Friday, 15 March 2013

Dr Joanne Cacciatore: Bereaved Mothers: The hardest job of all

With Mother's Day on 10th March (UK) just past us, Dr Joanne Cacciatore of the Centre for Loss and Trauma has kindly allowed us to publish the following post from her blog, which was written just prior to Mother's Day 2012. Thank you Joanne for allowing us to publish such a beautiful post. I am sure it is one with which many bereaved parents will identify. We hope you all had a peaceful and gentle Mother's Day.

It's almost Mother's Day of 2012.

A day for mothers. Tall mothers, short mothers, dark-skinned mothers, fair-skinned mothers, funny mothers, serious mothers, mothers with blonde hair and dark hair, curly and straight. Mothers who are emotional and nurturing and mothers who are an Aurelian-brand of stoic.

Mothers of living children and mothers of dead children.

There is nothing more painful in this world than facing day after endless day without your child in it. What could possibly be harder? Everything is changed- colors, textures, sounds, feelings. Us. We are changed.

Bereaved mothers look into the mirror and face a stranger. Who is this woman now? This woman without her child? How will she make it through this day, this hour, this moment?

The truth about being a bereaved mother is that it is exhausting. We cry until our tears become leather. Night after night, we beg God or Jehovah or Yahweh or Allah or Mother Earth for just one more day with our children. We cannot find our keys or our toothbrush or our parked car or our hearts. We strive to uncover the "why" but there are no good answers to those countless questions which taunt us and eventually collect webs in the backs of our minds.

And bereaved motherhood comes with many more sleepless nights than one could imagine as our arms burn to hold our children, our eyes cry out to see them, our ears mislead us toward voices which do not exist, and our legs carry us, repeatedly, toward their empty, lonely rooms.

No, being a mother to a child who died is no easy burden. It is the hardest job of all.

Our lives are a unique juxtaposition between two worlds, life and death and between two states of being: incredible, immeasurable sadness balanced against the will and pressure to live again and find joy.

It is a world where we often have to defend the dignity of our dead, protect their memory, and advocate for our right to feel…

It is a world where we go to bed at night secretly wishing we wouldn't awaken. It is a world where primal mourning takes over our bodies and our hearts feel as if they've been systematically excavated leaving a gaping, open wound in our core. It is a world where we are judged for our tears, and where we fear for the lives of those we love with an unfamiliar panic. It is a world of searching and yearning and pining for far longer than the world would allow, and incessantly seeking reminders of our children in the eyes of other children for a glimpse into what-should-have-been.

It's a wretched and indescribable longing which so many cannot begin to comprehend because they tuck their own children into bed at night, and they hug all their children on Mother's Day, and they are utterly, thankfully ignorant of this experience.

Nothing quenches the longing in our hearts for our children who died. Nothing. And this is how it should be. The place in our hearts- the one which belongs to our beloved child- is theirs and theirs alone. Our duty is to honor that place, to keep it free from detritus and from absorbing the hate of the world.  Our duty is to remember them so their place in our lives is one of beauty, a beauty beyond the material.

Our duty is to love them boldly, wildly, with every part of our being, and to carry their spirit into the world.

This Sunday is a day for mothers. All mothers. So please, this year, remember that bereaved mothers are part of the Mother's Day club.  Please, reach out to one or two and see their child, always loved, always missed.

They have a much harder job than the mothers who do homework, and dishes, and driving, and all-nighters, and cleaning, and laundry, and cooking- and one which will last until they take their final breath on earth. Perhaps, they are, as mothers go, the most important and hardest working of all.

Your name is upon my lips
your image is in my eye;
the memory of you is in my heart...


This post is dedicated to the many brave and tireless mothers and families of the MISS Foundation I know, admire, and love. Happy and Gentle Mother's Day from my heart to yours.


  1. This is so beautifully written and expresses exactly how I feel. Before last year, I had no idea how much a "Mother's Day" could hurt and that's even following my own mum's death in 2010. In 2013, the day was incredibly sad as I grieved the loss of my little Laura x

  2. The first time I read this post, the words "yes, yes, yes" just kept going through my head. That is why I asked permission to publish it here.

    It absolutely hits the nail on the head. We are still mothers and mothering a child who is no longer here is truly a horrendously heartbreaking job.

    Thank you Joanne for allowing us to publish this post here. xx