Posted by: njrigg | May 7, 2011

Mother’s Day – A Time for Reflection

Mother’s Day – A Time for Reflection

By Nancy J. Rigg

My mother’s favorite yellow rose

The month of May is upon us. We made it through our first heatwave of the season in Southern California. And now, for Mother’s Day, the weather is lovely. Spring flowers are blossoming. There’s a soft breeze. The sky is ever so slightly overcast. And families everywhere are gathering to honor the mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunties in their midst, as well as the honorary mums – women, who may never have given birth physically, but who have loved and nurtured beloved children throughout their lifetimes.


It is difficult not to think of bereaved mothers, who have lost a child of any age, by any means, including to drowning and in other devastating aquatic tragedies. Mother’s Day for mums who have lost a child can be a time of bittersweet reflection and heartache.

Some mums have lost their only child. Some were single mums to begin with, and are now quite alone in the world.

Some mums have lost more than one child – an unimaginable depth of sorrow.

The children of some mums remain missing, compounding this unimaginable loss.

Some mums have given birth after losing a child – bringing new joy into life.  But this does not dim the shadow of remembrance, or fill the empty chair at the dinner table.

There are many factors of grief that lend it a deep, quiet, personal tone. My fiance, Earl Higgins, lost his life at age 29, when he rescued a 10-year old boy who got swept downstream in a flood-swollen river.  At the time, we were discussing marriage and what it would mean to start our own family.  Dreams of a happy future together were swept downstream with Earl.  And after the initial shock and trauma wore off and my grief shifted its focus from the past to a vague thing called my future, there was a hopeful corner in my heart that longed to find new love, to find someone to marry, settle down with, and have children with. Sadly, although I dated other men and even fell in love with a couple of them, there was never anyone out there who loved me enough to want to commit to a relationship and build a life together.

Three or four years after Earl lost his life, I was surprised to discover that there was a physical ache inside of me to have a child, with or without a husband.  But the rational portion of my brain instructed me to be sensible, to consider how challenging it is to be a single mother – even an adoptive mother, which I was also giving thought to.  And I was reminded how important my father was in my own life.  Did I want to deny a child the benefits of growing up with a father, simply because I longed to have a child of my own?

As the years passed, I kept hoping and dating and enduring disappointment until the time came when having children was no longer a physical possibility. And here I am now, blessed with nephews, nieces-in-law and their delightful children. But they all live far from me and are quite busy with their own everyday lives.  I now spend far too many holidays on my own, including Mother’s Day.

Decorative vases with fresh flowers can cheer up any Mother’s Day.


If your mother has died, either in an aquatic accident, including swirling floodwaters, or due to some other cause, Mother’s Day may hold a different kind of pain. My mother died suddenly two years ago. My sense of this loss is still quite tender and I miss her a lot. I’ve made it through the “first year of firsts” – the first set of holidays, birthdays, and other special days of celebration, including Mother’s Day. And now, well into the second year, the active grief that accompanied the deaths of both of my parents has settled into a more quiet calm called “loss.” But there are times, like Mother’s Day, as I cast my eye upon the world, where families are gathering, laughing, and celebrating, when I say a simple prayer of thanks that I was blessed with a mother who gave me the strength to endure anything.

And I don’t want to overlook the children whose birth mothers parted from them, or even abandoned them, for many reasons.  Some of these children were adopted.  Others were raised by their fathers, grandparents, or other relations.  Some grew up in a vacuum of mother love, with a traditional Mother’s Day leaving a bitter taste.

Loss takes many forms.  And not all losses are obvious, or even validated.


What are bereaved mothers, wistful non-mothers, and bereaved children, who have lost their mums, to do on Mother’s Day?

In the Language of Flowers, Freesias convey a message of sweetness, friendship and trust.

Visits to a cemetery may be of comfort to those whose loved ones have a traditional burial site. But not all families who have lost loved ones in water have found and recovered the physical remains. This is a sad reality, something that many families must contend with.  There may be comfort in returning to the location where a beloved mother, or child, was last seen before being lost to the water. For some, this is am important and healing pilgrimage.

Building a web-based memorial site may offer a loving way to reflect on a child who has been lost, and ensure that he or she is remembered. Web memorials are also a beautiful way to honor a mother whose life deserves not to be forgotten.

There is an organization in Los Angeles for young women and girls who have lost a mother prior to age 23. “Motherless Daughters of Los Angeles” gathers on the day before Mother’s Day, hosting a luncheon, and featuring bereavement specialists as speakers.

And the “Compassionate Friends” organization offers guidance for bereaved families who have lost a child and are anticipating Mother’s Day.

What activities or projects, including charity involvements, have helped you honor Mother’s Day? Please share your thoughts with us. Good ideas are precious and worth sharing.

Whatever choices you make, be kind to yourself and others. Plant a tree, scatter wildflower seeds in your garden, buy yourself a special treat in honor of your child, your mother, and the generous women in your life, who have loved and cared about you, taught you, guided you, given you quiet, steady support through difficult times, and laughed so hard with you in times of unbridled joy that you have laughed yourself silly, even laughed yourself into tears.

Honor yourself.

Honor your loss.

Honor your love.

* * *

Paperwhite narcissis, with its intoxicating fragrance, is a sign of springtime renewal.

~ Nancy J. Rigg
The Drowning Support Network

Photos by Nancy J. Rigg.

All rights reserved.



  1. My heart goes out to all bereaved mothers today as well as those whose mothers have passed.

    • Serena, sending you much love always. These holidays can be so difficult.



  2. Beautifully written, Nancy – Thanks for taking time to write this – it’s very comforting

  3. Dear Nancy, dear coordinators, friends and NEW members: I hope you may find some peace today.
    Bittersweet is the right term for me, Sofía should be here but she is gone forever.
    Mother’s day in México is always celebrated on the 10th of May. So it is double for me…
    Thanks for being there for us, DSN has been the greatest support for me.
    Sofía’s mom (3-24-03 / 6-03-05)

    • Lucia, you are in my thoughts and prayers at this time. Different parts of the world mark Mother’s Day on different days, but know that we are thinking of you everyday, and sending much love.


  4. Hugs Nancy

    • Sarah, hugs to you, too.

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