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Mother’s Day – Motherless: The Tsunami Of Grief And How Not To Drown – Part 1 of 2
I grieve for my birth mother, and my adopted mother I lost the same day. How will this newly minted Mother’s Day, in the first year of Our Longing for maternal presence, strike?
For all of us bereft of our mothers, I want to contemplate the challenge, and unveil calming mechanisms as well.
Mother. The mantra of the bereaved. The raison d’etre for a once festive, now eerily tainted holiday.
Every Mother’s Day, until now, simultaneously I would laud, and feast with, my mother who had given birth to me, together with my equally nurturing subsequent mother. The latter, after initial wariness, had welcomed me as honorary offspring. Both mothers — one and the same person.
Alzheimer’s, as easily as it had pureed memory, dissolved my privilege, the entitlement for progeny, biological or adopted, to be loved unconditionally without merit. My one and only mother, Mary, began to perceive me as a stranger, and she, indeed, shifted into a foreign entity to me. No longer was she akin to most parents, who recognize, cherish, their own. Having my right forcibly voided, of automatically expecting affection, forged my inchoate fire, to create anew an inestimable bond with her. To complicate matters, my mother’s illness towards the end whisked away even my reconstituted role of daughter. She had reincarnated within the same lifetime, as a patient from a parent, to a ward from a guardian, as I embraced the vocation of round-the-clock caregiver. In her haphazardly spun state of regression, I became the concerned mother; she a sweet, trusting charge. Somehow a grace prevailed; she and I could and did re-connect. My mother’s perception had altered, but not her essence: loving, lovable, and loved.
The loss of her keenly punctures my soul, in sorrowing for a three-in-one birth mother, adoption-mother, and child. Thus, against this backdrop, more than other first milestones to come, Mother’s Day has loomed as the most daunting. How will I cope, I’ve wondered.
Wonderment, a precise word, apt reaction. I have not feared the event, nor dreaded it, despised, suffered, agonized over it.
Instead, it has awed me. My physical body stiffens, paralyzed with shock, confronting a concept not just defying, but obliterating emotion, in the very pondering of it. You’re suddenly released from the grip of grief, as when, within murky depths, seaweed suddenly untangles from a diver’s frantic kick. A palpable but un-peaceful peace.
The thought of Mother’s Day transcends, momentarily, the mundane wading through desolation, swept up as we are into something surreal. Are we truly about to face hallowing a Mother’s Day without a mother — without OUR mother beaming from the heart of it?
Denial which was thought to have been worked through, and purged, overflows once more.
The Antidote: be kind to yourself. Omit Mother’s Day from your life this trying year, if need be. Ask your children to extend presence, but withhold context — to gather at a new park or beach perhaps afar, to enjoy togetherness but without the hoopla of cake or gifts or familiar locales or commentary about the occasion. Perhaps, ask them to hold jubilation in abeyance, surely to choose a day to esteem you, just not — this — day. For many of us, the first-timers and, I sense, the long-tested Mother’s Day bereaved, the season will swell with tidal ferocity and enswirl us in all its obscene Beauty —
The racks of ornate cards; the richly glimmering boxes foiled, scenting the air with chocolate-y essence; the violin-laden television ads; the storefront flowery posters; the glossy, conspicuously staged grocery pyramids heralding “Special Springtime Soup Sales in Praise of Mother,” and everywhere, within emporiums or blockading their portals, in parking lots, or at mall mezzanines, the resplendent bouquets for sale. Is it only this year we truly have noticed, understood, the symbolism of the ubiquitous carnations sold in marts or bestowed at Sunday service or at bookstore chains? Pastel or usually red, for mothers living; white, for deceased. How the sight of those blossoms agitates the heart! Within the library, the post office, the church lobby, atop the dentist’s magazine coffee-table, at the card store, the drug store, the grocery store, the gas station snack booth: where does a reminder not pummel us?
