When my dad and niece were visiting last month, we were watching TV one evening and a commercial came on for some Mother’s Day promotion. My niece, who was cuddled up on the couch with me, turned and said, “Huh…you don’t get to celebrate that anymore.” She didn’t say it to be cruel – it was more of an observation than anything else. Still, it hurt. In the days since, I’ve kept her words with me, rolling them around my head in quiet moments.
Today is Mother’s Day. And as most of my readers know, my mom is no longer with us. And I’m wondering: do I get to celebrate it?
Years ago a friend shared an essay from Charles Dickens about Christmas and how the meaning of the holiday can change as we age and experience loss. Dickens speaks of a friend from his youth, with whom he had once imagined and discussed their growing old together. Now that his friend has – in his prime – taken up “his destined habitation in the City of the Dead”, Dickens asks, “Shall he be shut out from our Christmas remembrance? Would his love have so excluded us? Lost friend, lost child, lost parent, sister, husband, brother, wife, we will not so discard you…”
So, in the spirit of Dickens and Christmas, I am observing Mother’s Day. Like most holidays, Mother’s Day isn’t a purely individual holiday – it’s not just about your mom. (But don’t tell your mom that. Because of course it’s only about her.) It’s a collective recognition that being a mother can be hard. It’s a celebration of grandmothers and aunts and sisters and whoever else may have mothered us in some way at a time when we needed mothering. It’s a time to think about women around the world for whom motherhood and childbirth is dangerous, or deadly. It’s a moment to consider what mothers risk and dream of for their children, and the sacrifices made to help realize those futures.
And for myself, it is a day to think about my mom. More than once during this time abroad, I’ve thought about how much she would have enjoyed hearing about our lives here. She would have had a lot of questions – silly ones, about everyday things, like where we buy groceries and if we’ve met the neighbors and where we store our bicycles.
Today I’m thinking about all the little things that make up a person, a life. I could tell you a thousand things about my mom or write a thousand questions that I never thought to ask her. But today I’m thinking about how we couldn’t talk while she was baking, as if measuring flour took all her attention. I’m thinking about her beautiful complexion and how she never wore foundation. I’m remembering the smell of her perfume. The look she would give my dad on Christmas morning if one of his gifts didn’t quite hit the mark. And the very specific way she would say, “Hello Katie” whenever we spoke by phone. And the fact that she still called me Katie, which almost no one now does.
One of the stupid, annoying things about grieving is that the grief changes, and I change, and how I respond to loss and what I need to deal with it also changes. It sucks. So maybe this year I can have this sort-of reflective, Zen-like perspective on the universality of Mother’s Day. Next year I may ignore it completely. Who can say? Mother’s Day is hard for people who still have mothers – our relationships with our moms are complicated, in life and in death. I don’t have any answers for you there.
So we’ll end where we began, with Dickens again. His final word, his promise to his lost friend – and his appeal to us – is that we “shut out nothing!” There’s no right or wrong way for me to observe this day or any other significant day. You take what comes, you find yourself where you are, and you shut out nothing.
Happy Mother’s Day.