Every year it comes to this. Every year for twenty-two springs, at some point during the first full week of May, I have found myself in Target or a grocery store or at a Hallmark in a mall, standing in front of the Mother’s Day cards with a lump in my throat.
Sometimes, depending on the poetry within the card’s message tears well in my eyes. Occasionally it hits me so hard, I have to leave. Even if I come at the job of selecting the perfect card matter-of-factly, even if I approach it with an appreciation for the women who raised my husband — his mother and step-mother — there is always a card that gets me. It has words that don’t fit my in-laws.
The card aisle on Mother’s Day reminds me how much I miss my mom
It reminds me of the hole in my life that will forever be there. Those words. They would have been perfect for my mother, but she is gone, and though I have learned to navigate life without her, that scab is reopened in the card aisle every May.
But wait, you might say, shouldn’t your husband be getting his own mothers their cards? Well, yes he probably should, but he has a challenging work schedule and he’s not terribly sentimental. He thinks this is another card-industry-created holiday that he’d prefer to boycott (like Valentine’s day and, well, our Anniversary.)
I care about those women who raised him enough to want to make sure they are acknowledged with the warmth they deserve. If Mother’s Day came around and there were no cards for them, I’d feel a pang of guilt, which would naturally make me think of my Irish Catholic mom and I’d miss her then as well. It is better for us all if I ensure that my husband’s mothers are recognized.
I remember the Mother’s Day after my mother’s mother died
I remember the first Mother’s Day after my maternal Grandmother died. I was thirteen and I came into the kitchen from the back porch to find my mother clearing the last of the brunch plates from the table. She was crying as she spooned berries into a Tupperware container. I wrapped my arms around her and I asked what was wrong. She said she missed her mother.
Grandma had been sick. And she was really old. (Well, mom seemed old to me then and she was 34. Grandma wasn’t even 70.) Mom had said Grandma was in a better place and I was too young to understand why my mother wasn’t happy on HER holiday.
She had three children and was pregnant with her fourth. My brother and I had made construction paper cards certain to be cherished. Our little sister was running around the backyard, adorable in her yellow Easter dress with its matching hat.
Wasn’t Mother’s Day about being a mother to us? Didn’t she have an over-abundance of cuteness to celebrate? But try as I might demonstrate to my mother how fortunate she was to have ME for a daughter, every Mother’s Day from then on it was the same thing, a blend of melancholy mixed in with her smiles at the silly or sentimental cards from her offspring. It wasn’t until I was much older that I understood that Mother’s Day is very much about honoring your own mother, not simply about being one.
My mom and I only shared two Mays together as mothers. She lost her battle with cancer before my daughter celebrated her second birthday. The following year, I was pregnant with my second child when Mother’s Day came around.
My husband took our little family of three to Maui, a place we’d visited with my mother the year before she died. The day before the flight, I had the ultrasound appointment at which the sex of our second child would likely be determined. I decided I needed something special to look forward to so I could rewrite the story of sadness that hovered over so many Mother’s Days in my own teen years and beyond.
I brought a Mother’s Day card to the doctor’s office and asked that they write the ultrasound results on our card and seal it. That Sunday morning, my husband, daughter, and I went to a quiet cove on the beach and opened the card. A photo from the ultrasound fluttered out with the words, IT’S A BOY. That special moment turned a potentially difficult day into a celebration that I know my mom would have appreciated. And it helped me focus on being a mother, not so much on losing mine during those second Sundays in May.
I make this day easier by sending cards to my motherless friends
Still, the annual trips to the store for cards get me every time, and I guess they always will. But I’ve found ways to be proactive in my card search. Each year I send cards to a few friends who are also motherless and remind them that they’re not alone in their loss on Mother’s Day.
My now college kids have several friends who have recently lost their mothers. Heartbreaking and numb-making. We’ve talked about how difficult this Mother’s Day will likely be for them. Maybe you could reach out? I suggest. I suspect I’m trying to make up for not understanding my own mother’s loss by teaching my children to see the other side.
Mothers come in many forms, and sometimes I think the best tribute we can pay to those we’ve lost is to mother the people in our lives when they need it most. And after a year of much loss and great challenge, the need for mothering abounds. There’s got to be a card for that.