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Mother's Day Bittersweet for Military Moms

This Sunday, moms across the country will be treated to breakfast in bed, homemade cards, bouquets of flowers and fancy dinners in restaurants. But for those who have sons and daughters fighting wars overseas, Mother’s Day (search) won’t be all roses.

Though many military mothers have grown used to their children’s absences on Mother’s Day and other special occasions, it doesn’t make those times any easier — especially for moms whose sons and daughters are in the line of fire in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“Mother’s Day is particularly hard,” said Sue Kedzierski, 54, of Lancaster, N.Y., whose 24-year-old son David is in the Air Force (search) in Kuwait awaiting his assignment in Iraq. “You have your other children, your other family, but there’s always something missing — an empty seat at the table, an empty plate, during the holidays.”

There are efforts to make Sunday a little less blue for moms homesick for their military babies.

In Belfast, Maine, the local branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars is holding a Mother’s Day luncheon for families of the 133rd Maine National Guard (search) unit that is currently stationed in Iraq (search).

Little Redhaired Girl Publishing, whose “Books for Brats” children’s storybooks for military families came out last year, is offering Mother’s Day e-cards on its Web site.

And support-group sites like www.militaryfriends.net and www.militarymoms.net also help, with members posting poems and comforting words on their message boards, as well as calling each other, sending cards and care packages and even getting together.

Buffalo, N.Y., resident Wendy Pettit runs Militarymoms.net and expects notes of encouragement to be posted on the message board on Sunday. A luncheon for members will also be held.

Though her son, Jeremy, 20, came back from Iraq in February after a year there, Pettit knows how hard it is having a child in harm's way.

“If you don’t have somebody in the military, you really don’t understand this,” said Pettit, 38. “It’s hard. My son is still my baby. I don’t think you ever let go as a mother.”

And the online message boards reflect the anxiety mothers can feel as the holiday approaches.

One soldier’s mom, Janet Miller, 52, of Long Island, N.Y., asked, “Is anyone else thinking about Mother’s Day?” this week on the message board of Militaryfriends.net.

“Ladies, I think we raised the BEST and the BRIGHTEST,” she wrote. “Happy Mothers’ Day to all of the mothers on this board … we are the Mothers of the Year, the Century, and the whole Country … I love you all.”

Her message led to an online conversation among members.

“I miss Christopher so much, and to be honest, it has to be one of the most difficult days of the year for me as a mother,” a mom named “Tammyjae” wrote in response. “I hang tight to the wonderful memories of my beautiful son. No one can take that away from me.”

But women who have sons and daughters overseas try to focus on the pride they feel for their children, said Miller.

“It’s a bittersweet kind of day,” she said in a phone interview. “You miss your military person more on special occasions and holidays … We’ll try to make it a pleasant, positive day. It is a positive day. We have a lot to be proud of.”

Her 22-year-old son Bryan Gruebel just left for a new mission, and he hasn’t been able to tell his parents where he is. Gruebel's other son, Erich, 23, is in the Navy, stateside on his base in Hawaii.

Jim Smith, 41, of Indianapolis, who runs Militaryfriends.net, said its members are mostly mothers. His stepsons Matt and Tim are both in the armed forces — Matt in Fallujah, Iraq, and Tim in school in California — so Smith can empathize.

He’s sending care packages to several moms and will post a photograph of a bouquet of flowers and Mother’s Day wishes on the site. He knows firsthand how hard Sunday will be for military moms, because he’s seen his wife struggle with it in the past.

“She’ll sit on the computer and try to do things to keep her mind off it. She told me she doesn’t even want Mother’s Day to come,” he said. “I know she’ll be sad and hope to hear from him [Matt]. I’m hoping he gets to call her. I’ll try to comfort her. She’ll get flowers and a card and dinner and anything she wants that day.”

Keeping busy and staying surrounded by loved ones is key for those with children at war overseas, especially on holidays. And so is continuing the family traditions, even when some of the kids can’t be there.

“They don’t want to think their mother is sitting there sulking and being sad,” Miller said. “They want to think of their mom as continuing with the traditions. Their mom was the one who held them up all those years.”