Mother's Day is Over, Phew.
Boy, I’m glad that’s over. Maybe you are too?
So many email promotions with the subject line: “treat your mother”, “a gift for Mom”, “Mother’s Day is here”, or this last one, “flowers for Mom”, which came on a daily basis for two weeks leading up to Mother’s Day. That was the hardest of all, as it came via the small shop where we used to order biweekly arrangements when the sight of flowers was the only thing besides ice cream and Kahlua that brought Mom any pleasure. I had to notify them after she died, so they would stop sending them. But, I guess it’s unrealistic to think these mass email lists can be culled so that a person who has lost her mom isn’t constantly reminded to send flowers to her...
Admittedly, I did also receive many sweet and thoughtful messages from my kids, family members, and friends. Some were directed to me, and some were acknowledgments of my first Mother’s Day without Mom. And I really appreciated them. I love being a mother, and also think mothering deserves much more recognition in our communities. My mission as a therapist and parenting coach is to support women and children as they journey the mysterious paths of motherhood and childhood. But, I have to confess, I’m not really a fan of Mother’s Day. Maybe it’s because I’ve been lucky to have a partner and kids who honor me every day by showing they care and by being kind people in the world. But maybe it’s more because not every mom has that experience, and not every child has a loving mom, or even any mom at all.
In 1995, I was a young mother myself, with four little ones and a busy, but happy life. And then my friend, K*, died. I have mostly sensory memories from that day. I guess that’s what they mean when they talk about the sensory experience of traumatic events. I remember the breathless voice of our mutual friend A*, when I returned her abrupt and frantic voicemail. My own mom’s compassionate “Oh, honey...” coming through the phone when I immediately turned to her. Then the sight of my husband doubled over with emotion when he walked in and I told him while handing the baby over so I could go get K*’s kids.
You see, K* was a mom too. She loved her boys, but she doubted her ability to be a good mom. The detritus from her relationships with her own parents shadowed her constantly, like Pig-Pen’s trail of dust. No one can ever know what she was thinking; not just that day when she turned on the car’s ignition, but on those days before, as she thoughtfully laid out the documents, and carefully snipped her image out of every family photo. But I can guess. And my guess is she was flattened by expectations... both her own, and ours, as a society. Expectations stalk every mother I have ever met.
Mother’s Day came just a few weeks after K*’s death. At the preschool where we had met, the 3s and the 4s classes were busy making flower-decorated cards, and plaster hand prints. A special Mother’s Day snack was to be brought (by the mothers, mind you), and shared. I felt nauseous during this event, as I tried to play momma in both the classes to not just my four-year-old son, but to K*’s boys too. Bewilderment on the face of a child is almost as heart-wrenching as a look of fear.
Because what do you do about Mother’s Day for two suddenly motherless children? Of course, losing a parent is not that rare of an occurrence. In fact, an estimated 1.5 million children in the U.S. lose one or both of their parents to death by the age of 15.
Nevertheless, we all make assumptions about the people that we meet. On Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) the assumption is that everyone has a mom (or dad) in their lives. It’s been nearly 25 years now, but every May brings that annual reminder of the terrible void children of all ages feel when they pine for a mother who’s left, or who was never there.
Several years after K* died, we had moved from New York to Denver. The summer after we arrived, a father of three from our kids’ school was killed in a car accident. It was excruciating to watch these children and their mom wrestle through that year of firsts without their dad. But, I remember being grateful for the school’s decision to permanently change the school’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations to Parent’s AND Special Friends Day. A small but significant gesture recognizing that not everyone has a mom or dad. Maybe that’s a change that should be considered in the larger world community as well. What about a Family and Friends Day to replace Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Then we can all celebrate the loving connections we have rather than mourning those that we don’t.