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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.