Some people consider Mother's Day to be just another of Hallmark's reasons to sell cards or for the restaurants and florists to make a lot of money. Others find it to be a joyous day on which they remember and cherish their moms. However, for many people of all ages, the day comes clothed in pain and loss, grief and sadness. This is especially true for those mothers who lost a baby last month or twenty years ago and those who have lost a child of five or fifty-five. Moms grieve those losses forever and never forget. There are adults whose mothers were incapable of loving anyone, often because they were never loved themselves. These mothers may have been abusive or drug addicts or just walked away. As a therapist I have known many adult women estranged from their children and who long for their love and presence. I have spent a good amount of time in my professional life working with children who were abused and neglected and know what it is like to see an incarcerated 6 year old in therapy working through, as best s/he can, the pain his /hermother inflicted on him/her. I have seen many women in treatment over the years whose grief focused on their mothers for many different reasons. And finally there are those women who always wanted to be mothers but life took them down different paths. I think of them because I was one of those women.
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I think of these women and children (young and old) as I wander past the card sections in stores or see the ads on television urging viewers to treat their mothers well on Mother's Day. I know this day can be painful for many including those mothers whose sons and daughters died in service to their countries.* We tend to underestimate the power a seemingly benign holiday like Mother's Day or Father's Day can have on people.
After doing therapy for many many years, I think I have seen it all...until I hear another story. I am not attempting to be the bearer of doom and gloom as we approach what is for most a wonderful opportunity to remember their mothers but I am trying to be a realist. Our society, as a whole, is too often insensitive to pain, loss or grief especially when we are "supposed to be" happy celebrating a holiday. People do not like to be reminded of the pain in life even though every single person has experienced pain and loss. But that is a blog post for another day.
What I am doing is reminding you, the readers, to be sensitive to those who have just experienced the loss of their child through what the medical world wrongly calls "miscarriage" or someone who experienced their mother's abuse as a child. We cannot run away from life's suffering. We cannot escape death. It can and will chase us down. What we can do is acknowledge not just the joys in life but the pain that people experience as they walk their journeys. If we live in a bubble ignoring or denying what does not feel very good, we become people without hearts; people who lack compassion; people who are selfish.
It is possible to hold joy and pain in our hearts simultaneously. It is possible to enjoy the celebration of a day like Mothers' Day while we also reach out to a neighbor whose teen just ran away or one who lost their mom yesterday or two years ago.
Mom at age 96 after traveling 1,200 miles with us to her granddaughter's wedding.
My own mom died on January 31, 2006. She was 99 years old, soon to be 100, and a most loving and kind person. Her health was still good at 99 though her short term memory was slipping. The options were not good when she fell and broke her hip and we knew that ultimately surgery might prove too much for her. A determined woman, she walked after that surgery but the stress of it all finally opened heaven's gates to her. It was a stressful time as my brother was recovering in another hospital and my husband Bill and my sister and I kept watch over two patients- both at risk. Bill already in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Mom had not opened her eyes in two weeks. I had just spent the night with her and was preparing to leave so my sister could sit with her while I got some sleep. I gently removed Mom's oxygen mask and got very close to her face and said:
"I know you can hear me and I want you to know how much I love you and that you are an incredible mom. I also want you to know I will miss you but it is OK with all three of us that you go to heaven and be with your family there. I know that is what you want because you have told us how much you miss them." Her eyes opened wide, I mean wide, almost startling me. She then said clearly and distinctly, "But what will you and Jim and Sally (my sibs) do if I die?" I said almost smiling, because Mom was a mother to the end, concerned first about her children. "We are all in our 60s now and we will miss you but we will be just fine." Looking right into my eyes she said, "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you." and died 45 minutes later.
Mother's Day is special to me because I had such a great mom. But I always keep in mind that Mother's Day can be a mixed bag or worse for many. Before you celebrate, if you do, consider reaching out to someone on this day; someone who is alone or someone who is sad. I urge you to be sensitive to what this day may mean to others.
To you who are mothers to children who walk this earth or mothers to a child or children with you now in spirit, I wish you the peace and comfort of knowing that love connects you under all circumstances and forever.
Related to: General Grief, Mother's Day