Say Her Name Please

I had a moment today, the kind that brings you to your knees, while I was at work. I am pretty sure I hid it well as no one asked me if I was ok. In truth, I physically stumbled as images tumbled through my mind. One connected to the next . . . going in and out of focus so quickly it made me feel nauseous. A sweet memory of a three year old Becca followed too quickly by the truth that she is dead. Nearly every thought a grieving mother has is punctuated by the truth of their child’s death.

When my daughter was three I rushed her to the doctor with a horrible rash around her mouth. I was frantic to find out what had caused it and if she was in serious danger! Had she eaten something poisonous? Burned herself somehow? Nothing made sense but I knew the circular red rash around her lips had to be examined. I remember crying in the waiting room as my toddler looked up at me with concern. Sweet girl . . . she was worried about me when she was the one who was sick! This made me cry even harder.

As the doctor examined her face he asked me questions. Were all the cabinets child proofed at home? Had she been left alone for any amount of time? Did we have a pet she might be allergic to? Was there a fall recently? None of those things were a factor in her condition. Then I remembered something. Relaxing a bit I shared it with the doctor.

“That explains it then,” he said, “your daughter has given herself a hickey around her mouth!”

The night before, Becca had been in the tub playing. Toys floated around her, and so did the cup I used to rinse her hair after I’d washed it. I’d often read, sitting next to the bathtub, while she played. At one point, I’d looked at her and she had the rinse cup suctioned onto her face, over her chin. I laughed at her and told her she was being silly! I also told her not to drink any of the bath water but I’m pretty sure she did.

Relief flooded me when I realized what had happened. After her nightly bath, I’d tuck her into bed under her Care Bear blanket, and say good night. The hickey must have darkened somehow, or I didn’t notice it in the dim light, either way . . . it wasn’t apparent until the next day. And then, of course, I panicked.

The image of my beautiful little girl with the creamy skin and red raspberry mouth and chin flashed into my mind today, out of nowhere. I don’t know what caused this memory to shake loose and float to the surface this afternoon. The happiness that was attached to the image, and the reminder of the relief I felt years ago hearing she was going to be alright, swerved into devastation when I remembered that not every situation turns out this way. I can no longer trust that “everything is going to be ok” because that last time . . . it wasn’t.

The days when I could see my children tucked snugly into bed, under my care, safe from the world are gone. No more can I kiss their boo-boos and make them all better. Kisses can’t fix some things. Moms should be able to make everything better, always. We know we can’t. And sadly, bereaved mothers have the proof.

Today’s experience of having the memory and following it to the end was a quick process. Bam, bam, and boom. She was three, beautiful, and full of giggling life. In seconds, she went from a toddler to my deceased daughter. I felt like a tennis ball, lofted into the air to be slammed back to the ground almost immediately. Soaring for a few exquisite seconds. What incredible seconds they were.

It’s like that though, as I said earlier, every memory is ended with the period of their passing. Thoughts all end the same. With identical punctuation. In grammar, a period is defined as being “placed at the end of a declarative sentence indicating a full stop”. My daughter wasn’t done writing the sentence the toddler in her had started.

And I wasn’t done reading her story.

When you think about Becca tonight, and I hope you do, please think of the giggling precocious little girl who smelled of sunshine and maple syrup. The small child who kept us all laughing. My daughter, the one who first taught me what true love really is.

Say her name for me . . . and smile.

 

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Her Angel

I often wonder if bereaved mothers judge themselves more harshly than the average person does. We can be pretty ruthless when noticing our own behavior.

Are we mourning correctly? Too much? Or, the right amount? Not enough? Did we laugh too soon? More often than we should? Are we supposed to go on the vacation we already had planned? How long is it appropriate to wear black? Should we mention our child when no one else does? How do we know if we are grieving the loss of our child appropriately?

First let me say this: someone . . . somewhere, will have a nasty comment to make about how you are surviving in the aftermath of loss. The remarks usually start with “Did you see . . . “ or “How could she . . . “ or “Isn’t it time that you . . . “. The last comment is the one that really gets me because all too often it comes from someone who hasn’t buried one of their children. But this blog isn’t about the insensitivity or lack of knowledge that outsiders seem to bring to us. This piece of writing is about how severely we can judge ourselves.