It’s a tough extravaganza to shirk, crowd-driven as it is. For one who mourns, it translates into same cause, different effect. The movement of the crowd — spilling out of restaurants, milling on street corners, — once invigorated us, sparking solidarity, and now will bypass us with insouciance.
With anticipatory pain, we mourners scramble for numbing devices, to reserve for that day. We clasp into our hands, like captured fireflies, fragments of grief chatter. We are fiercely attuned to any glimmer of help that may validate our desire, not to confront this holiday, too puny a word, this epic Monument, to relentlessly unconditional nurture.
When the big wave hits, receding with our loved one, no one else should determine when it’s time to release the rooted yet broken palm tree. More accurately — what remains of it, the jagged remnant, the bark of thorned memory to which we cling and weep, even after the rolling seawall has collapsed, and the gulls are veering shoreside again.
Does Hallmark create cards for the bereaved to mail to themselves, for acceptance, and as succor? A blankness where the cover illustration would be, and inside, a message, a rebuke, a wail, crystallized in four words, “MOTHER, I miss you.” Regarding others’ insensitivity, yes, it’s distressing, yet understandable. Relatives and friends with the sincerest intentions may not grasp that an inner storm-wave lashes our hearts.
Depending on the timeframe, the nearness to the loved one’s moment of passing, the closeness of the relationship, consistently stable, or healed, or still unresolved, our afflictions differ. Whatever our filial backgrounds, we hear alike, to our ears dirgelike, the marketplace’s drumming of its countdown to Mother’s Day. It’s logical to expect a day of intermittent or even nonstop pain. There will be sadness. How could there not be?
How, then, do we, the outsiders, knead our non-Happy Motherless Day?
It’s assuaging to prioritize, placing our healing of emotional trauma, above spouting half-hearted lip service to a formerly innocuous event. The pain that will surely arise may be balanced, alleviated. Let’s discover options providing safe haven. I’ve planned for myself a loosely structured day, perhaps combining several aids.
You don’t need the rationale of Mother’s Day to clutch a lifeline listed below; seize one, whenever gargantuan waves of emotion threaten to submerge you.
Feel free to improvise. Possibilities beckon: ( a ) we may outsmart pain by resting, sleeping Mother’s Day away or (b ) fixating ardently on non-linguistic endeavors, learning a new sport or honing our athletic skills, via a smorgasbord of fitness video classes, guarding the mind from thinking, from dark-night-of-the-motherless-soul disarray or ( c ) We may find it cathartic, we may want to memorialize, in our own way, that is. Refraining from socializing with kin, perhaps.
Whatever your decision, I encourage a preliminary technique:
When you awaken Mother’s Day morning, you most likely will recoil, realizing the bittersweet pageantry has whirled into your life. For a few minutes, no longer than 10 or 15, immerse yourself in a cycle of nourishing activities: take deep breaths for a few moments, then eat a cracker or other snack, hopefully low-sugared, to satiate the empty stomach and calm the physical system. Immediately phone a previously alerted friend or one who invites your unexpected calls, or chat with a bereavement hotline counselor via telephone or online.
After ending the call, take a moment, absorb a passage from a compelling, inspirational book or tape — or even a brief, meaningful quote. If you like, open a chapter randomly, snap off a paragraph and chew it a while, digesting its wisdom. Then view a tape of a motivational speaker who best lifts your mood. Journal in stream-of-consciousness fashion for a moment. I would consider playing music a last resort, because merry or somber in tone, song penetrates, memory surges from melody, an unpredictable remedy. As the day unravels, lavish upon yourself brief potent repetitions of the above neutralizing steps, so that despondency which cannot be banished magically, at least may be managed.
Our anti-mother’s day should not be construed as anti-motherhood. Or worse, broadcasting an insularity, a self-serving nonchalance. The heart does cry out to adulate as usual, but the ground has been swallowed up, the poles upon which our structural house of values have tumbled, the pathways vanished. The new rule erupts as no rule; we succumb or surmount.
