Mother’s Day 2004 came six days after my oldest son Cameron died. We had not even had the funeral yet, as the circumstances of his death required an autopsy by the county coroner’s office and his body had not yet been released.

The meaning of the day, the meaning of what it meant to be a mother, had changed for me utterly and completely. Being a mother now included the incomprehensible truth of outliving a child. It included the feeling of a heart so shattered that I doubted it could ever be whole again. It included the knowledge that no matter how much I might love and protect my children, there were no guarantees that I would succeed in keeping them healthy, happy, or even alive.

I felt so alone in my grief that I could not even bring my husband or my other two children into that desolate void within me, nor did I know how to reach out to them. We were separate universes of pain, or so it felt to me.

I look back on that day now and I realize that although I felt all alone, I was not. Although I had withdrawn into the black hole in my heart, the gravitational pull of those shining stars in my family constellation was stronger than the drag and pull from the singularity of my grief. While I did not yet seem to have any concept of how to reach out to them, each of them knew exactly how to speak to my aching heart.

My husband gave me two wrapped boxes, which he hesitantly brought forth with an almost apology that he hoped he’d done the right thing. I opened the first box. It was a Willow Tree sculpture of a mother with one child in her lap and another at her knee. Beautiful in its simplicity, it spoke volumes about the love between a mother and her children. “It’s beautiful,” I gasped. And then, as the now all-too-familiar knife-slice carved another hole in my heart, “But now there are only two…”

“Open the other box,” he said. It was another sculpture from the same line, this time a single child with arms raised and hands held lovingly in the hands of an angel. There was the same simplicity of form and the same powerful expression of love and safety as there had been in the first. It was perfect. Just perfect. From a man I never gave enough credit for “getting it,” he totally got it.

My daughter gave me a heart-shaped locket. The locket had space for four photos. In it, she had placed a miniature likeness of each of my three children as babies. She told me she hadn’t known what to put in the fourth slot when she had been drawn to buy the locket months before. Now she knew, and what she chose for the fourth spot was my favorite picture of Cameron, his high school graduation picture.

My daughter grew up in between two brothers, one who constantly monopolized the attention of his parents because of the trouble he drew to him like metal filings to a magnet, and the baby who, by virtue of birth order, would always be a little more spoiled and a little less controlled than his older siblings. “Sarah in the middle, like the strings of a fiddle,” I wrote years ago, recognizing the tension her place in the family would always hold. And now with open heart, once again, she was giving the extra to the brother no longer here, putting her love for me ahead of her own need for comfort.

My youngest son gave me a children’s book, called Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney (Candlewick Press, 1995). In the story, a small rabbit named Little Nutbrown Hare tries to declare the size of his love to his parent, Big Nutbrown Hare. But Big Nutbrown Hare, being bigger, can always outdo any demonstration Little Nutbrown Hare can devise.

At the end of the book, Little Nutbrown Hare gazes up to the sky and asserts, “I love you right up to the moon.” Big Nutbrown Hare is impressed, very impressed. And as Big Nutbrown Hare tucks Little Nutbrown Hare in to sleep, he whispers, “I love you right up to the moon – and back.” It was a touching expression of love from a sixteen-year-old boy. It was an insightful reflection on parental love. It was a reminder that I still had two children here to love. And it was an affirmation that my love for Cameron could go all the way to the heavens and back again.

Five years later, I still remember that first Mother’s Day without my oldest son. But what I remember is not the pain, it is the love that binds a family through any crisis, loss or challenge. It is the love that carries a family “to the moon – and back.”

Copyright   2009 Claire M. Perkins.


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Claire Perkins

Claire Perkins is a Transformational Arts Coach and award-winning author of The Deep Water Leaf Society: Harnessing the Transformative Power of Grief (Intuitive Journey Press 2008). After losing her eldest son to a drug overdose in 2004, Claire embarked on a conscious and creative journey of healing and personal growth. By using a unique combination of dream work, journaling, expressive arts and inner guidance, Claire learned that within this deep experience of grief a gift of profound spiritual transformation awaited her discovery. Claire believes that every loss you experience and every challenge you face can be used to fuel the next cycle of your own personal and spiritual evolution. She offers one-on-one coaching and workshops to help you move through grief into healing. Using gentle but powerful art and journaling techniques, she can help you to find peace with your loss and discover the gifts that may be buried beneath your grief.

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