Monday morning, Stacey and I were having breakfast before a meeting I had for an art show. Sitting in a local eatery, we were chatting about what was on the TV and probably making inappropriate comments about one thing or another, when she started to scroll through her emails.

“Oh”, she said,”here is one about the scholarship.”

She then proceeded to share with me the particulars of the letter. A memorial scholarship has been started in Mckenna’s honor and the first one was presented this year. A 2018 graduate, who is furthering her education in theatre and music was awarded the scholarship. Mckenna was quite gifted in music and acting and Stacey wanted to help further someone else’s dream because she can’t help Mckenna achieve her own.

Stacey said, multiple times, oh that’s lovely. Oh, how wonderful. I’m so happy. Which I am quite certain she was . . . but with the acknowledgement that this girl received the honor to further her dreams it was a reminder to Stacey that her daughter won’t. This scholarship only exists because Mckenna was killed and there is no way to get forget this fact. So, in the middle of the restaurant, Stacey started to cry. And then what did she do? What we all do. She apologized.

I don’t remember her exact words but they were something like: “I’m sorry. I think I’m doing good and holding it inside and then all of a sudden I’m crying.”

That statement holds so much heartache. There is the surface sadness, the sadness we expect when we’ve lost a child, but there is so much more mixed in there as well.

“I’m sorry.”

For what? You have no reason to have to apologize to anyone. Ever. Crying is expected. Tears are natural. Everyone cries. Please, don’t say you are sorry. Cry when you need to. No explanation is needed to anyone. Tears are a healing necessity on this path.

“I think I’m doing good and holding it inside and then all of a sudden I am crying.”

Holding it inside is “doing good”? By whose standards? In saying that holding it in is doing good it implies that letting it out is doing bad. Why is that bad? We’ve been conditioned to believe emotions are troublesome and shouldn’t be shared. Being sensitive is seen as a fault. Somehow, society has morphed into a space where we have to keep what is considered “extreme emotions” hidden away. I think this is a huge mistake. It removes us from one another.

But, back to how we judge ourselves in context to how we behave in grief.

Stacey and I have talked endlessly about nearly every aspect of mourning the loss of a child. We always agree that our culture sucks when it comes to both actively grieving and interacting with others who grieve. Both of us think part of our “mission” is to spread awareness about child loss and parental bereavement. When we see another mother crying . . . we understand why. We are compassionate. There is safe space. We can extend this to another, knowing it is what the mother needs, yet we can’t seem to offer it to ourselves. I know Stacey would sit with me for hours, if I wanted her to, so I wouldn’t be crying alone. I would do the same for her. And, there would be no reason for an apology or even the slightest thought that the other was failing. Yet, again, we don’t offer that kindness to ourselves.

It seems we can talk a good game, in theory, but it’s putting it in practice on the playing field where we falter. We still think we are putting others out when our grief overwhelms us and spills into the moment. How do we change societal views when we have trouble changing ourselves?

I guess it’s in small steps. One tear at a time. We didn’t learn to live without our child in one afternoon. Or in a year. Hell, it’s been a decade for me and I still don’t know how. We do the best we can in the smallest of moments.

All judgement has to stop. The judgement from “outsiders”. That which grieving moms have for each other at times, and especially the thoughts in which we hold ourselves up to an impossible yardstick. My way isn’t your way and vice versa. And it shouldn’t be.

Find your way without faulting yourself for the little moments of the journey. Let others find theirs. We are all heading in the same direction, like a spoke of a wheel, toward the center of spirit and healing. Be kind to each other.

Be kind to yourself.

Note: The featured image above is painting Stacey Hilton did of herself and her angel daughter, Mckenna. I’d like to thank her for allowing me to share her story and her pictures in my writing. It adds a dimension that I couldn’t share on my own.

 

 

Pieces Of Her

This past Monday, I drove over the spot where my daughter was killed. My friend, Stacey, knows I try to avoid the north part of the city at any cost, especially that section of highway. She’s even shown me an easy off, then back on, so I can bypass that area. As we drew closer to the exit I would need to take to in order to do so, I decided that I wasn’t going to avoid it this time. Heading onto the segment of road, where my daughter took her last breath, was something I needed to do. I wasn’t sure why, though. I just did it.

