Dear Readers, Dear Friends, Dear Sisters of the Heart,
It’s a sunny afternoon in Southern California, the Friday before Mother’s Day. I’m sitting at my kitchen table while the palm trees on my driveway gently sway in the breeze and the distant sound of a weed-whacker drones, cutting brush in advance of fire season in our canyon.
Sunrise, fire season, Mother’s Day: just a few of the many events I can, blessedly, count on with regularity.
This will be my 36th Mother’s Day without my mother present, and the 19th one I’ll celebrate as a mother myself. For those of you now thinking, Whoa, that’s a lot, I assure you, it sounds like a lot to me, too. Time passes both faster and slower than most of us can ever imagine. Faster when the good things happen, and slower when they’re hard.
I know some of you are facing your very first Mother’s Day without your moms, and that’s usually the hardest one of all. I did an interview earlier today with an interviewer who asked what the very first Mother’s Day after my mother’s death was like for me. I was momentarily stumped: Even after two decades of interviews on the subject, I’m not sure I’ve been asked that exact question before. The truth is, I don’t remember. It would have been 1982, and my family was still in such a fog of grief I don’t think we marked the occasion at all. Maybe I spent it with my grandmother?
The first Mother’s Day without my mother that I remember clearly is the next one, in 1983, when I was a freshman in college. The other women in my dorm asked if I wanted to accompany them to the local drugstore (Osco Drugs, for anyone who lived in Evanston, Illinois) to buy Mother’s Day cards, and my throat dropped into my abdomen. I’d been so careful to hide my motherlessness from the other girls, afraid to appear different or to become the object of their pity. What I didn’t realize back then was that this vigilance also cut me off from receiving compassion or support.
In the three decades since then, more resources have become available for girls and women who lose their mothers and we’ve become much better at talking about grief. A big shift happened this year, too. Has anyone else felt it? I can’t explain why, but I’ve seen more articles and more discussion about Mother’s Day without a mother this year than I have ever before. Articles like Sherry Amatenstein’s in the Washington Post and Jeryl Brunner’s in Parade, and blog posts like Carmel Breathnach’s. Motherless Daughters sold out on Amazon this past week, and 23 luncheons to honor mothers no longer living are taking place in April and May. Fifteen luncheons took place on Saturday, May 13 alone.
Grief is a lonely hunter. And it’s cruelest when we try to face it alone. Many of us had no choice in that matter, especially if we were children in families that didn’t know how to talk about the death. The most healing experiences I’ve encountered over the past 36 years have come from meeting those who understand how grief really works. Not those who routinely recite the “stages” of grief , but who understand the true nature of grief, and understand it lasts a lifetime. We never stop missing mothers we were close with. How could we? What would “letting go” even look like? Letting go would be an assault to our nature and need for connection, and an insult to the integrity of the relationship. A collective movement has started to alchemize the prevailing cultural message about grief into something that actually makes sense to those who have actually gone through it. It’s high time.
Grief, in my experience, doesn’t occur in stages. Instead it’s elemental, and it ebbs and flows. The Elements of Grief include ones you probably recognize: Sadness, Longing, Disbelief, Anxiety, Confusion, Disorientation, Depression, Denial, Fear, But others are in there, too, ones that don’t always come to mind first, like Appreciation, Certainty, Wisdom, Self-Knowledge, Gratitude, and Grace.
That’s not to say we need to appreciate that our mothers are gone. Not at all. But it is to say that we can, over time, come to appreciate who she was and what she gave us, even if our time together was brief. And also that we can come to recognize what she may have appreciated in us, too. Eventually, this appreciation can begin to counterbalance the pain. I promise you. It can.
If you’re having a particularly hard time this Mother’s Day, you can try the following: Ask yourself, What did my mother see in me that would have helped her know I could get through this Mother’s Day without her? What did she know about me that would have made her feel confident I can manage without her? And what helpful qualities do I have that perhaps she didn’t? When you can recognize those things about yourself, too, — that, my sisters, is part of the Wisdom and the Grace.
If you’re were unable to attend one of the Motherless Daughters Luncheons this year, please join the Circle of Remembrance on my Facebook Author’s page this weekend. And please remember, many have walked this path before you. Many are walking it by your side. A large sisterhood exists to support you on this journey. You are most definitely not alone.
Sending love to all of you this coming weekend, and the hope of meeting you in person soon,