To those for whom Mother’s Day is difficult
By Julia Foley
Experiences of motherhood are as different as all the mothers in the world.
Some mothers set the standard and broaden the definition (Mother Nature, Mother Teresa and Maria von Trapp come to mind - even Daenerys scores high on motherhood rankings) and others don’t qualify for the badge at all (Matilda’s mum from Roald Dahl’s book, now is your moment).
So we shouldn’t assume Mother’s Day is always a celebration. For many, it’s a day that brings up memories and feelings that aren’t celebratory in the slightest. The relationship with a mother can be a complicated one, and while we are all united by having had a mother at some stage, not everyone received the gift of a mother’s care.
For some, it can be an awfully sad and difficult day. A day of loss, remembrance or longing, played out against a backdrop of lunch deals, chrysanthemums and tacky gift ideas.
Spare a moment for those who might rather volunteer as first travellers to Mars on this day, rather than experience the isolation that comes from feeling the opposite to what everyone around you seems to be celebrating. The sales pitch of Mother’s Day is based on an assumption that we all have mothers to take to lunch, or that the role we desired to play as mother has been able to be completed, or fulfilled at all.
For some of us, Mother’s Day is a contradictory collision of many of these feelings. The recipient of cold eggs in bed (delighted!) as you try not to cry at the thought of your own mother not being here (traumatised!). Accepting the card enthusiastically from one child (exquisite joy), as you deeply mourn the one who isn’t here (overwhelming grief). Doing yet another pregnancy test, wishing a blue line into existence because if you could, you would. Or simply being alone, when alone is the furthest place from where you thought you would be.
My mother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease before ‘her time’ (if there is such a thing, funny how we create an artificial benchmark), and I was struck that I knew no-one ‘my age’ who had lost a mum (another artificial benchmark). Until a dear friend lost her mother the following year, quickly and unexpectedly. While we had different experiences of death, we shared experiences of loss. We know that some days are just lost days, nights can have no sleep but many dreams, and it still feels intense when everyone else has moved on, sometimes months and years after. It has become very slightly easier for the sharing. I am not quite as alone as I felt.
Grief is actually love. That’s what I like to think that helps me try and make sense of it, knowing that when I’m laid out with grief, like wiped-out from conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious head noise, that’s love that is bringing me down. So when I feel grief, I try to feel the love that it represents. That was some love!! Wow.
But it doesn’t make grief go away. There is no answer, or solution, or antidote. Just life keeping on keeping on, and every one of us trying to find a way through the pain. Whatever works. Losing a mother is hard, but we will mostly all experience it. It is life. The loss of a child, is there any greater loss? I can’t think of one.
To those for whom Mother’s Day is a difficult day - who have lost a mother, not received a mother’s care, who are no longer a mother, or who long to be a mother, you may feel totally alone, swimming hard against the tide of this day, but I hope you draw comfort from connection with others who feel your pain intensely too.
While you know these losses cannot be addressed with words, or even at all, there is something about the empathy of another who has truly walked in shoes like yours. There are members of the tribe of mothers, or others, who understand better than most. Whether you find a reason to celebrate or generate meaning from Mother’s Day, or do everything you can to avoid it, I hope you find some comfort in your tribe.
Julia Foley is a working mum who also works, who lost her beloved mum at 71 from Alzheimer’s disease. When she is not enjoying the high and low tides of life with her husband, children and Cleo the dog, Julia runs a strategy and communications consultancy, helping leaders engage people on things that matter.
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An open letter to those who find Mother's Day difficult
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