I tossed and turned for most of that night. Sleep eluded me. When I nodded off I was barely under. The thin dreams, I did have, were full of Becca. Young Becca. Older Becca. Angel Becca. It wasn’t until mid afternoon the next day, when I realized that a new truth about this journey of child loss, was being birthed. My soul struggled with the enormity . . . trying to put it into a concept I could understand. The dark uneasy hours were labor. When daylight came, the truth revealed itself and was born into existence.

Grieving mothers must gather the pieces of their children that are scattered across the world.

Last week, I went into a grocery store that my daughter and I had visited, years ago. The layout of the store was the same. I could picture her moving back and forth, across the aisles, as she had long ago.. In my heart, it was as if I had stepped back into time. But my head knew differently. I doubted anyone, working in the store now, had been there that day we had gone shopping. No one would have seen Becca skipping around, chattering continuously, as I followed her wherever she went. To me, though, her spirit was still there. I could see her.

When I left the store, my heart was torn into pieces, and I was overwhelmed with feelings. Being somewhere our child had known, for the first time after their death, is very difficult. The only way I can describe the feeling of longing and pain is to say it’s akin to a starburst exploding from our hearts. The ache is just too powerful to keep inside our chest.

A small voice, speaking from the center of my soul, whispered to me on the day of this truth’s birth. The soft words said: “Yesterday, you gathered the pieces of her she left there that day. Your soul whirred around her and she was pulled into your being. You carry them now, and forever. You are putting her life back together.The pieces of her life are still there . . . for you to find. Keep looking.”

This thought makes me feel joy! It makes me want to sing! I can still care for my child in this very intimate way.The life we had together has not been destroyed completely. Don’t misunderstand me. I would give anything to have my girl back with me. Without a second thought I would give my own life.

There are days when the anger rages and I hate the unfairness of it all. Other days, I’m so bogged down in the sadness, I can only see a few more minutes of being able to survive this pain. Jealousy, of your intact family, comes to the front and threatens to spill out. Those are the hard days. The darkest of the days. When all I can think of doing is lying down and refusing to continue with this new broken life. The thought of watching the snow, fall from the sky, as it covers me . . . seems a peaceful way to join my child. Like I said, those are the dark days. And I know, they will always come. I’ve accepted this.

Yet, now I know, there are going to be days when I will come across a piece of my daughter, unexpectedly. A beautiful golden moment where she existed, we existed, together. The initial pain will lay my chest open, yes, but it will also allow my soul to gently call to her’s and bring her home.

Our souls are entwined with our children’s long before they are conceived. They are tethered to us. Always connected. When I looked at each of my children’s faces, for the first time, I thought “well there you are!” They were familiar before I even saw them. They are part of us, and we, them. This is how it is meant to be.

My days will still hold much sorrow. It’s the price I pay for loving my child beyond comprehension. Now, I know there will be moments of blinding beauty and immense healing, too. What I do on my journey has become even more important. As her mother it is my calling to search for and gather all of her pieces.

And, carry them with me until we are together again.

Reaching the Past

One of my best friends absolutely loves Dr. Who. To listen to her explain the show, and all its intricacies, is quite interesting.Especially, the concept of “wibbily wobbily timey wimey”. A non linear progression of time. I will admit, I have only watched one complete episode of the show, so my knowledge is extremely limited in anything other than that basic definition given above. However, it is a concept my soul felt to be true, before I heard this phrase. This, and alternate realities or dimensions. And yes, I do realize that if we could go forward and backward, changing anything would be prohibited. But, I bet there is not one bereaved mother who would not jump at the chance to go back and save her child.

Eleven years ago, in 2007, my daughter had five days to live. Five short days. Today was the last Tuesday she was alive. Tomorrow . . . the last Wednesday. Thursday, the last time we hugged each other. If I could travel back to that very moment, that Thursday afternoon, I would hold her and tell her not to leave. I would bring her inside my house, and explain to her what was going to happen, and keep her safe. I would change this history.

Her last Thursday, and Sunday in the early morning, are the two times I wrack my brain over trying to get back to. I feel, if I was smarter, and could figure out a way to travel back, I would be able to save her. I just have to learn HOW. This is where the Dr. Who concept of time comes into play.

