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On a Mother’s Day in 1975 in Maunabo, Puerto Rico, my mother delivered her eldest daughter. “You were my greatest gift,” she often reminded me growing up. And so the connection between Mother’s Day and womanhood and its direct tie to birth was deeply planted, and I walked the earth with a reminder that I was the fruit.
The birth of my own children provided endless joy and cause for celebration. More planting. More fruit. My son was born in 2004. A daughter soon followed and completed our family in 2006. Mother’s Day cards were made for our story. So were our stores, restaurants, and houses of worship.
And herein lies my question: What happens to the voice and story of the mother who has lost a child to gun violence? Or a person who has lost a mother to same?
Mother’s Day is not made for this. Mothers are not made for this. But I need anyone who loves a mother to be prepared.
On December 14, 2012, I sent two kids to school and only got one back. Our beloved daughter, Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, was murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Every day more moms lose a son or daughter to gun violence. Mother’s Day is never the same again.
Strip every ounce and angle of politics from the gun-violence conversation and what are you left with? Pain, grief, trauma—all often met with silence. Because no one wants to think about gun violence on Mother’s Day, or on any day. It is too frightening. It is too real. It is easier to convince ourselves it is something that happens to “other people,” or something that can be “prayed away.” My husband recalls that the night before Ana’s murder consisted of the usual routine—praying with the children in English and Spanish. And we couldn’t pray it away. A mother’s love could not protect her. That’s not how bullets work. That’s not how any of this works.
I hear over and over again from moms in my situation that their support systems fall apart. The all-consuming pain of grief can impact the ability to make and maintain connection—even among family and close friends. I hear from mothers that even gun-violence prevention groups often fail to care for the hearts of those moms most wounded. Public activism is seen as strength, and private grieving is seen as weakness. What gets lost is that strength and activism should not be conflated. Strength is grieving and surviving this. Strength is finding identity and your own voice again. Strength is finding love and hope and light in a world where you have seen a casket lowered in the ground—when that casket has your child in it. Sometimes this includes public activism. Sometimes strength is brushing your teeth. Strength is however that mother defines it.
Friends, I have a simple ask. When I walk in a room most often, everyone knows me. “That is Ana’s Mom,” they say. “She lost her daughter in the Newtown shooting.” But I have sisters whose loss is rarely, if ever, acknowledged. There are no cards for this. There are no cards for them. I am asking you to write one. I am asking that you be the one person who acknowledges the loss and injustice that gun violence causes, and sends love. You don’t have to use a lot of words: A simple, “I am sorry for your loss” or “I will remember their name” can make a difference. If you don’t know a gun-violence survivor, you can join or attend a local Moms Demand Action chapter’s “care card” event, where volunteers create cards for someone affected by gun violence. It doesn’t just need to be for Mother’s Day—these events happen year-round to show support for survivors and others impacted by gun violence.
I walked the Earth for 37 years reminded that I was the fruit and partaking of ordinary celebrations. As another birthday and Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded that my fruit is different but still important. Help me bring the pain of gun violence from the shadows and into light. And I say to both my child in heaven and my child on Earth, as my mother said to me, “You are my greatest gift.”
Nelba Márquez-Greene is a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Ana Grace Project. She still lives in Newtown, Connecticut and is a sought-after speaker on grief and mental health. She is currently working on writing a book and cleaning the garage.
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