The pull to revere one’s mother throbs with subtle rhythmic urgency throughout life. It mimics the blessed pulsating heartbeat that once swaddled our crunched consciousness in the womb. As a primal urge from ancient times, the yen to glorify motherhood soars from matriarchal eras, when the mother-goddess was worshipped. Throughout the centuries the idea slumbered until heavily revived and re-interpreted in mid–eighteenth century England, eventually intriguing other countries.
With such ingrained impulses, in the individual’s and in the world’s psyche, the idea of modifying Mother’s Day easily sets off heart-tremors. What if you are anguishing over an enticement alluring yet seemingly unsavory?
You might query, nervously: To indulge, squandering an entire day basically hiding in bed? Is that respectful? Not to recognize an event, a state, a person intrinsic to hearth and home and apple pie and baseball? To reject spotlighting not a mere someone, but a cherished being, who was my staunch protector, friend, mentor — my mother? To gloss over a time of promoting love joy warmth peace happiness bliss? How selfish.
We feel loathe to snub the august Spring institution. To ease our valid angst, let’s examine, with as much dispassion as we can emit these days, how the upcoming tribulation originated, and why that matters.
Let me itemize key terms of the first official Mother’s Day Proclamation, in the United States. Promulgated in 1870 the words are:
Arise; Reeking; Carnage; Disarm; Sword; Murder; Justice; Blood; Dishonor; Violence; Forsaken; Anvil; War.
Originally the above proposed Mother’s Day was not meant for mothers.
The late 19th century platform urged the creation of a day whereby matriarchs exalt someone else, each of the battlefield-dead.
It was an anti-war tract. A call to peace-activism, similar to ideas circulated then among grassroots factions in England. Such a context is ideal if it reflects your mother’s nature, a penchant and skill for initiating fiery social upheaval. The manifesto author, Julia Ward Howe, who also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, evolved from such a mother-daughter scenario. The declaration may be an appropriate rallying point for our contemporary motherhood. A sizeable number are vocally challenging conventional approaches, to escalating international tragedies.
Yet does that situation, however au courant, evoke your mother? Does it illumine your personal relationship to your mother, and her uniquely configured characteristics?
Concurrent with Howe’s mission and in decades following, other advocates such as Mary Towles Susseen, Frank E. Hering, and Anna Jarvis, sought a mandate for a non-politicized day of homage to mothers. The two major camps clashed (with Jarvis arrested once) arguing nature vs. nurture — the militant qualities some thought Mother’s Day should encapsulate, vs. a time of doting, others envisioned. Opponents wrestled over the official founder, logistics, ceremony, symbolism, ramifications. From the melee, somehow the tenet of Mother’s Day limped along, evolving into institutionalized renown.
How freeing it is, not beholden to myths! The beginnings were confused, even violent, not demure. Perhaps, however, one or the other philosophy resonates with your instincts. If you sense that acknowledging Mother’s Day may help more than hinder your recovery, personalize it.
Otherwise tribute shrinks to generic gesture, representing your mother, but only by default. Julia Ward Howe devised her 1870 credo to etch her mother’s beliefs and anti-war mission. Later, Anna Jarvis popularized carnations as totemic marks of motherhood, the corollary purity and love. The carnation was her mother’s prized garden plant, which Anna tied to her mother’s wistful call for a national annual event, heralding the nobility of Motherhood. In 1914 by signature of Woodrow Wilson, Mother’s Day was designated as the second Sunday in May; the date ceremonialized the second anniversary of Anna’s mother’s death. Prior to Jarvis’ efforts, Mary Susseen, in her role as school principal, established student recitals on the beatific attributes of motherhood for parents to absorb. The performances were held each April 20, the anniversary of her mother’s passing.
How admirably devoted these activists were, pinpointing exactly what their mothers had epitomized, and would have delighted in, fervently craved or strenuously actualized. Let’s follow the spirit, not necessarily the letter, of these maternally driven laws. Rather than blindly adhering to ritual, perhaps in our season of travail, we may rightfully turn to innovation and customizing, via self-query. END OF PART ONE OF TWO
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