Reaching back through 11 years, or roughly 4,105 days, seems a daunting feat. The distance is just too far. But, as the calendar days stack up on each other, I only have to find a way to reach through eleven days. Much more doable. I once wrote a poem about Becca now consisting of memories and love and stories. If I could push all of those aside, all the gauziness, then I could grab her and drag her here. She’d be flesh and bones and laughter and embraces. We’d marvel at just looking into each others eyes again. I’d hold her and tell her how the world has changed since she’s been gone. And, how much better it is with her back.

It just seems so easy, in theory. And plausible. But, I am too dumb to figure it out.

As these next five days pass, I will become increasingly anxious, and will beat myself up because I can’t figure it all out. Today, I was supposed to spend some time with a friend. I cancelled because my mind just couldn’t get itself out of the loop: she’s gone . . . but you can change it . . . no, she’s dead . . . but you can figure it out, think harder . . . keep trying.”
Thursday, around three, I’ll be near a full panic because another chance to save her has slipped through my fingers. I’ll be silently screaming: damn it damn it damn it!!!! I just need to get to that moment. Saturday night, into Sunday, will be the other time I am frantic. I’ve slept through the time she was killed, 2:20 a.m., a few times in the beginning. Now, it’s my sacred vigil to be aware in the moment my child was killed. I talk to her, I sing to her, I cry. I don’t want her dying moment to go unrecognized. I wasn’t there the first time. I wasn’t able to help her then. I need to be there every time, now. This one moment, the minute just before, is the absolute hardest for me. Because, I fail every year. Just like the first one.

Which circles back to my feeling responsible for her death. Just like all bereaved mothers do. I always apologize to her for not being able to keep her safe. I have wonderfully supportive friends who would be by my side if I asked them. However, it’s a space in which I need to be alone. Just me and my Becca.

It’s a part of my healing journey.

So, I go to bed on the 21st, with the grief as raw as it was that day. The ache to hold her, stronger. The emptiness, deeper. The need to have her next to me, fuller. I can feel all of these, stirring in my soul, becoming insistent. As I fall asleep, I’ll let the notion of time travel, go.

Until this time next year. When I know she is close.

Daffodils

Roughly, four days had passed before I realized the small park, very near where I am currently staying, was “THE park”. Maybe because it’s been years since I’ve seen it. Or, because when I picture this spot in my head . . . the leaves are green and the gentle slope of land is covered with bright yellow daffodils. Today the trees, barren for winter, don’t offer much in the way of cover from the cars passing close by. The houses seem too near for there to be any privacy. Then again, I was much smaller on that late summer afternoon when my uncle took my hand and I waded through the flowers and into the trees.

I am not generally a “silver lining” type of person. Trying to find the good in every situation can be exhausting. And, sometimes, there just isn’t any good to be found. Not everything betters us. Or makes us stronger. A shitty situation, is sometimes just that . . . a shitty situation. Period.

But, other times . . . events, as horrific as they are, can make us stronger.

Before my daughter was killed, one of the worst things that had happened to me was being sexually abused as a child. It seemed to affect nearly every single area of my life. From getting my period the first time . . . to giving birth to my daughter. And, everything in between.

To me, it seemed, every bit of information brought into my brain passed through the truth of sexual abuse. My thoughts were invaded by it. My self identity was shaped by it. The image, looking back at me from the mirror, was clouded by it. I just couldn’t escape, the effect it had on me, in any area of my life. It was a part of every decision I made. Always present. There was no freeing myself from it’s grasp.

Until Becca was killed. Then, it was a non issue. No longer did it matter. For the first time in my life, the thoughts of being forced to perform oral sex on an adult, were gone. Replaced by the the truth of my daughter’s violent death. Suddenly, I could live with the brutality of sexual abuse, as long as that was as bad as life got. I learned, on a cold January night, that it could get so much worse.

The transition from one trauma being the spider web my life was caught in, to the other, happened in an instant. As quickly as laying the old cloak aside to don the new. Everything changed. My mind shifted.

It’s sunny outside. Yes, but my daughter is dead. Dinner is ready, how can I eat, my child is gone. You need to go to take a shower . . . why, she isn’t coming back, ever. Diane, comb your hair, we have to go out. My hair doesn’t matter when my child has been killed. Your boys need you . . . ok, but they will probably die soon, too. There was no end into which the painful truth of my dead child could be worked immediately. There IS no end, actually. And just like that . . . the spider web became stronger.

