The English language at last count contains nearly a quarter of a million words, not including the technical, medical or scientific according to the Oxford English Dictionary, yet there is no word for a childless mother.
Certainly there are words that describe women who have never or have been unable to have a child, most of them with a negative connotation, such as spinster or barren. But there is no word for a mother who has lost a child.
A child who loses their parents is an orphan; a spouse who loses their partner is a widow or widower, but a mother or father who has lost their child? There is no such word or label for that condition. Perhaps that is as it should be.
There is no loss like that of a child. In the natural order of things, parents are not supposed to outlive their children, yet all too often that normal sequence is reversed and a parent buries a child. Now imagine the amplification of that pain when the child being laid to rest by a parent is their only child. For these former mothers, was-a-moms, mothers of angels or childless mothers, all holidays are painful and something to be simply endured.
When the holiday is Mother's Day, the pain and weight on the soul can be unbearable, in part because there is no escaping it.
Every third commercial on TV is hawking the perfect gift for mom; every store advertises the great deals being offered in honor of the day; every restaurant tells you to book your reservations now for their fabulous buffet or special menu, so you can take mom out for a meal. It is one of the two truly universal holidays -- the other being Father’s Day, of course -- because let’s face it, if you are here, you had a mother, even if you aren’t a mother yourself.
In 1918, President Wilson approved a suggestion that rather than the traditional black arm band worn by those grieving the loss of a loved one in war, women who had lost a family member would have a gilt star on their arm band for each member of their family who gave their life for the nation.
Ten years later, a group of 25 women met in Washington, D.C., and established American Gold Star Mothers Inc. as a service organization. Their initial mission was two-fold: To comfort each other, and to visit and care for wounded veterans who were hospitalized often far from home.
Now there is a word or at least a label for a mother who has lost their child in combat, and that is Gold Star Mother. It is a designation that has been imbued with great honor in accordance with the immeasurable loss these women have endured.
The Gold Star label has even been extended to the entire family of a service member lost in war and there are formally chartered groups, such as the newly formed Gold Star Dads, whose Illinois chapter was officially recognized by a unanimous resolution in Springfield on May 2 of this year. There are also groups who meet, sometimes primarily via the Internet, of Gold Star Wives, Siblings and Children, but it all started with the Gold Star Mothers.
Still, there needs to be a word for the mothers who have lost their child on other than the battlefield. These mothers need and deserve a name, a label, some sort of recognition as well, even if they choose to use it only in the privacy of their heart. When a mother loses a child, the vast emptiness in her heart needs to be at least partially filled with some recognition and term of remembrance.