Mother’s Day — Not for everyone

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day.

Jesse killed Bella then himself on May 8, 2014, three days before Mother’s Day that year. Raffi wanted to go to a park where her circus teacher was doing demonstrations. I of course said yes, as I was trying to do anything to give her some joy after having to tell her what happened two days prior. But as I walked into that park on that sunny day, in shock, dazed, and numb, I saw probably every four year old dirty blonde, curly haired girl in all of Portland. Of course. I then swore off Mother’s Day.

I managed this for the following two years. Both times we were out of the country, so it was easy. The first was in Costa Rica, the second was in Europe. They don’t advertise like crazy and if you didn’t know it was Mother’s Day, it would pass right on by, which it did for Raffi. Thankfully. Of course it was not lost on me. Last year I had the double whammy of the anniversary falling on Mother’s Day.

The previous Mother’s Days were what you want and expect when you are a mother of two little ones. Kids running in with homemade presents and cards of sorts, wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day, doing things usually in a park, or going to do things that are fun for the kids. It was like that for me. And in retrospect, I realize how lucky I was, because not every mother gets that.

This year I was home. I just could not swing any more time off from work sadly. I thought though, hey, come on, I have made progress in some areas, maybe it won’t be so bad? Right? Yeah, no, not so much.

I had a full day planned full of wonderful things. Breakfast was to be made for me, a Timbers soccer game in the afternoon, followed by dinner with close friends who would understand if I was a mess. I awoke to a foggy state after weird dreams that led instantly to a feeling of panic in my body. I lay there trying to calm it down wondering how much medication I was going to have to take to get through the day. I tried to ground myself by touching my boyfriend’s arm, which usually works. Not so much this time as I found a soft spot on his arm, which my mind grabbed onto the memory of when I found Bella right after she died. PTSD is like that. Ruthless. You don’t control it. It grabs on whenever it can like a parasite not caring what happens to its host. I just about lost my shit when that memory hit. But, having had a lot of experience sadly with this, I somehow managed to get out of bed and splash cold water on my face. I know I can wake him up, and I have promised if it gets bad that I will. After I crawled back in bed, he was awake asking me how I was, and I was honest with a not so great answer. Knowing he can’t fix it, he held me tight, which is the bestest thing I could ever ask for. I shared a story with him, which I will share with you.

Bella was in pre-school when she died. She absolutely loved school and could not wait for kindergarten in the fall. She finally had a group of friends, and was a social butterfly, not that I expected anything else. She made all kinds of art projects, many of which are still hanging on my fridge. They had just finished a Mother’s Day present which she was going to bring home the next day. She was so excited about it saying that she made a present and almost telling me what it was, then remembering, then saying, no mom, I can’t tell you, it’s a surprise. I can recall the twinkle in her eye as she did that, it was the first present like this for me and she was bursting with a four year old excitement. I can’t remember if I went to her school the Monday after she died or the following, much of that time was a blur. I remember the tears of everyone there. I remember her teacher holding me tight. I remember the package of art along with this wrapped present that my daughter was so looking forward to giving me being placed in my hands. I can’t remember how long it took me to open it. I remember though my hands shaking as I carefully picked each piece of tape off not wanting to disturb a thing, hoping to preserve this last piece of her love that she wanted to share with me. I remembering sinking to the floor sobbing my eyes out seeing what she created wanting nothing more than her to give it to me with that twinkle in her eye, knowing that I could not have that. Ever again.

I am glad I tried to do Mother’s Day this year. I am glad I had someone by my side who held me tight most of the day. I needed to try for Raffi. She is still here and I am her mom. She wants to celebrate me because apparently I am doing a decent job in her eyes though I think I am screwing up most of the time. She worked all day Saturday on my card and gift and was so excited to give them to me Sunday. You can see and feel the love. But as with most things now, it is bittersweet. As much as I am in that moment with her, there is the after. That after holds the shadow of what should be but is not anymore. That shadow of where Bella would be giving me a card and present that she made. That shadow of the quiet and hollowness without her, an insatiable ache.

I know I am not alone in this. Any mother who has lost their child feels this. I have learned all you can do is the best you can do in any one day. I know there will never be a Mother’s Day that doesn’t have that shadow and incompleteness in my heart. I continue to show up, I continue to try and push through the walls my heart tries to protect itself with. This is yet another one of those walls that I run into. I continue to be grateful for those around me who know there are certain days that just suck, that they can’t fix it, but give me an extra hug or two. That hug, that is like the support network that keeps me standing some days, without, I wouldn’t be.

Raffi’s card from this year
The inside of her card
Mother’s Day 2014 from Maribella

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Stephanie Willard

Originally published at on May 16, 2017.