There were times, in my young years, when I had to find a way to escape what was physically happening to me at that moment. I would locate the door, inside my mind, that allowed me to shut out the truth. I’d hide behind it until it was safe to come out. I couldn’t do this with the death of my child.

She was just on the other side of every single door. I could hear her laugh. Or, catch a glimpse of her through the small window in the wood. She disappeared around each corner, just as I was about to reach her. The edge of shirt sleeve slipping through my fingers. She was achingly close . . . but on the other side of the universe at the same time.

A handful of years, after her death, the memories of sexual abuse started to surface again. Tangled in with the heartbreaking thoughts of my deceased child. Initially, my thoughts drifted toward what my uncle had whispered to me every time: You aren’t worth loving. You don’t deserve love. No one will love you.” I interpreted these as: You didn’t deserve a daughter so she died. You weren’t a good enough mother . . . so she was killed. I thought, “Enough!!”

I’ve had a lot of inner dialogues with myself since then. What I’ve come to believe is this: I am strong enough to survive the loss of my only daughter because being sexually abused led me to my inner strength at a very young age. What a weird silver lining, right? Don’t think I am thankful for the hell I experienced as a child of four, five, six . . . I am not. However, I can recognize what I learned during that time and acknowledge that it helped me heal in my adult life.

I knew I had doors in my mind. Because of my uncle, I knew how to find them. There was strength behind those doors. A will to live. Hope. Peace. Courage. And, healing.

A few days ago I saw a pot of cheerful yellow daffodils, and without a second thought, I bought them. They no longer remind me of that late afternoon, decades ago, when I was violated in the park.
My daughter’s beautiful smile, that shone like the sun, is what I see in their petals. And as always, each moment in my day is passed through Becca’s having been my child.

As an added note: I don’t always mention my twin boys in my writing on grief. But, I wanted to share that I have flowers that make me see their smiles, too. Sunflowers. Tall and strong. Each like the other . . . but so unique, as well. Open faces turning toward the day, each day, with courage.

Whispered Messages

I am from a family of strong women. These strong women are creatively gifted. One of these women, in particular, seems to be another piece of me. A piece I didn’t know I was missing . . . but now, can’t imagine living without. This bit of writing exists because of a blog she recently wrote that made me consider, and write, a reply. Thank you, Linda, for knowing what I need when I don’t.

Growing up, my life was filled with rich imagination. Part of it, I think, was a way for me to escape the more difficult times in my childhood. There was another part, however, that knew (without any doubt) there were “others” in existence. Call them what you will: spirits, energies, beings, angels. Deep in my soul, I knew, we were not alone. Throughout my life, I’ve had instances when my inner voice has offered guidance . . . and I’ve listened. Other times, I turned away and learned well needed lessons. We all have this voice.

My cousin, Linda, asked in her blog if anyone else had heard these voices . . . and what they meant to them. Oddly, or appropriately, I’d been considering the return of my inner whisperings quite a bit lately. So, her question was a continuation of the conversation I’ve been having with myself that past few months!

I started my reply with a resounding “Yes!!” Then I went on to explain, my voice left me after my child was killed. It was no longer there. And I didn’t miss it. As it’s slowly returned, I’ve wondered why it went away in the first place.

One day, last year, I was walking through a store and I saw a sign that read simply “it is well with my soul”. I read it over a few times. I picked it up and ran my fingers over the words. And, I thought, it IS well with my soul. Then . . . I had the internal chastising all grieving mothers do: how can it be well with your soul when your child is dead? What kind of mother are you??

With a start, I realized, my soul is mending. Somewhere, deep inside, the broken pieces are starting to fit together. Hmmm, broken pieces. Is that why I couldn’t hear my voice for so long? My pain, rattling around my soul, like a muslin bag filled with shattered china teacups? Was the noise just too loud for anything else to rise above its volume? Maybe.

I also have to consider the fact, I turned my back on my inner guidance out of rage. Deep seated anger because it only whispered a small part of a bigger truth. Only half of the information I needed to know.

Around ten o’clock, on the night my daughter was killed, I had an ominous feeling settle on my shoulders. I knew something big was going to happen . . . but I didn’t know what. Feeling so strongly that my life was going to change drastically, I told my manager I wouldn’t be back to work. Four hours later, my child was killed on a cold dark stretch of highway. Why wasn’t I given THAT little piece of information? Why the bigger picture, but not the small part that would have saved her life? What kind of inner voice is that half assed??

