opposite is true. I think back to the gifts we received after Noah’s accident. Books, an engraved locket, a picture frame, heartfelt cards and letters. How could anyone possibly know what to send or say? Every single thing was so appreciated.
Off went the envelopes to New Jersey, New York, Florida, Georgia, Colorado, and Germany. I felt like I’d just sent a secret handshake via the mail. Or a code word to the shittiest club of all. But a sweeter group of shitty club members you won’t find anywhere.
The original meaning of the LOVE bracelet, for me, was that my love for my son would never go away. It just was in a different form now. The physical was gone. But my bracelet was a reminder that the LOVE is always there. Six years down the road for me, I know there are so many other hard things that come along with losing a child.
Mental and physical health suffer. Marriages and family relationships have to redefine to survive. Friendships have never been so hard yet so necessary. There’s jobs. There’s the financial strains of death and illness that are felt for years after. Sometimes you never recover.
I was sending these bracelets to say so many things: I understand. I’m so sorry. I get it. You’re not alone. You CAN do it. You CAN keep going.
A few days after my packages went out, I started to receive thank you messages and phone calls. It felt great. But it also felt so unnecessary. This started as a small meeting between two grieving moms. But its reach is wide. I wish it didn’t have to be. Like I said earlier, it’s the shittiest club ever.
On my bad days (and they do still happen), I will think about this message I received from one of my moms after getting her bracelet:
“The first thing was I felt remembered... and I felt my daughter was remembered. And from someone I have never even met... while most people we know have vanished and we are left to try to understand how to go on. It made me not feel alone and that I will somehow get through this.”