There is a very sweet little old lady who used to shop where I work. One day, I noticed a gold band on a chain around her neck. It had slipped out between the buttons of her sweater. She saw me see the ring, quickly tucking it back in, she explained she was a widow. Instantly, I knew the depth of her loss.

No word in our language conveys the type of loss a bereaved mother has experienced. One word is all I needed to hear from the elderly woman to understand this sad event in her life. When I hear someone is a widower, I know a man has lost his wife. When the word orphan is used . . . we know a child no longer has living parents. With seven letters, or less, a loss of such huge proportions is understood in definition.

I’ve often wondered why there is isn’t a word for us. To be honest, the wondering didn’t begin until after my daughter was killed because it’s not something I was forced to think about. Now I am. And I want to know why. The words I used as examples above carry within them the meaning of the loss. With the understanding of the loss we automatically extend condolences for the hole left in the person’s life. We may not intimately know what they are going through . . . but we know enough to be able to sympathize.

Broken mother. Mater Fractus in Latin. I don’t know Latin so this is just a guess helped by the internet. But I feel like a broken mother. I am a fractured soul. There should be a word that conveys this state of being. I know it’s very hard for those who have not lost a child to even comprehend what we go through. And a word or two would not be able to even begin to describe our situation . . . but there should be one.

Is there no word because nothing can hold the size of this loss? The heartbreak of outliving one’s child is unspeakable. No phrase is strong enough to carry it’s weight? No combination of letters which encapsulate the breadth of this path? Or is it because to put a name to it, a word that defines it, we might whisper it into existence in our own lives when it’s not visited us yet? I don’t know the reason why.

Maybe if there was a word we wouldn’t feel so isolated. Misunderstood. If a phrase could explain to others what our loss is, then the distance between us may not seem so far. If someone said to you, she is “mater fractus” then you would understand. I know it may seem a silly thing, to wonder why we don’t have a name, but it isn’t.

We feel invisible. Removed from those who have completely intact families. Unsure of where we fit into the world now. The only way others would know is when we voice our loss. Sometimes, it’s impossible to utter our truth, yet again, to a new person. To use the word’s “my child is dead” knocks the wind out of us. Often times, we just remain silent because it’s easier. We know we are hard to understand.

If a word could bridge that still space between the bereaved and others, imagine the understanding that would take place. Not only for us . . . but also for those who don’t know how to interact with a grieving mother.

The world needs more understanding and this is a good place to begin.

I'm a mother, artist, and writer. A decade ago I lost my daughter. I find writing, and painting, heal me. Sharing my story of loss and healing lightens what I carry. And, hopefully, my words help another along the way.

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