Mother’s Days

7 May

by Laura

My alma mater helpfully ruins my day.

Have you sent your mom a card? Did you buy flowers? Are you going to see her? How are you going to make her feel special on her holiday?

Here’s how I am going to celebrate (US) Mother’s Day this Sunday: by wishing, as I have done every day for the last five months, that my mother were not dead.

The calendar is particularly cruel to me this year, as Mother’s Day falls five months to the day after my mom died, and I’m still reeling from the envelope that I received in the mail this week that contained my “benefits” as a recipient of my mom’s life insurance policy. Your mom’s still dead. Have some cash and a holiday!

I don’t begrudge mothers of the world a holiday; if I could fete my mom in the great beyond with help from Hallmark, I’d do it. What pains me is not the holiday itself but the blithely appropriative advertisement for it, the weeks-long effort to sell things to you in the guise of loving your mother. Everywhere I go in public, it’s Mothers, Mothers, Mothers, an endless celebration of Everyone and Her Mother. It rubs against the cloud of grief I carry with me every day, which says, instead, Mom, Mom, Mom. I say it out loud, sometimes, when I miss her so acutely I can’t bear to stay quiet: Mom. Mom. Come back, Mom.

This juxtaposition of the extremely intimate and the shamelessly profit-motivated public explains why Mother’s Day is so hard to take this year. There is a faux universality lurking behind many holidays which seems harmless until you find yourself outside of it. (This is why the cultural warriors on the Christian right feel so threatened by people who say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” — they experience, for a brief moment, what it’s like not to be assumed to be the default human.) Everyone in human history has had a mother. But not everyone has a mother. And those of us who no longer have one, or who never knew one, or who are estranged from one, or who are losing one, are forcefully reminded of our lack every time we go out in public in early May.

The thing is, loss is universal too. Almost everyone who knows her parents will have to face their deaths eventually. But we don’t talk about this, generally, as a culture. We don’t acknowledge that mothers die, that holidays hurt, that death is the only guaranteed universal human experience. Why aren’t there a glut of cards that say, “I am wishing you solace on Mother’s Day?” Why don’t we have a ritual for the fallen mothers, a poppy to pin to our lapels to say “I acknowledge my dead mother, too”?

I suppose a lot of people would find this grim. But while I’m steeling myself for this weekend and the wave of grief I can feel behind my eyes, I would welcome some kind of ritual that allowed me to participate in the holiday honestly. There are so many people out there, like me, who are gritting their teeth at the Hallmark ads, the flower commercials, the friendly Facebook reminders. There are millions of us. You will be one of us someday.  And when you are, I’d like to take you out to brunch and buy you flowers and raise a glass to our lost mothers, and the world they have left us.


4 Responses to “Mother’s Days”

  1. Jess May 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

    Why aren’t there a glut of cards that say, “I am wishing you solace on Mother’s Day?”

    Good god, why aren’t there? This is one of the very few situations where the right thing to do (for the feelings of everyone who finds the Mother’s Day advertisements assaultive) is also the profit-motivated thing to do. There are sympathy cards. There are Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards. But there are no “sympathy on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day” cards.

    I don’t think the grimness alone explains it — we have somber holidays. Although I guess they generally get repackaged into celebrations. What says “Memorial Day” more, a poppy or a barbecue?

    Jewish culture, as my therapist points out amusingly and often, is terrifically morbid and dark. This is a problem in a lot of ways (an overdeveloped sense of mortality means you always feel time nipping at your heels), but in others it’s a boon — the mordant sense of humor, for starters, but also the fact that we have a regulated mourning process plus chances to remember the dead on other somber holidays. I’m not speaking from experience here, but I do wonder whether celebrating moms in general and the idea of motherhood on Mother’s Day would be less painful if there would also be people mourning with you on the American equivalent of Yom Kippur.

    • Elysia May 10, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

      When I lost my grandfather, it was a Rosh Hashanah memorial service that let helped me to deal. Ditto dealing with my sister being in the hospital or my mother’s diagnosis; the fact that there is room in even the weekly service to draw the attention of the whole community to anyone who is in need has always been something I’ve appreciated.

  2. Laura May 10, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    I do think that, having been raised largely in a Protestant church, I am particularly lacking in communal grief rituals. Jewish culture and Catholic culture, I think, are much more willing to be morbid and deal with death as a community issue (though of course they do so in very different ways). Protestants, IME, are very good at bringing you casseroles and arranging carpools and sending flowers, but much less good at the “This dark thing is going to happen whether you like it or not, and here is what we do when it does” business.

    My therapist pointed out that Veterans’ Day is one that is explicitly tied to death: there are living veterans and there are dead veterans, and the idea of the holiday is to honor them both. We both thought it was strange, discussing that, that mothers and fathers don’t get treated the same way, culturally. I mean, obviously veterans risk their lives explicitly and that’s why we revere them, but just as a status, “parent” includes people from 14-100 and just as obviously includes people who are dead.


  1. Smile, you have always been on Candid Camera « Birthday Bread Horse - May 12, 2010

    […] surprising, as I am a lady and I walk a lot. But on this particular walk I was thinking a lot about my mom and how much I miss her, when this guy who was sitting on a bench at least 20 feet away from me hollered, “Smile, […]

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