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Moms Who Grieve Find a Place in ‘Motherland’

Losing a parent is a life phase, something we’re conditioned mentally and perhaps biologically to endure. Losing a child so reverses the pattern that parents grieving for children feel they’ve entered a strange and solitary new world. That world is the subject of a touching and informative new documentary “Motherland.”Soon after her friend Barbara lost her son, filmmaker Jennifer Steinman read a book on Africa that described the war- and AIDS-ridden nations there as “an entire continent in mourning.” Barbara, Steinman realized, might feel more at home in such a place than she did in her small California town. Acting on this insight, Steinman sent Barbara and five other similarly grieving women to South Africa, where they worked as volunteers among orphaned children.In a place where grief is the new normal–“a place I don’t have to pretend I’m happy,” says one participant–the six women find their footing, and find words for their separate experiences: Anne has lost her daughter to suicide; traffic accidents claimed the sons of Barbara, Debbie and Kathy; Mary Helena’s son and Lauren’s brother were murdered. They unashamedly communicate in what sound to the rest of us like melodramatic cliches–“It’s a hole in your heart that can’t be filled,” we hear, and “I don’t want to stop grieving because that would mean forgetting.” All words fail, after all, these will do, and as the film goes on we slowly grasp the bitter truth they serve to carry.”Motherland” has particular meaning for Mary Helena, an African-American actress from Racine, Wisconsin, who among the six seems to have made the least progress in overcoming her grief. The visit to Africa–the land of her patrimony that ended with her son–only seems to bewilder her further. She broods alone, often sitting on the ground, until her mission-mates corral her toward them.When she finally speaks, Mary Helena’s insistence on grieving slowly, not giving up her pain until it’s been given its due, argues against the notion of progress, at least as any of us would recognize it. We want these women to be healed, to come back from Motherland. By the end of the film we realize they won’t. Their job is to survive and live in their new landscape.

  • barbara

    I’m sure at the time that this idea struck the film maker she thought like so many people do that if you see other peoples grief yours will not seem so bad. Maybe that thought has been perpetuated by movies that find someone finding their joy again by helping someone else.This is real life and we have distanced ourselves from death to the point that no one knows what to do when thay lose a loved one. Its new territory for all of us. I can tell you that we are doing a disservice to the ones we have lost by not talking about then after they are gone and not allowing ourselves to grieve for how ever long it takes. I find myself crying at the strangest times,but i have begun to allow myself that tear and cherish the memories that it brings back. I do believe my son is in a better place and starting another journey and that some day i’ll join him,but that does not remove the desire to see him one more time and remind him how much i love him. I live in fear each day that one of my other children will be taken and that that will be the last straw, but i realize that there was a time when i thought that if i ever lost a child i wouldn’t survive, but i did and i’ve grown immensly from it. I would give anything to have jason back,but i’m glad that i’ve grown so much since his lose. God works in mysterious ways and maybe i’m being prepared for something and i’ll need this new strength to survive it,who knows i love and miss my son and always will,but he would not want me to lose sight of the others that are still here and need me to be whole. I pray for the people of africa and hope that we as a world can help them through this terrible time in their history. God Bless.

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  • http://www.farleykluger.com Barry Kluger

    My name is Barry Kluger.I am one-half of the Farley-Kluger Initiative (www.farleykluger.com) which petitions Congress to extend the Family Medical leave Act of 1993 to include time off for loss of a child. Unbelievably, it does not.At 36,000+ petitions already sent, Sen. Jon Tester (MT) inspired by the Farley-Kluger Initiative, introduced S1358 in the US Senate, The Parental Bereavement Act of 2011, which currently is in Committee. Over the next few months and through the election, we will continue to get Congress to Amend the FMLA and also introduce a companion bill in the House. Please direct your friends to http://www.farleykluger.com and ‘Like’ our Facebook Page Support the Farley-Kluger Initiative. 2013 is The Year of the Parent.

    And to the Moms who have lost children,remember: This Mother’s day, you are still a Mom.-Barry Kluger

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