Mother’s Day is May 8th. Founded in 1908 by Miss Anna Jarvis and first celebrated at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia, the holiday was created as a way to honor Anna’s own mother and thus, every mother.
And today, we still celebrate our mothers with breakfast in bed, glittery Sunday-School crafted gifts, and a little well-deserved pampering. It’s a sweet occasion all right; every mother loves to be embraced by her children. . . . unless she can’t be. For the mother of a deceased child, Mother’s Day—and all its wonderful traditions—can be bittersweet.
Maegan Roper knows. On Mother’s Day 2012, she was only five months removed from the death of her precious Ellanie Beth. Meagan and her husband Jeremy lost their daughter at twenty-two weeks due to a fatal birth defect called anencephaly. Since then, Maegan developed a special ministry to mothers who have lost a child at any age. Here, Maegan shares some of her personal experiences and ideas to help us reach those who grieve this Mother’s Day, and throughout the year.
- Listen well. Maegan didn’t need anyone to make the pain go away; she just needed the freedom to talk to someone willing to listen.
- Mention her child by name. Every mother loves the sound of her child’s name and every time you use it, you affirm to her that her child existed and that his or her life has eternal value.
- Care for her other children. After the loss of Ellanie, there were days Maegan couldn’t even make it out of bed. When she felt completely overwhelmed, good friends stepped in the gap to care for her 18-month old daughter, Emme. They played with her at the park. They showered her with love. They kept life normal.
- Assume routine chores that appear to her as insurmountable. Ellanie died December 4th. With Christmas approaching, Maegan desperately wanted to make Christmas fun for Emme, but it was beyond her. She felt nearly paralyzed in her ability to find her usual joy in the season. So one day a best friend called and said, “Maegan, get yourself ready; we’re going to Cracker Barrel®. You can talk about anything and everything, or you can choose to not say a word. And we’ll stay as long as you want.” The two friends stayed at the restaurant for five hours during which the friend help Maegan complete nearly all of her Christmas shopping in the Cracker Barrel Store®. (This oh-so-thoughtful friend had brought along a list of all the people Maegan would want to buy for.)
- Run interference for her in the workplace. When Ellanie passed away, Maegan was on a church staff. They encouraged her to come back to work only when she was ready. And then when she did, the staff protected her from issues, topics, or assignments they felt would be especially sensitive to her.
- Remember her on special dates. Be the friend who remembers your friend’s original due date, or her child’s birthday, or special holidays.
- Participate in her journey. Sadly, some of Maegan’s friends “fell off the map” during this tragedy. She didn’t hear from certain people, and admittedly, she wondered why. In hindsight, she gets it and harbors no ill-will. But take advantage of Maegan’s experience: It’s not what you say, but what you do. Be present and be faithful. Help your friend reengage in routine activities—drop by the coffeehouse; take in a movie, spring for a pedicure, do lunch and go shopping.
- Speak from the heart. “I’m so sorry you’re hurting.” “I love you.” “I’m here for you.” “How can I help?” You may feel these are inadequate expressions, but they need to be said. And heard.
- Avoid clichéd truths. “At least you know you can have a baby.” “Thank goodness you have other children.” “You’re still young; you’ll have more.” “God has a reason.” Yes, it’s all true. But as well-meaning as these comments may be (and of course, no one intends to offend), they don’t do anything to comfort a grieving mother. Nothing—and no one—replaces that loss.
- Pray for her. Ask God how you can help your friend: How do you want me to love her and reach her? He will give you avenues of ministry to this grieving mom. And just like Maegan, she will remember your love and kindness forever.
Epilogue: Meagan and Jeremy Roper have since also become the parents of Harrison Phillip Roper. They live with Harrison and Emme in Birmingham, Alabama. Maegan is an author and also writes a blog which you’ll find at http://maeganroper.adifferentremedy.com
Debbie Whisenant is a freelance writer from Nashville, Tennessee.