"I Lost my Mother" Day
(Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Sunday, August 31, 2003


It’s an annual malady, as predictable as the blooming flowers and lengthening days. Irritation masks the pain in my heart as I walk past the card section of a drugstore, where “Happy Mother’s Day” has taken up the space previously occupied by “Happy Easter/Passover.” The colorful advertisements for jewelry stores, chocolate shops and florists sting me. “Remember everything Mom did for you - now’s the time to thank that special woman!”

I lost my mother seven years ago. It was sudden, it was difficult. I struggled through the numbness, followed by tears and anger, grief tainting my day for months. Life moved on, and I learned to deal with my loss. But Mother’s Day took me by surprise.

I didn’t think twice about going to church on Mother’s Day last year. So much time had passed since her death, I didn’t think I’d feel too emotional. During the sermon, however, the priest began to read a children’s story of the lifetime bond of love between a mother and her child. I felt a stab of pain and then a deeper contraction in my heart. “Oh no, I’m going to cry,” I thought, and then to my mortification, big tears slid down my cheeks.

I felt a Big Cry coming on, the kind that anyone who has lost a loved one understands. It could be five years after their death, it could be a small, sentimental detail, but when something triggers the pain, it roars over you like their death was yesterday. I did everything I could to keep the Big Cry at bay; I bit my lip, I dug my fingernails into my palms, I thought of everything about Mom that had irritated me, but the thoughts were pebbles in my ocean of reborn grief. My mother was dead; she was never coming back. This day, dedicated to mothers, drove the loss in like a dagger into my heart. As the tears flowed faster, I struggled up and out of the church. In the private space of my car, I let it all out. It’s “I Lost My Mother” Day.

Mother’s Day hurts. It’s like hearing people talk about a party to which I’m not invited. I find myself getting moody two weeks before the event, something inside me curling up into a tight, hard ball that comes off as a sour attitude to observers. I make plans for That Day, that don’t require acknowledgment of the holiday. I slip up occasionally - after an evening movie, my husband and I grab a quick bite in a restaurant that has decorations up, or family groups still eating with Mom, flushed and smiling, at the place of honor. I look the other way and comment to my husband that I’m not as hungry as I thought I was.

“Oh, but you haven’t really lost her,” well-meaning people try to tell me. “Her spirit is with you.”

I’m sorry, sometimes I just want more than her spirit. “I’ve lost my mother,” I want to scream to all the people at church, at restaurants, Mom by their side. “Be glad you have her,” I feel like snapping at my friends, when they gripe about their mothers.

I know I’m not the only one to suffer on Mother’s Day. For many, the day is a reminder that their mothers are sick, dying or far away. Other people don’t have a positive relationship with their mother, and years of hurt and misunderstandings separate the two of them. The hype of Mother’s Day only fuels the bitterness.

I spoke with one of my brothers on Mother’s Day this past year. It comforted me to talk to someone who shared the same memories.

“Isn’t it time for others to start acknowledging those who suffer on this day?” I asked him.

“Hallmark would never go for it,” he said. “How much money would they make on a card that says, ‘You’re dead so I can’t send this, but Happy Mother’s Day.”

“Or else,” I added, “‘I’m still angry at you but we’re not communicating so I can’t tell you how I feel on this day.”

“Hey, remember how Mom used to send us a card for every holiday, even Halloween and Fourth of July?”

“Yeah and she used to write the word “love” on a piece of paper and slip it in whenever she sent me a package. She was afraid to write anything else, since the post office charges you more when you include a letter in a package,” I said.

We laughed, the memories soothing my hurt.

Months later, as I write this, a child grows inside me, my first. It is a shock to realize that by Mother’s Day, I will be a mother. And it comforts me: now I can share something with my mother, that link of life that we have both been privileged to carry on. My child will grow up in my protective embrace and in his adult years, he will hold some of the same memories of “mom” that I do. Some memories will make him smile, others will make him grimace or groan, but something deep and timeless in him will revere the woman who gave him life.


© 2003 Terez Rose

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