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Grief on Mother's Day

Coping over the holiday with the loss of a child


Mother’s Day is about celebrating the bond between a woman and her child, but for moms who have lost their children, the happy holiday can be a terrible burden.

“It can be excruciatingly painful,” said Heather Burress, who lost her first child to miscarriage in 2006. As a social worker, Burress has heard from other moms who also lost their children about feeling a deep jealously toward women pushing strollers or envy at the sight of a pregnant woman.

“It’s not that they wish ill will on other moms,” Burress said. “In fact, they have so much guilt and are so afraid of how they’ll react.”

After the loss of her own child, the Greensboro, North Carolina, woman felt overwhelmed with sorrow. Though she had healed physically, she was having trouble coping emotionally. Her doctor told her about a local support group called Heartstrings that helps parents deal with child loss.       

With the help of about 20 parents who had a suffered similar loss, Burress allowed herself to grieve.

Losing a baby no one ever knew is very isolating and lonely, said Nicole Mascia, a Greensboro mom who lost her baby, Carter, at birth. “I wanted to talk about her and let people know my grief was real,” she said. “It angered me when people said ‘You can have more children.’ ”

For parents who are coping with the loss of a child, Novant Health and Heartstrings are hosting a “Surviving Mother’s Day without your Child” presentation on May 4 at 2085 Frontis Plaza Boulevard in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 6-7:30 p.m. Additional information and registration is available here.

“Heartstrings provides support to parents who have lost a pregnancy, infant or child up to the age of 23, and the Living with Hope Mother’s day event is designed for and open to all of these parents,” said Ashley Wall, executive director of Heartstrings.

Beyond being a safe place where parents share their sorrow and story, Heartstrings encourages parents to memorialize the child. At a session, Burress chose the name Aran for her lost baby. Mascia made garden stones with Carter’s name to share with the family. They also planted a tree in the baby’s honor.

“I talk about Carter with my other children,” Mascia said. “She is part of our family and she is still with us.”

“When a child dies, everything seems out of control,” Burress said. “It’s okay to acknowledge these feelings rather than diminish them.” She encourages moms to start a journal to get at that hurt. Early in the grieving process, many things sharpen the pain, such as other women’s baby showers.

Both women said that you never get over the loss, but as time passes, the pain isn’t as raw as in the early days of the loss.

Mother’s Day was hard for a few years while the pain was still fresh, but Mascia said, "It’s no longer as painful as I focus on the children I have now. Now, it’s a happy time.”





Published: 5/4/2015