While Mother’s Day is meant to be a special day for people to honour the most important women in their lives, for a lot of us this day can really suck.
My sister and I recently spoke candidly about growing up without a mother after our mom was killed in a car accident over 20 years ago. (This was recorded for Talk Dying to Me’s first podcast episode. Stay tuned!)
One thing that surfaced in our discussion, were the many moments growing up that reminded us we were motherless. For example, a teacher asking the class to have their moms sign a permission slip. Or a camp counsellor asking us if our moms could pack a lunch for a field trip. These moments cultivated a feeling of “otherness.” Not a great feeling in primary school, when being different in any way can seem like the end of the world.
The worst culprit for these uncomfortable moments? Anything that involved arts and crafts the week before the second Sunday in May. Grade School, Sunday School, Girl Guides, you name it, every activity that week involved creating some sort of glitter-laden trinket to honour our mothers. Not only was I terrible at arts and crafts, I also happened to have a dead mom, making these activities particularly unbearable for me.
Consider the Complexity of Mother’s Day
I’m not suggesting we rally against Mother’s Day and protest the clubs that force children to honour their moms. I am hoping, however, that this post will allow you to consider the complexity of days like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Sibling’s Day, and other made up days like it, for a lot of people.
My sister’s take on the issue is that Mother’s Day is about celebrating all who mother. A day to acknowledge the powerful women who care for you, cheer you on, and look out for you, regardless of whether or not you’re related by blood. In other words, you don’t need a biological mother to feel mothered or to celebrate mothering.
First of all, is my sister not the most gracious and sincere human being? I swear to God she’s the Mother Theresa of Northern New Brunswick.
Most of the time, I agree with my sister’s sentiment. I’ve spent the last 23 Mother’s Days celebrating the women in my life who’ve had a hand in my mothering. I’ve grown to appreciate “mother” as a verb, rather than a noun. “To mother” – an action, not a label.
And still, it doesn’t change the fact that the woman I loved in a way only a child can love a mother, died. It doesn’t change the fact that the person who loved me in a way only a mother can love a child, died. I know my sister agrees with me here, mostly because she proofread this post and told me so.
Every day children lose mothers, mothers lose children, women who dream of being mothers can’t for whatever terrible reason. All of this is painful. All of this culminates in a very real, very deep grief.
Grief is Love and Love Ain’t Easy
I believe that grief is really just love with nowhere to go. I’ve lived with grief for just over 80% of my life, and this is the explanation that makes the most sense to me. I also know that love can be messy and complex. Love can be infused with hate and resentment. We can love people who hurt us. People can love and hate all at once. Love is rarely easy. It’s certainly not as simple as the flowery cards we send this time of year suggest. We know inherently that grief is complex, but when grief is the reflection of complex love, it’s even more messy.
I am eternally grateful for the powerful, albeit brief, relationship I had with my mother. I will always love her in the pure way only a 6-year-old can master.
I have a utopian idea of what our relationship would have been like had she lived. I didn’t have the time or maturity to discover her as a person, to unravel her shortcomings, or resent the pieces of her in me that I didn’t like. I didn’t have the opportunity to grow up to hate her, or to love her despite her flaws.
Quite the opposite actually. I often think of her as this spiritual orb, guiding me through life. A higher being. A God-like figure. I pray to her. I do my best to honour her. When she visits me, it’s a holy experience.
Not all experiences of “mother” are so ethereal. Not all dead moms were great moms. It’s a difficult thing for people to reconcile, but there’s a place for that grief too. It’s just as real. It’s just as important. It also deserves to be seen and heard this time of year.
Feel Sad? That’s Ok
My point is this – If you’ve lost someone that makes this day hard, whether they’ve died, or your relationship has faded, or maybe they never came into this world to begin with, it’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to grieve in the face of what is meant to be a joyful occasion.
It’s also ok to be happy when everyone else thinks you should be sad.
Have a dead mom and children who you’d love to celebrate Mother’s Day with? That’s great!
Have a dead mom and feel guilty about celebrating with your kids? That’s ok too.
Have a living mom who drives you crazy? I promise, you are not alone.
Have a dead mom and a stepmom, and not sure how to grieve your dead mom and celebrate your amazing stepmom? I feel you. This shit is hard.
Feel happy and sad all at once? Me too. All the time. And that’s ok. You do you.
Show Yourself Some Kindness
I once had a therapist tell me during a particularly difficult time of grief to treat myself the way my mother would treat me. Do the things she would encourage me to do in the name of self-love. Care for myself the way she would care for me.
My first thought was, “No you don’t get it, I want someone else to do it for me. Someone to mother me. I didn’t sign up to mother myself.”
Her lesson was lost on me.
I’ve had some time to process this over the years, and while the idea of “mothering” myself seems second rate, it may not be as crazy as I initially thought.
This past week, I attended an event called “Motherless Mother’s Day,” hosted by the lovely Alica Forneret, founder of "Dead Moms Club” in Vancouver. I did yoga, and journaled, and drank juice, and made candles. All that basic millennial shit I often feel I should rally against.
And you know what? It was awesome. I felt cared for, and listened to, and loved. Those warm, comforting feelings came from somewhere within me that is her.
So, what to do this Sunday when you’re feeling deep grief and maybe even a touch of resentment? Harness the part of you that is her. Love the hell out of yourself the way she would love you. Show yourself the kindness she would show you, the patience she would show you. It maybe second best, but damn… it’s something.
Motherless children, childless mothers, fathers who are both mother and father, etc, etc, etc – Your grief matters today. I see you. I hear you.
I hope it isn’t always this hard, but it might be. These experiences change you in unknowable ways. May it change you so that you can one day see light through the broken bits of your history.
P.S. – That’s a photo of me and my mom. Isn’t she beautiful?
P.P.S. Oh, I almost forgot! One day, you will die.
Until next time,