How many bereaved mothers KNEW their child had died before they were told?

I am thankful to say that the inner whisperings of my soul, my heart, my guide, my ancestors, my kindreds . . . are with me again. I am also very grateful to have found, a piece of my family, that can help me on journey.

Grieving mommas, find other strong women, to help support you. This is a solitary journey, the loss of our child, but it’s one that can not be taken alone.

Mother’s Days After

18578515_10209592102466738_978814193_nI haven’t written a blog entry in a while. I’d have to check to see just how many days it’s been. The exact number isn’t important, but the reason I haven’t written is. To me. Mother’s Day just hits me like a punch in the stomach. The days leading up to it are full of anxiety, the day of is difficult, and the days following are full of sadness.

This past Sunday marked the tenth time the day of celebration for mothers passed without my daughter. As I’ve done since the first one, I pulled out a few things I have from past holidays, that she gave me. I ran my fingers over the paper of homemade cards as if they were made of precious materials. To me, they are. These things are irreplaceable. Let me take a moment to give you some advice: save it. Save it all. One day you might be happy you did.

Though this holiday is difficult for me . . . I know it’s harder, in a different way, for newly bereaved mothers. The first one is full of moments of denial. This can’t be real, you tell yourself. Images of last Mother’s Day flash into your mind as you line up the time, to a year before, and think about what you were doing with your child. Every piece of your soul aches to travel back to that day. Any day before your child died, really. Then the weight of the new reality crushes those memories with it’s truth.

On Sunday, I sat at a small Mother’s Day celebration that my friend’s family had. As we chatted, sitting in a circle in the shady backyard, I couldn’t help but notice the four kids sitting across the expanse of grass. Cousins, laughing with each other. Except, one of them was missing. You see, there used to be five. Until one was killed. Her mother, my friend, sat next to me, quiet. Curled into herself.

A few times, I asked her if she was alright. She said yes. We always say yes. The rest of the family, though aware of the huge hole that was left by murder, had all of their children around them. I know they carry immense and indescribable sadness but they can’t experience the pain that my fried carries for the loss of her daughter. I know they understand that holidays will be difficult . . . but I am not sure others can truly understand the depth of our pain on such days. Seeing my friend steeped in her pain, pain that was so real it flowed off of her in waves, broke my heart. I wish I could make it better for her. That I could make it better for all the bereaved moms I know. But I can’t. I can barely make it better for myself.

The Saturday night before Mother’s Day, my friend and I accompanied another mom to the site where her child died last year. She’d spread out a blanket under a huge pine tree, a tree that must have been over a hundred years old, and talked about her son’s last day. We listened to her as she shared her son’s death story. We all need to share the death story of our child. The creek slipped quietly by below us as tears fell upon our cheeks. There is sacredness in these moments. A connection to each other and to life. And death. It’s an honor when mothers share these stories with us . . . let us into their very small and intimate circle of pain.

Being a mother is a sacred act. Raising a child, caring for them, loving them, protecting them, teaching them . . . it’s the most important thing we can do with our lives. Both joy filled and heartbreaking.

The days that led up to Mother’s Day were filled with apprehension for me. I know it’s going to be hard . . . I just don’t know how hard. So I worry I might not make it through. The day of, though it’s been a decade, still brings memories from previous celebrations into my mind. I wonder if she knew how much I love her. If she knows the cards her little hands made were among the most precious gifts I ever could have received. Does she see me get them out every year and cry as I read them over and over. I hesitate as I look at the gifts from my sons, wondering if I should save them “just in case” and then think I am courting death if I do.
The days after are hollow and painful. There is a type of re-realization that Becca is gone for good. She’s not coming back. Even if I cry to the heavens that it’s been too long since I’ve seen her so she should be sent back. It’s a kind of bottoming out . . . again.

I’ve traveled far upon the path in my grief journey. I learn new things every day. But Mother’s Day will forever be one of things I circle back to again and again. One of the many times each year that I need to enter a space I’ve been in before, and work through it again.

Then I can use the knowledge I’ve gained to help the moms who are new to the grief of child loss. Next year, if you know someone who is a bereaved mother, please reach out to her. You will add some happiness to a sometimes very dark day by letting her know she is still a mom. And is remembered as one.