For a time I was able to avoid thinking of Mother’s Day. It was the period when I was not in a relationship and was free to immerse myself in whatever activities I chose in order to distract myself by doing something fun, something that had nothing to do with mothers. Other than that time, Mother’s Day has been really difficult since losing Mam at age 11. Come to think of it, I disliked the day even before Mam died. My mother spent weeks and months in hospital on and off for several years and while my classmates, giddy and excited, colored cards and talked about how they would celebrate as a family, I bit my lip and wondered how Mam might feel on the day. After Mam died it was worse. I’d sit in class scribbling on paper while a detached teacher corrected work at the top of the room. Then there was the period as mentioned above, where I had no attachments and was able to tune out anything to do with Hallmark cards and Mother’s Day lunches.
Now I live in the USA and must deal with two Mother’s Day celebrations. Celebrated here today, and in Ireland in March, it’s a double whammy thanks to social media. Not only is it tough for us motherless, it’s a challenging day for those who wish to be mothers and can’t, and for those longing for a healthy relationship with their mothers but will never have it. Of course it’s a joyful occasion for many. A close friend of mine just gave birth to twin girls. I held them at two weeks old. My heart melted. I love babies. I love my friend and her husband. I’m so happy for them. My friend should be celebrated on this day. Mother’s Day carries a sadness for me that is my own but I appreciate the joys.
During the years when I was a kindergarten teacher, I had to give great consideration to Mother’s Day. But I was able to remove myself from the pain. The focus was not on me, it was on my little ones who adored their mothers and couldn’t wait to decorate and send their specially crafted Mother’s Day cards from the local post office close to our school. My kindergartners would talk about what made their moms special, and as their mentor and nurturer my focus was on them and not on me. I lost Mam very early in life. She was taken from me much too soon. I wanted these children to celebrate their moms and I wanted to help them express this love through art and words and song. I was blown away, year after year, by the love the mothers I encountered had for their children. It was powerful and undeniable and sometimes made me ache because I didn’t have that anymore. But more than that, the love I bore witness to in my classroom revealed the depth of my own mother’s love for me. “Wow, Mam must have felt like this,” I often reflected. Having grown up in Ireland, in the ’70’s and 80’s, a time and place where emotions weren’t expressed in the ways they are today, I knew without a doubt that I was loved. But I couldn’t have understood the extent of that love until I was surrounded by mothers who would do anything for their children.The way they spoke of them with such pride and affection and amusement was touching.
Mother’s Day in the classroom was also a refreshing time for me. As I drew my own pictures and the children worked on theirs, they would ask me who the woman with the curly hair was. I’d tell them it was Mam and they’d ask about her. Often shocked that she was no longer alive they were sorry for me and sweet. The innocence, honesty and concern expressed by my little kindergartners was healing. They weren’t afraid to ask questions or worried about saying the wrong thing. They asked because they were curious. They wanted to know how I was doing, how could I be doing, WITHOUT my MOTHER!
Yesterday I met with a Motherless Daughter’s group for a luncheon. We talked about our mothers, shared photographs and stories. It was therapeutic for me to spend the day before Mother’s Day with these ladies. For those of us who are motherless there aren’t opportunities for us to talk about our mothers. And we need that.
Meghan O’Rourke wrote in her memoir The Long Goodbye:
“Perhaps it is fitting, too, that while my grief has lessened, my sense of being motherless has intensified. I hadn’t anticipated this. The first grips of grief were so terrible that I couldn’t wait to get beyond them, to a state I hoped might be “better.” But as each new day arrives I find myself, though suffering less acutely, feeling more unmothered.”
At the luncheon yesterday we discussed how some of us have lived years without our moms while others are fresh in their grief. None of us are okay with being motherless. I am not grieving right now but my sense of being motherless is heightened because I am about to get married. Mam would have loved to come dress shopping with me. She would relish this time in my life and I can’t imagine the joy of having her with me.
“But when mother is a verb – as in to be mothered and to mother — ah, then the very best of human possibilities come into our imaginations. And we are all able to mother, whatever our sex or our age or our abilities.To mother is to care about the welfare of another person as much as one’s own.To mother depends on empathy and thoughtfulness, noticing and caring.”
And this reminds me of the nurturers in my life. My dad, who devoted his life to raising my brother and me, eased our suffering by being a constant, kind and loving father. Without him I don’t know who I’d be today. Mary, who came into my life in later years, cared about me, became my dear friend and showered me with love. Yes, we may be without our biological mothers, and nobody can ever replace the woman who birthed us into this world, but there are opportunities for all of us to nurture and through nurturing comes healing. There are ‘mothers’ in our world who may not have given birth, but the world is a better place because of their mothering. We all know a few. Let’s put our arms around each other on this Mother’s Day and be the best mothers we can be, to our earth, to our loved ones, to anyone who may need it on this day.