Updated: May 28
It's no surprise that Mother's Day isn't a day of celebration for moms who have lost a child. I have to wonder though if they realize the irony behind it for mom's who have lost a child to suicide or overdose. Mother's Day is defined as a day of the year on which mothers are honored by their children. To be honored is to be treated with great respect. Yet, many of these moms are consumed with guilt and thoughts that they weren't a good mother while their child was alive. Our society tends to encourage these thoughts through the stigma that is placed on their child and their family. This can make them feel like they don't deserve to be honored or respected on any day.
As the mother of a daughter who struggled with substance use disorder, I was faced with many situations that tested my abilities to be a good mother. I didn't always make the right decisions. Some of my choices were made out of love and the heart wrenching need to save my child. Other decisions were made out of the need for my sons' and my own survival.
Recently, I read an article about families who had a child or children that struggled with addiction and were now in recovery. They admitted thoughts or actions that they had during those difficult years with their child that were similar to ones that I had years ago. Through the years, I had felt immense guilt over decisions I had made but reading the words of those other families who had similar thoughts/actions gave me comfort knowing I wasn't alone.
One such time was when my daughter was involved in a terrible accident and was taken to the emergency room with a brain injury. I knew she had been reckless once again and my initial response was to think, "What had she done now?!". I considered not going to the ER until after work instead of rushing there like I would normally do. A friend told me that I might regret not going immediately so I went and found her in the intensive care unit.
The difference between those families and mine was that their child survived and mine did not. My daughter, Ashlee, passed away on 09/11/2013 from an opioid overdose. When two different families implement tough love or make difficult, controversial decisions and only one family's child survives, their actions are often viewed differently. While they may have made similar choices, the family who child survived is viewed positively while the family who lost the loved one is blamed. I hope that sharing parts of my story will help moms who have had similar thoughts or made similar decisions feel less guilt and shame.
Due to COVID-19, the number of teenagers and young adults suffering from mental illness has dramatically increased. Unfortunately, the number of overdoses and suicides has also climbed. I have seen firsthand the exorbitant number of moms who are struggling to understand and help their kids while trying to navigate their own stress and anxiety.
To all of the moms out there that are trying desperately to listen to and understand what their kids are going through but can't...YOU ARE A GOOD MOM!
If you have hidden in your room and locked the door or found excuses to leave the house because you need a break...YOU ARE A GOOD MOM!
If you have yelled at your child, telling them they need to stop being so dramatic and learn to accept and adapt to changes (or maybe you used more choice words in the moment) ...YOU ARE A GOOD MOM!
If you look forward to the day that they are no longer a burden or disruption to your house...YOU ARE A GOOD MOM!
For every one of these moments, that same mom has been their child's strongest advocate fighting for the best care for their physical and mental health.
She has jeopardized her job by taking days or even weeks off work to make sure her child isn't alone on bad days.
She has sat with her child during numerous support groups and counseling sessions.
She has fought for her child to receive the educational accommodations they need to be successful.
She has continued to support her child even after they have tested limits and boundaries again and again.
She provides love and support even when it isn't returned.
She has put her dreams and needs on hold to make sure that her child survives.
This picture is how I choose to remember my relationship with my daughter and the type of mom I was to her. Of course it wasn't always like this between us, but the fact that it was at all gives me some peace. It also gives me hope that I have done a good job raising my two sons.
Happy Belated Mother's Day to all of the moms who are struggling and dreaming of better days. You will get through this!