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Ja:goh! A Mother’s Day Reflection on When the Days Are Long and the Load Is Heavy

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When my son was born he was a load, weighing in at 9 pounds, 2.5 ounces. His Seneca name, aptly, is Ohnigodagweh: “He was wished for.”

I gave birth at a “birthing center” on Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in central New York—fitting I thought, since it is the birthplace of my people, the Seneca. I intended it to be “all natural,” no drugs, and to have him enter the world in a large Jacuzzi-size tub of warm water. It didn’t work out that way. He was breech and then transverse, and then apparently something sent him into distress—my midwife had to get me out of the tub in the twist and terror of mid-labor, and had to cut me wide to get him out.

He came out robust, healthy, and fine, with a blast of jet-black hair matted to his head. I called it a drive-by birth because they let me go home just a few short hours after giving birth; I didn’t even get a nap. Twelve hours later I arrived back home entirely unsure about what to do about anything and not so jokingly asked my partner if our new son came with an owner’s manual, giving direction on what to do in a quandary.

There is no definitive guidebook to help parents navigate through the quagmire of parenthood in this new millennium, with so many things to complicate and foul matters as they get older, beyond the obvious standard offenders of drugs, prescription drugs, synthetic drugs, alcohol, sex, sexting, and general teen dysplasia.

There are all the “What to expect” books to help guide you through pregnancy and for when your child is born. There is the Dr. Spock book on child rearing and care. There are the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books on a range of issues to help with coping. But for some matters, there just really isn’t a book with the ready answers or any amount of chicken soup that will help.

My son wants to go be with his Hanih’ (father in Seneca). It would be different if his dad were alive.

We are coming up on two years since his Hanih’ left to make his journey to the Sky World, after suffering a torturous, voracious, heat-guided, missile-fast moving, invincible brand of cancer. The loss is once again heavy on our minds and rewinds us back to those first months after losing him when we walked around raw with our guts hanging out, feeling in the dark for moorings.

There is no guidebook for the mom left standing on what to do when your 13-year old son speaks of suicide while fitfully nursing a gaping, wounded heart after losing his dad. There are few words to encapsulate the wrenching of the soul that turns you inside out when your child is experiencing some internal tectonic shift on par with a mega-thrust earthquake and the upheaval puts him in such a world of hurt, the best option to them seems OUT.

The affliction of lingering loss is infectious and my 10-year old daughter too is locked in its grip. She had a vivid dream last week where her Hanih’ pulled up in a big, black, shiny, new SUV and said he was going to take us on vacation. She was so happy to see him. He took us to the park and we had a picnic. He bought her a monkey. They laughed and played and she was so, so happy. And then I woke her up. She cried for days. She just wanted to be back with her Hanih’.

She slept with me the next night and I awoke to her whimpering in her sleep. I softly stroked her hair, hugged and comforted her and whispered “Its ok. Mumma’s right here.”

A day or two later she came to me again, her face scrunched up with worry, and asked, “But who’s going to walk me down the aisle?” I pulled her into me and held her tightly, letting my sweatshirt soak up her tears. “I will,” I told her. “And Hanih’ will be there in spirit, because we wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

The following weekend we cleaned the inside of our car immaculately. After we were done I gave her a hug and told her I wanted to make sure we had a nice, clean shiny car because I didn’t want her riding off to the Sky World with Hanih’ because I would miss her and I just couldn’t take losing her. I told my son the same, reminded him that he was wished for, and that I couldn’t wait to see what he was going to become.

You comfort, you guide, you provide reassurances, you validate their feelings, you run with heart-a-pounding to crisis counseling. You tell them they have a whole life to live and things to experience and that there is a purpose for them in life and it is up to the Creator to decide when it is your time. You try to get them what they need, but there are no bandages, no syrup, no pill for patching up that busted heart.

You scratch and claw and blame yourself for not being enough, not paying enough attention; falling short. You cry yourself to sleep, if sleep can be found. You forget to eat, or you just can’t because your mouth tastes like tin foil and your stomach is churning like a washing machine, only nothing’s getting clean.

I’ve never read any book that warned: Brace yourself! This solo parenting business may at times be hazardous to your mental health and it may feel like a life sentence—that the curve balls will keep coming, and the challenges will only intensify.

I wish there were a self-help shelf at the pharmacy or the natural foods store, where you could get some homeopathic concoction akin to emotional steroids. Something that would build your defenses and make you emotionally stronger and better equipped to handle the crush of your child’s bewildering loss and lift the staggering weight of their sadness and hopelessness.

I am now left to be mom—and dad. It is hard work and I too wish we had Hanih’ here to play lacrosse in the front yard, to have those father-son talks, fulfill those father-daughter rituals, to help us figure out how to fix the low flame on the grill, or to simply brighten our day with that dimpled smile that landed me in the first place.

I know that there is a sisterhood of solo moms out there. We do the best we can with what we’ve got and most times there is little to lean on. We kiss the booboos and try to put our Humpty Dumpty kids back together again. I pay tribute to all the Ind’n moms out there who soldier on when the days are long, the load is heavy, and the future looks dim. There is no guidebook and it is entirely insufficient, but I send out a Ja:goh! (stay strong!) to that army of solo moms—because mostly, that’s all that we can do.