When a wife loses her husband, we use the word “widow” to describe her new identity in the world. But when a mother loses her son, there is no special word for her. She’s still a mother.
I wish there were a special word for my identity as a grieving mother.
I am learning to live with grief. “Do you have children?” people ask when meeting me for the first time. “Yes, I have two children,” I say. “My daughter is a middle-school teacher in Philadelphia and she’s busy talking care of my grandson, baby James.” If the conversation moves to grandchildren, perhaps then I won’t have to explain about my other child. My lost time traveller.
It hurts that I dread these conversations, which are generally well-meaning efforts to get acquainted. I’m a social person and I want people to know me. But I have seen conversations get truly weird when I add the next sentence: “My son, Roger, died in 2016 at the age of 28.” People’s faces turn ashen. They are silent, not knowing what to say. I’ve sometimes had to comfort them, explaining that although I miss my son very much, I love to talk about him because his life, although short, was so amazing.
Today and everyday, Roger is perpetually in my mind and heart. Certain triggers will call him especially close to me. For example, when I see an elderly lady walking on a city sidewalk with her adult son, I can dissolve into tears.
Once, I fell completely apart when I saw a teenage boy and his mom walking on the street and the boy was explaining a powerful enchantment in Magic: The Gathering. How this scene brought Roger back to me!
My family and friends can tell when these moments come upon me sometimes, but other times, it’s all in my head. Roger’s absence is now etched permanently into my soul.
Grieving mothers are still mothers, whose lost time travelers have a permanent and eternal place in our hearts.