Poems & Essays

15 May

The Sisterhood of Bereaved Mothers–Fourth Place Winner

General/Column 7 Responses

Within hours of learning that the paramedics couldn’t resuscitate my fourteen-month-old daughter, it dawned on me. I had joined—unwillingly—the exclusive Sisterhood of Bereaved Mothers. One day it would be my job to comfort someone caught in the horrific agony that now washed over me. That knowledge awed me for a moment—and then I returned to grieving.

Soon I connected with members of the club. My neighbor had lost a son at three days old. As soon as she told me he was buried in Acacia Park Cemetery, I knew our daughter, Acacia Lanette, must be laid to rest there. Lanette, a pastor’s wife, our daughter’s namesake, shared Scripture that had consoled her when her daughter—who suffered from a different trisomy disorder—died. Acacia had Down’s.

My three sisters-in-law sprang into action planning the funeral. Picture boards, displays, flowers, and framed poetry graced the church foyer. My mother-in-law hosted a reception after the service where friends and family gathered to bolster our spirits.

Returning to my home afterwards with my parents, who had flown up from Texas for the funeral, I was still overwhelmed by the day’s outpouring of support. Mom was, too.

“Everything was so beautiful. The women from your church are so nice.”

Mom didn’t often initiate conversation, and her voice seldom betrayed emotion. Her schizophrenia and the drugs she took for it flattened her affect. Her poignant tone surprised me.

“When I went back to church after Esther died, no one said a word to me about her.” Esther, Mom’s second of ten, had died at age two in a house fire. Mom had suffered severe burns and a mental breakdown that hospitalized her for two years.

My heart dropped to my toes. Never in my life had I heard Mom mention Esther without being prompted. How deeply, almost fifty years later, the silence of her friends still stung.

“Did you ever have a funeral for her?”

Mom shook her head. In fact, she didn’t know what had happened to Esther’s remains which, I knew from family lore, had been found behind a chair. Dad didn’t know either.

Was that possible? I pictured Acacia’s white-and-gold coffin being lowered into the grave beneath the serene grandeur of a spreading oak. But what of my sister’s remains?

“I think Gertie had them,” Dad said sheepishly, eying the carpet.

I had inherited my telephone phobia from Mom. But this call, I knew, was mine to make.

Dad’s sister Gertie seemed glad to share at last. “We waited for years for your folks to tell us what to do. Finally we buried the remains beneath the oak in the back yard.”

I gave the phone to Mom, and Gertie apologized. Mom said it was okay.

Belated healing had sprouted from Acacia’s funeral. Since the modern Sisterhood knows no vow of silence, I was able to attain long-overdue comfort for a woman who had joined forty-eight years before I had—my own dear mom.

 

 

 

Rebecca May Hope, the mother of six children (including Acacia, who was her third), has home schooled her kids from kindergarten on. Only one is still in school, and within the last year the three oldest have left the nest. During the school year Rebecca teaches writing and literature for middle school and high school students and is an adjunct English professor for North Central University in Minneapolis; during the summer she teaches reading enrichment programs for all ages through the Institute of Reading Development.

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7 Comments

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  1. Deb Brist

    May 15, 2017 at 4:44 pm

    I am one of the sister-in-laws that “jumped into action.” We grieved deeply with Rebecca and wanted to celebrate the life of a little one gone too soon. Two years ago we were together in Duluth MN on the anniversary of Acacia’s home going and placed stemmed flowers in her memory at the Angel of Hope Memorial at Leif Erikson Park. It was a moment that brought us back all these years later to remember a sweet little girl that God blessed our extended family.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Hope

      June 22, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Thank you for being such a wonderful support through everything!

      Reply
  2. Lorna Rose

    May 16, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Beautiful essay! Thank you for sharing your pain and how it can help others heal. I too have a relative with schizophrenia, so I can relate. You will see your daughter again someday.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Hope

      June 22, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks for those words of encouragement. Bless you!

      Reply
  3. Suzi Banks Baum

    May 18, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    Thank you Rebecca-your name is your writing mantra. I am sure you have heard that before, but even in your grief, you make room for all of us to hope. Thank you for this piece. xo, S

    Reply
  4. Rebecca Hope

    June 22, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    🙂 I haven’t thought of my name as a mantra, exactly, but I like that! My mother gave me “Hope” as my middle name, and I chose it for my last name when I divorced. I believe I received my optimistic spirit from her–and from Jesus, of course, who is really my hope.

    Reply
  5. Kristy Lynn Odland

    June 23, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Hi Becky.
    Mixed tears of sadness and joy as I read this. To have been there with you during that time is still one of my greatest honors in life. I still have a picture of me holding Acacia in my lap.
    Loving her still, Her Favorite Aunt Kristy

    Reply

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