Monday, May 14, 2012

To Mother a Grave

I read an article the other day on a favorite website of mine for parents of children not here. It used a phrase that stuck with me in a profound way. "Mothering a grave." The author was talking about being torn between mothering her living child and "mothering a grave." I had never heard that term before, but the minute I read it I realized it so perfectly described something I just can't put into words. In three little words it portrays heartache, love, service, tears, tenderness, loss, loneliness, nurturing, protectiveness, and devastation. It puts into words what we so often cannot; what it is like to continue after burying a child.

Almost one year ago I began my journey of mothering a grave. I never, ever, in my wildest dreams thought I would outlive one of my sweet babies. When I think of cemeteries, especially that particular cemetery where all of my grandparents are buried along with Lily, I think of peace. Of death, yes, but more like finishing a long race. My grandparents were mostly very old when they died, after 80 or more years of fulfilling lives. I have been to a lot of funerals, many graveside services at that very cemetery, and they all had a tinge of sadness, but they also had a feeling of peace. Of a fight well fought. Of a book coming to a close after a satisfying story. Sad to see it end, but satisfied with the story that was told.

When we buried Lily there, I felt nothing of the sort. It was as if I read two chapters and just when I was getting excited to see how the story would unfold, someone ripped the only copy from my hands and burned it before my eyes. There was nothing peaceful about it. I was left standing there, flabbergasted, offended, empty handed.

I remember when each member of my family laid a lily on her tiny casket after the service. They each said a little goodbye. A little kiss,  a prayer, a gentle touch of her casket. Then it was my turn. Josh and I went together. I touched the little box that held my baby girl when I couldn't. I read the verse my father had inscribed on it when he made it for her. I put my lily down. And then I sobbed. I knew she was in there. I knew she was laying in that box with her little pink blanket and her teddy bear and her Bible. I knew she was right there. Just inches from me. But that I would never see her again. She was so close, but so. Incredibly. Far.

I believe with my entire heart that she is not in that box, that she never was, really. She is perfect and whole and in the presence of our Savior, and I know I will get to see her again. I will spend forever with that sweet girl. But I have a long road to travel here on earth before that happens. Years upon years, hopefully, before I am called home to be with her. And until that day, I cannot mother her the way I wish I could. I mother a grave instead.

What does it mean to mother a grave? It means putting the little energy you have left for your child into mothering the little piece you have left of your child. It means stopping by the cemetery on all the little holidays because it just wouldn't feel right if you didn't. It means fretting over grass that isn't coming in fast enough over the spot where she lays. It means carrying a spray bottle and a wash cloth in your car so you can clean up her stone in case you decide to stop by, because just like the toddler you don't have, it is somehow always getting dirty. It means buying flowers at Hobby Lobby whenever you go, because they'd look so pretty on her grave. It means sitting on the grass and staring at a stone you just polished holding flowers you know will be gone the next time you come, and crying. It means mothering your child the only way you can when they aren't here to mother.

I don't know how it is for every woman who mothers a grave, but this is how it is for me. It is sad. It is empty. It is not fulfilling in the way mothering Jake and Eisley is. It does not bring any rewards. It does not include any kisses or hugs or tickles or lisps or laughter. There are birthdays but there is no joy in them. Only the realization that you have gone one more year without them here. It is an anonymous task. No one knows when you have spent the morning mothering that grave. No one knows you just left flowers and a windmill for someone you know will never see it. There is no product of your tears, there is no pride in the one you have invested in. It is just you and that grave. But you mother it anyway, because that's what a good mother does. She invests her time and her tears into something because that is where a piece of her heart is.

I know Lily is buried there, but I know she is not there. So why do I go? Why do I clean it up and leave pretty things and take pictures now and then? Why do I feel a pull to that place when I know Lily has no idea I'm going and wouldn't care if she did? I think it is because Lily's little body isn't the only thing that was buried there that day. I left a piece of myself there. With her, in that little grave, is part of my heart. A piece of me that I miss so much sometimes.

I think I also just wish, so much, that I was mothering her the way I always planned to. But since I can't, I will mother her the only way I can. I will make sure her stone is clean. I will leave her lilies. I will make sure people who walk by her grave know someone misses her and loved her so much. I will do those things because it is all I can do for her. That, and live my life in a way that will honor her memory.

I am a woman who mothers two children in my home, and three in my heart. I do not have a tangible piece of two babies I lost so early they barely had time to exist anywhere else but in my dreams. But Lily fought on long enough for me to hold her, to marvel over her, to name her, to mother her, to bury her. She left something here for me to assure me she did, in fact, exist. I'm heartbroken at times, that I have nothing of her but a grave to mother. But I am also thankful that the Lord let me have her long enough so that I have something to remember her by. Something to visit, something to put my grief induced energy into.

There is a cemetery that holds a tiny grave that holds a tiny baby girl. Her name is there, set in stone. She always has flowers. She sometimes has toys. Her stone is always clean. Grass has sprouted where tears have fallen. She is remembered, and always will be, by her mother. For as long as I am here, I will mother that grave, because it is all I have left of her here on this earth. But someday. Someday I won't mother a grave any longer. I will mother the little girl I dream about when I am mothering that grave.

Revelation 21:4
"He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.


  1. Thank you for sharing your heart. *hugs*

  2. I am so sorry for your loss. I know what you mean that you feel lost. Our first child Anna was born and lived 45 minutes. It's been 29 years, and I think about her daily. The what ifs. I am so thankful to know she is not alone, she has 2 grandpas up there with her. And her Creator, who blessed us with her. And the children we've been blessed with since then, 3 biological and 2 adopted. I don't always understand God, but I still believe.

  3. Oh, Karen, I can't even imagine your pain, but I love the beauty and truth in your words. In sharing your pain, you minister to others. I know it's not how you would wish it to be, but you have walked this road so bravely, and I admire you so.