A Mother's Love Never Dies

“There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”  

~ Washington Irving

Mother’s Day – it’s supposed to be a wonderfully special day for all mothers. But when you’ve lost a child – Mother’s Day can be a dreaded holiday.  When asked why she struggles with celebrating Mother’s Day, one mother said it was “because sometimes I feel like I failed Zach as a mother and I am undeserving as a mom.”

The loss of a child.  A mother’s biggest worry.  A mother’s greatest fear.  A heartbreak no mother wants to endure.

Meet Sue Warner.  She is one of the co-leaders of Hope United‘s support group for families who have lost a loved one to addiction, called The Well. She has been helping lead the group since its founding in 2016. Sue lost her son Zachary Warner on May 6, 2014.  Zach was a smart kid who loved soccer and was the lead singer in a garage band with his friends. He was kind, so much so, that he would give the shirt off his own back to anyone he met.  He practically did just that.  Sue remembers a time in middle school when Zach went to school in a brand new jacket, but by the end of the day, he had given it to a classmate who needed it more than himself.  Sue remembers Zach as a generous young man, but she also recalls how he never seemed to think he was “good enough”.  Maybe it was those feelings of self-doubt that led him down the path of addiction?

As time passed, Zach’s addiction grew stronger.  Fast forward to May 1st, 2014.  Sue found her son in his room, passed out from a heroin overdose.  After several days on life support, Zach was pronounced brain dead on May 6th, 2014.  From that day on, life would never be the same for Sue or her family.

Shortly after Zach passed away, Sue found friendship with my sister Shelly Bornstein, the Executive Director of Hope United, after the loss of her son Tyler on September 28, 2014.  You see, Tyler and Zachary were both graduates of Lake High School in Stark County. Both died of overdoses. Losing a child is a difficult journey, but when you add in the stigma, the shame, and the tragic circumstances that surround such a loss – it is sometimes hard to discuss it with just anyone. Because frankly, most people don’t understand.  

There were many conversations between Sue and Shelly over coffee or during long walks in the park. Several mothers began reaching out to them, hoping for some place to go to talk about their heart wrenching losses.  Sue and Shelly decided to start a support group specifically for families who had lost a loved one to addiction or an overdose.  They named it The Well.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” 

~ Maya Angelou

At the very first meeting of The Well in October of 2016 at a small church in Akron Ohio, there were approximately 25 family members in attendance who needed to find the same kind of support that they just couldn’t get anywhere else. The meetings continue today, with the support group gathering the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month.  Both Sue and Shelly help to guide the group discussions, with a project or activity occasionally worked into the sessions.  Sue’s dedication to the group for the past 2 ½ years has been nothing short of incredible and a huge blessing to Hope United.

While recently talking with Sue, I asked her what she has learned about grief.  Her overall thought was that grief is exhausting.  Sue is learning to find a new normal, but she is very insistent that this is something she will have to carry for the rest of her life.  Sue finds some comfort in leading The Well support group.  It is a place where she feels she is not alone, where she knows people understand the way she is feeling.  And there are times during the meetings that she is inspired by others on how they choose to remember their loved one and work through their own grief.

Through her journey of grief, Sue has learned to rely heavily on her faith in Jesus Christ to help her through the difficult times.  She will sometimes go back through her bible or seek out a favorite devotional book to help her out of a funk.

These past 5 years, Sue has learned so much about grief and she felt inclined to share her own bit of advice:

“Be easy on yourself.”

“Remember that the grieving process is not “neat”.”

“Understand that everybody grieves differently.”

“Let yourself grieve.”

“Remember to take care of yourself.”

Sue also shared some advice for family and friends who may not quite understand what a mother who has lost a child is experiencing.  According to Sue, the best things you can do are:

”Just be there.”

“Say his name.”

“Spend time with us.”

I thought these were great suggestions coming from a mother who is living with grief and so familiar with the feeling of isolation that can accompany the tragic loss of a child.  I had asked Sue if there was a quote or a verse that she would go to often to help her cope on difficult days.  She couldn’t think of one, however, she does remember this moment/song.  It is a chorus from “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” sung by Chris Tomlin. Sue would play it for Zach when he was in recovery. The night of his overdose, she played this song in his hospital room. The chorus took on a completely different meaning for her at this time. 

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free

My God, my Savior has ransomed me 

And like a flood His mercy reigns

Unending love, amazing grace

It was at that moment she knew that God had taken Zach into his arms.  There would be no more pain….no more addiction.

This Mother’s Day, let’s honor and remember all the brave, beautiful mothers who have been through the unthinkable – the loss of a child.  We may not know the right things to say to a mother who is hurting so deeply, but even a text, a call, or a comforting post on their Facebook page will let them know they are loved and that you are thinking of them. 

I don’t fully understand the pain of a mother who has lost a child, but as a mother myself, I do believe this:  The bond between a mother and child is everlasting. No matter how many children you have, no matter how old they become, no matter where they go, and no matter if they are living here on earth or as an angel in heaven - a mother’s love never dies.

In honor of all the mothers who have lost a child, I leave you with this:

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

~ Helen Keller

Wishing every grieving mother comfort, hope and love this Mother’s Day.