A Motherless Daughter’s Gratitude on Mother’s Day
For those out there missing their moms, I thought—as a woman who no longer has hers—I’d share a little of my own journey with you in the hopes it’ll bring some of you comfort, or perhaps give you a new perspective. And if you’ve not read the book Motherless Daughters, definitely pick that up. You’ll find in its pages voices who feel just like you, and that’s comforting, too.
Also, all the photos of my mom in this post are pre-cancer. She’d be horrified if the few photos we had of her looking that bad were on public display (it’s why we have so few pictures of her after she got sick in the first place).
Many motherless people, especially motherless daughters, have a rough time on Mother’s Day. But every Mother’s Day for the past three decades, all I’ve ever thought is, “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that anymore.”
I used to think this made me a horrible person. How can I just sit here and be relieved that I don’t have to participate in this? For years, I felt like there was either something deeply psychologically wrong with me, or that I was just an incredibly selfish, unempathetic person.
Then I figured it out. Mom got sick when I was eight and underwent a long battle with cancer, ending in her death when I was fifteen. She was horrendously sick during those years, and despite the fact that we were told just pray really hard and be really good and Jesus will save her, I knew better. I think we all did. Mother’s Days, when she was alive, were torture to watch. I remember giving her presents and making her favorite meal and thinking, ‘is this the last Mother’s Day?’ They were joyless, terrifying, and sometimes ruined because she was just too sick. Mother’s Days in our house were, in short, totally traumatizing. It was a bunch of people in a room pretending we all didn’t see the giant elephant while we plastered on our fake smiles—Mom included. I can see in old Mother’s Day pictures how absolutely tortured and depressed she was, trying to put on a show for everyone else. Her eyes hold nothing but pain.
There was nothing psychologically wrong with me in feeling relieved. Good Lord, there would probably be something more wrong with me if I didn’t.
Do I miss her? Of course. But I’ve been only physically without her now thirty-six years. During the first decade or so, I went through all the usual stages of grief and wasn’t spiritually aware (I turned away from the church after all of that, as you can imagine—it worked for other people; it just didn’t work for me, that’s all. I harbor no ill will.). After a few what I thought were lucky breaks in life, as well as near misses dating douchy men and terrible situations I somehow “magically” escaped from, though, I started to think that she was protecting me from beyond. After all—it’s not like she chose to leave her babies here, alone and defenseless. I even have a note she wrote to my dad about how glad she was to have me. Me. She wanted me. Very much. If she couldn’t hang around to guide me in this world, it made sense that she’d do it from the next.
Eventually, I started to understand that she really wasn’t totally gone. She lets me know she’s around with a sign here and there—her favorite song, flower, a forgotten thing she liked or used to eat shows up randomly; sometimes she comes to me in dreams, and sometimes, something she said just pops into my head for no reason. I’ve had a better opportunity to grow with and understand her because she has always been with me in spirit—it just took me a while to figure it out and be able to see it.
Over the years, I got in the habit of asking her for things. Once, I asked her to find me the perfect bouquet to give to someone—who in many ways reminds me of my mom—at a mid-December concert. “Something Chrismassy, Mom, and maybe with your favorite lilies. Then I’ll know that’s what you picked out.” On the day of the concert, just before the three-hour drive I had to make to get there, I walked into Stew Leonard’s, and the first display of flowers I saw were these massive (I mean, huge) bouquets with red roses, pine sprigs—and lilies. At a very reasonable price that was even well below my budget—smaller bouquets with other mixes were more money. When I talked to the florist, she said she’d just finished making them, and it was her first time trying that particular mix; she woke up and said she was suddenly inspired to “do something Chrismassy with lilies.”
I don’t think I have to go further with that one.
