The Sisterhood of Bereaved Mothers–Fourth Place Winner
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.