Against the natural order of things: for mothers who’ve lost their children too soon

I think of my late mother more frequently as Mother’s Day draws near. She held me as I took my first breath, and I held her hand when she took her last. It’s been 18 years now since she left this earth. I miss her a lot, but her passing was not unexpected. She was 84, in failing health and ready to take her place among the stars. Her death, though sad, was part of the natural order of things.

Recently a friend, Nancy Jo Reed, sent me a note expressing how motherhood doesn’t always fit the expected natural order. Nancy and her husband Tom lost their beloved son Chuck to cystic fibrosis when he was just 11. She thanked me for the stories I’ve written about my mother — and others — who are no longer with us. “Chuck died in 1981, and as the years go by, fewer and fewer people remember him or ask about him.” I felt the sorrow in her words.

For mothers who’ve lost children, Mother’s Day is bittersweet, even if they still have other dearly loved children.

Most unabridged English dictionaries include around 470,000 words — give or take a few thousand — but there’s not a word in English to define mothers who’ve buried children. However, in Sanskrit, an Indo-Aryan language — the ancient language of Hinduism — there’s a word to describe bereaved parents: Vilomah, which loosely translated means “against the natural order of things.”

This column is dedicated with love and respect to all the Vilomah mothers in my life. I did a quick tally of women I know who’ve lost a child. I came up with 31. There are likely others. I counted 23 from Columbus.

These children, gone too soon, were like your children. At birth, they were held in exhausted wonder by their mothers and were dearly loved as they grew. They went to preschool, played football and soccer, climbed trees, hosted tea parties, loved pets and sometimes got in trouble. They roughhoused with siblings and ran like the wind. They played piano. Sang in the choir. Forgot to do their homework. They picked dandelion bouquets for their grandmas. They built sandcastles at the beach and ate endless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

And always, in the background, were their mothers. Mothers who drove minivans to carpool kids to school and a multitude of other activities. Mothers who fussed over sick babies, taught kids right from wrong, broke up fights with siblings, enrolled them in music lessons, took them on vacations and made those never-ending peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Mothers who beamed at their child’s accomplishments, and sometimes shed tears of disappointment.

The difference from the rest of us is these mothers saw their children’s lives cut short. All the future dreams and hopes they had for their children were extinguished too soon. They buried children taken by illness, accidents, addiction and suicide.

I looked over my list of 31 mothers. Some of their children were very young when they died. Others were already launched in life. They were middle schoolers, social workers, college students, waitstaff, doctors, car mechanics, police dispatchers, golf pros, artists, bicyclists, and contractors … some I knew well and others at a distance. Death is the great equalizer. Does it matter if your Vilomah friend is Republican or Democrat? Christian or Hindu? Well-to-do or poor?

This Mother’s Day, consider reaching out to a Vilomah friend. Vilomah mothers, like Nancy Jo, want to tell you about their child who returned to the stars too soon. Like young Chuck Reed, they may be gone, but are never forgotten. Listen to these mothers’ stories. Say their children’s names.

Sharon Mangas is a Columbus resident and can be reached at sharo[email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].