Sunday, May 09, 2010

It's Complicated

Today is Mother's Day and, while I am happy to celebrate it, and even to receive cards and gifts from my children, I approach Mother's Day with a somewhat rueful attitude. Yes, it is a day to celebrate, but it's also a complicated day.

Here's why.

My mother died on Mother's Day, so at the same time I celebrate and call up with deep gratitude the memory of my mother, I also feel a frisson of grief.

Since Mother's Day is celebrated, in the U.S., on the second Sunday in May, the specific date moves around. While the actual date my mother died is May 12, I think of her death twice--on Mother's Day. . .and again on May 12.

I am certainly not alone. Obviously, there are my siblings--my brother and my sister. We all experienced the same event, and therefore have the same thoughts--recalling our mother on Mother's Day AND recalling her death.

But more than that--I had a co-worker who had gone through the exact same loss. I was working at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The two of us were executive assistants to the Secretary of Health. This woman was particularly close to her mother--more than a mother/ daughter relationship. More like best friends. The mother lived in the Washington, D.C. area, and had driven to central Pennsylvania to visit with her daughter on Mother's Day. She then drove back south to D.C. On the way, for inexplicable reasons, she crossed the center line on a four-lane highway (without center barriers) and crashed head long into an on-coming car. She was killed outright, as was the mother in the other car. On Mother's Day. At the time, I was so struck with the sad irony of losing your mother on Mother's Day.

I recall reading a book, some years ago, by Robert Fulghum. He is a minister, and wrote--in his book It Was On Fire When I Lay Down on It--about the conundrum of preaching year after year on Mother's Day. Part of his dilemma arose from the fact that he is not a mother--so how to preach about the wonderfulness of being a mother. But beyond that, he pointed out that not everyone has a wonderful mother. So, he posed some hypothetical questions. Here's the toughest one:

" How many of you find Mother's Day painful, especially when it involves thoughts and memories of such matters as adoption, abortion, divorce, suicide, rejection, alcoholism, alienation, abuse, incest, sorrow, loss, and words like stepmother, mother-in-law, and unspeakable obscene references to motherhood?" (p. 100)

Well, you can imagine the reaction he got. He said the congregation got very quiet; he also looked out and saw the pain. Also, predictably perhaps, he was attacked as members left the service--by at least one person: "Shame, shame, shame for spoiling this day."

I find that anecdote searing in its honesty. Not everyone has (or had) a wonderful mother. For people who were abused by mothers, what does Mother's Day mean to them? For women who are failing as mothers, what do they feel?

See--it's complicated.

But, this day--I rejoice to have been blessed with having a wonderful mother. My memories are the source of joy for me--even sufficient joy to take away the sting for its also being the anniversary of her death.

And, as I wrote last year--beyond my mother as mother, I am also blessed to have had other marvelous nurturing women in my life--my stepmother, my aunts, and my mother-in-law. Nothing complicated about that.


Jayne said...

I suppose at some point, we can look at our parents as people who did the best they could with what shaped them in their own lives. This day does bring lots of pain to many people for various reasons. But, if we can, even with the hard memories, continue to reach out to, love, and nurture others, the world is a better place.

Happy Mother's Day Donna.

Anvilcloud said...

The day must be difficult for some like those who wished to be mothers but couldn't be or those who lost their children. But I wish you a good one today.

Unknown said...

As a teacher, I'm very aware of the pain of some of these holidays for children too. Children who have lost a parent or who have parents who aren't as loving and wonderful as they should be. It's all very complicated! You are so right. Thank you for finding the joy and the deep thoughts on this day.

Leslie Patterson said...

I'm thinking of you Donna and all the other wonderful women who have impressed me as mother's, nurturers, and people in their own right. You all are definitely worth celebrating.

Denise said...

Hear-hear, Donna. We had a great mother and I will always be grateful for that. My best friend did not and does not have a good mother. We have talked about the conundrum of Mother’s Day a number of times throughout our friendship. I recognize that her experience and mine are not the same. While we are shaped by both the good and the bad in life, we choose to be who we are now. I am grateful for the women (mother’s) in my life who have helped to shape me into the woman I am today. Including you - Love you!!

Ruth said...

I hear what you are saying. Father's Day is difficult for many people for the same kind of reasons. I am thankful for the good parents I have.
Happy Mother's day to you.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I too had a wonderful mother. I honour what I understand as the idea and ideal of mothering. As a single father I always thought I was more the mother than the father. I have never gotten recognition on Mother's
Day, which would mean more to me than recognition on Father's Day.

PS: We are waiting here to see if we will be able fly out to Belgium Tuesday. That nasty ash could is acting up again. Cross your fingers for us!

NCmountainwoman said...

Excellent post. My own mother died on Thursday before Mother's Day so I understand your feelings.

I often worry when I see Mother/Child or Father/Child functions that are so common around here. It seems they must magnify for the child how hard it is to lose a parent.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a big fan of Mother's Day and never have been. It's complicated, since there's rarely just one mother in a family. I think Hallmark and the phone companies enjoy it most of all.

Strange--I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo today and they mentioned a Children's Day celebration. I didn't know there was such a thing.

Ginnie said...

I know it's different for all of us but I have to say that I was pleased to get two cards from young friends who are not related but feel that I am like a Mother to them.

Climenheise said...

I also share the ambiguity of the day. I remember well the call as we sat on the lawn at Harold and Marcia Burgess's house in Wilmore. "Mother's gone." On Mother's Day. A wonderful mother, and a bittersweet day.

So far as the fact that some have unhappy experiences -- a bad mother, or no mother, and so on. We face the same problem at Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and all other celebrations. We don't stop giving thanks and celebrating because not everyone can share fully. To stop would fail to honour the good. But certainly we name the pain that many (all of us in some way?) feel. Fulghum was right to name the pain, and we are right to celebrate the good.

Susan Gets Native said...

Every Mother's Day, I am so very thankful that I have a mother who did (most) things right.
And friends that I have, that didn't have a caring, loving mother, they get extra big hugs.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Donna, thanks for coming by my blog. I miss Pam. I miss my mother. And this last Sunday, Mother's Day, I lost a dear cousin who I grew up with. I miss her. Each one of us begins our life (as the fairy tales say) Once Upon a Time. I live life with "a perfect brightness of hope" that each life ends Happily Ever After. But sometimes there sure is a lot of crap in between!

JeanMac said...

Thoughtful post. Belated wishes.

Catbird said...

I know what you mean. I have a similar conflict with my birthday. Dad died three days after I turned ten, two days before Mom's birthday, and three before my brother's. Throw in Valentine's Day, and mix thoroughly.

Beverly said...

I remember so well going back and reading your posts about the strong women in your life when I first found your blog.

I have heard many single women say they feel left out on Mother's Day...particularly when they have either worked with children or youth during their lives and having quite an influence on them.

I've read of those who think that God should not be referred to as our Father, since there are so many who have not had good dads...