Our 19-year-old son Ben was buried May 2, 2008 – eight days before Mother’s Day. Even though I was still in shock, I knew enough to stay away from church that Sunday. Our minister had always made a big deal out of the holiday, and every mother left the service with a rose.

My husband Dave and our daughter Katie were also in shock so we three zombies wandered around a quiet house that first holiday after Ben’s death. We stayed away from everything and everyone – and that was just the right thing to do, for us.

An important lesson I’ve learned through my grief journey is to honor my physical and emotional needs. Every person reading this post knows how exhausting grief can be, and I was exhausted. I slept all of Mother’s Day afternoon.

All grieving parents have unique needs and it is up to us to figure out what we need to heal. For me, on my first Mother’s Day without my son, it was to sleep. Ben’s death was unexpected. I felt like I had been in a car accident –  I felt like I was all bumps and bruises. I didn’t want to talk about the situation, I hadn’t begun to untangle the emotional side of the loss. My immediate needs were physical.

This Mother’s Day, eight years later, will be different. Katie is now a grown woman. She is lovely and vivacious and she will make my day special just by being with me. We will go to church as a family and Dave will treat us to brunch.  I’ll think about the days when Ben and Katie served mass on Mother’s Day and I’ll pull out their homemade gifts from grade school. I may even look at a picture or two.

By doing the hard work of group-grief therapy, journaling, and praying, I now can be grateful for the nineteen Mother’s Days I was able to celebrate with both my children. I can call my mother, who lives 1,500 miles away from me, and thank her for all the gifts she has given me. It will be a joyous call because the one, true gift Ben’s death has given me is the wisdom to know how much I mean to my mother.

If this is your first Mother’s Day without your child, remember to be kind and gentle to yourself. Make your physical and emotional needs a priority. By truly honoring your pain you will find your way to better days, as I have found mine.

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens (EC 3.1)

Joni Norby

Joni M. Norby retired from California State University, Fullerton where she served as Associate Dean and Lecturer for Business Communications. She earned her MBA from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas and has studied creative nonfiction and poetry as part of Stanford University's Online Writing Series and at The Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Along with writing, Joni owns and operates a vineyard in California's Central Valley along with her husband, Dave.

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