It seems like I write a post about Mother’s Day every single year. Mostly, I think this is because I find myself blindsided by it every single year. My mother’s been gone for 24 years and this will be my sixth (!!) Mother’s Day as a mother myself. Yet every year around the first week of May I start seeing the posts about it, and think, “No, it can’t be Mother’s Day AGAIN – we just had Mother’s Day last year!”
It’s an annual thing. Sort of like grief.
Grief is not a straight line like a highway. Grief is more of a spiral or a labyrinth. It’s not once and through, it’s the tide swelling and receding in the human soul. It’s every damn year when Mother’s Day jumps out of the closet and yells “Boo!” and I have to figure out who I am in relation to it all over again.
Today, I went for a pedicure, a little present to myself for Mother’s Day. Trying a new salon in our new town, I made small talk with the nail tech, an older woman who I learned is the salon owner’s mother. As we were chatting, I mentioned that I am a writer, and I write a lot about grief. I mentioned my mom and she looked up from buffing my nails with that look that says, “Me too”. I too know this grief. Her mother died when she was young, and like me, was raised by family members. There is an invisible sisterhood of motherless daughters. When we meet and “find out” about each other, it’s an instant connection. We spent most of the remaining pedicure talking about our families, our lives, and how we glued the pieces of our broken childhoods together enough to make it through this life and find our ways into healthy marriages and motherhood of our own. How each of us has been paid the compliment of “not looking like we’ve been through so much”.
As I paid and was leaving, I wished my new friend a very happy Mother’s Day, adding, “because I know how hard it is, even 24, 45 years later. It’s always with you.”
It’s relatively easy to talk about my grief in this space, but I don’t often speak of it “in real life”. And certainly not with people I’ve just met. I took a chance this morning, and my vulnerability gave not only me, but my new friend, a chance to tell our stories and to connect. Those of us holding grief and life in tension don’t need to file it away, put on a false front, or any other silly cliche we are told when it’s “time to get on with life”. As if any authentic living can be gotten on with when you haven’t embraced your grief. What we need is to be unafraid to take that chance of sharing our stories, so others can feel they finally have permission to tell theirs.
The early loss of your mother has already set into motion a chain of events that are going to lead you to places you can’t even yet imagine. And you will, one day, be able to recognize good things that have come out of your loss, things that you cherish or are proud of, things that otherwise might never have occurred. In the 34 years since my mother died, some really bad shit has happened to me as a result (let’s block out most of my college years, shall we?), but some crazy good things have happened, too. Because she died I wrote Motherless Daughters, and because of that I met a motherless woman who introduced me to my husband, and 18 years later we have two daughters who have brought more joy and laughter into my life than pessimistic little me ever thought possible. And because my mother died of undetected breast cancer so young (at age 42) I get regular check-ups and mammograms and do everything I can to preserve and maintain my health. I know it’s not all in my power. Still, I try. And when I sit at my older daughter’s high school graduation next month, a milestone my mother never got to celebrate with any of her three children, it will be perhaps the greatest accomplishment of my life thus far, just the simple act of being there. I have outlived my mother’s age by eight years now, and I wake up every morning so damn grateful just to be alive. Of all the gifts my mother gave me from her life and death, gratitude may be the most important one of all.
Me? As this weekend approaches, and I look at the freshly planted lilacs – a gift from Atticus because they are my favorite – in our new back yard, I feel hope and sadness. I feel anticipation over what kind of surprise my amazing family has cooked up for me on Sunday. I’m eager to spend the day with these lovely, accepting, challenging little monsters who call me mommy. For the first time this year, I think I’d like to tell Maggie about my mother, and maybe show her a photo of the woman frozen in time, without whom none of us would exist. Sadness over what is lacking, memories of loss and imaging what could have been mingle with the joy of what is here in front of me and overwhelming gratitude for all that has been given me. Perhaps on a day like Mother’s Day, that’s the best any of us motherless daughters can do.