Every year, for my birthday, Mom somehow finds me a wonderful dress for an insanely cheap price, and the dress is always a perfect style for my body type, as well as a perfect fit. This has happened to me every birthday for the past ten years—and no, I’m never out shopping or looking for a dress when this occurs. It shows up on a flyer in the mail, or in my email, or I’m in a store buying a bra or something and there’s this rack of sale dresses just sitting there with a big sign that says “$5” and then the single one I love just happens to be in my size. One year, I even got two $75 dresses for a grand total of $21. That’s how I know it’s Mom—she loved dresses, and boy, could she make the buffalo on the nickel scream. She was all about bargain hunting. For Christmas—which was her favorite holiday—she always sends me one random sixty-five degree day so I can go do my shopping in a T-shirt. She knows I love warmer weather, and she makes sure I get my warm-weather shopping day.
I could tell you more stories about how I know she’s always around, but this post is long enough, so I’ll save those for another time.
My point is, I know that she watches over me. I don’t have to fight my siblings, anyone else, or her schedule for her attention, and when I cry out for her because I am sick, or scared, or lonely, she shows up immediately. If I need advice about something, somehow, she sends the right person to give it to me. She isn’t only with me, she is part of me. For me? Every day is Mother’s Day.
What do I have left of her on this earth? Lots of womanly advice, actually. About how to dress. How you should always have ninety days’ worth of undergarments in case you get too busy to wash them, how you should have specific bras for specific outfits, how lipstick freshens a tired face, how to write a thank you note, how you should do leg lifts every single day to keep your thighs trim (I didn’t know that this also completely reduces your risk of thigh chafing. Someone was recently talking about that and I literally didn’t know what that was because I’ve never had to deal with it). How, when your husband does something really stupid (like hang his pants upside down on the hanger—one leg per hook), you should allow yourself to have a chuckle instead of getting upset (I still recall the day we found dad’s pants hanging like that. I was about nine. We couldn’t stop laughing. She held up the hanger and said, “Why would anyone think that this is the way to hang pants? We’ll go through this whole closet and hang them all up the right way, and then that’ll be our excuse to eat ice cream.”). Her advice about how olives and shrimp always class up a party table (“you can fill the rest of the table with bread and chips, but as long as there’s olives and shrimp, that’s all people will remember”) is a nugget I’ve not only religiously followed and passed on, I’ve found it to be true.
Also, she loved her disaster movies, and her horror movies, and talks on the phone that lasted for hours (also where I get it from). She gave me cleaning tips and taught me multi-tasking. She taught me how to always take time for myself, because a burned-out person can’t help other people (she had two hours a day in which you did not interrupt Mommy unless you were seriously wounded or vomiting. That was her time, leave her alone).
When Mother’s Day comes, then, I don’t feel sad. Before Facebook, some years, I didn’t even know when it was and didn’t feel much of anything. If I did remember it and felt a little bit emotional, I would maybe buy a lily and look at it for the day, or eat her favorite candy, Raisinettes (it was the one candy we were allowed to have as kids, and my sister and I joke we can hear her saying, ‘yay! My babies like fruit!’), or watch her favorite musical, West Side Story.
Most years, though, for me, it’s a non-event. I write or clean, and I am grateful that I have outlived her by a dozen years at this point—a dozen years I have filled with activities and projects. I have extra, healthy years she didn’t get, and I know she wouldn’t be happy if I spent even one day sitting around doing nothing but wallowing in the fact that she’s not physically here. In fact, she’d probably kick my ass. I have one of her old calendars. She was the busiest person I know—other than me (any of my friends will tell you I’m so busy I sometimes fall off the face of the earth for weeks). That’s where I get it from, and it’s another reminder that she just lives inside me. If I want to know what she was like, all I have to do is look at myself.
The good news for me is that the traumatizing, heartbreaking Mother’s Days I’d endured as a kid are gone forever. I have only happy things to think about now when I think about my mom, and that’s not something to grieve.
That’s something to celebrate.
Posted on May 8, 2022, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff and tagged coping with mother loss, Grief, honoring your mother, Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Motherless Daughters, what to do if you miss your mom on Mother’s Day. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.