Grieving Mother’s Day is a repost of an original piece I wrote for BlogHer.com.
“Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be,” writes Joan Didion in her deeply felt memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. Her book chronicles the aftermath of her husband’s unexpected death, and in it she also writes of the passing of her parents. “I understood the inevitability of their deaths,” she explains. “I had been expecting (fearing, dreading, anticipating) those deaths all my life.”
When the death of a parent arrives, it leaves us unmoored, bereft, in varying degrees. If we are parents ourselves the grieving process plays out against everyday obligations of school lunches, baseball practices, and parent-teacher conferences. Our families need us when, perhaps more than any other time, we’re struggling to understand life in a new, and empty, way.
I’ve lost both of my parents; my mother passed away just eight months ago. Recently, I turned to Didion’s book for solace, and perhaps familiarity. Reading about someone else’s pain would be a way of dealing with mine, I reasoned. I hadn’t been able to read about grief before. My loss was too fresh; my sorrow too accessible. But with Mother’s Day approaching, my first without my mom, I had been looking for ways to move myself forward, while still holding my memories of my mother close.
Mother’s Day has been filling my social media feed these days. Gift guides and recipes for the perfect breakfast-in-bed menu have been popping up on Facebook and Instagram with increasing frequency in the lead-up to the May 8th holiday. I haven’t read one of them. I don’t want necklaces personalized with my kids’ names or pastel pashminas. What I want — to time travel back to hug my parents one last time, get advice on parenting, and hear them laugh — won’t be found on any website or in any store.
Instead, I am making new traditions, new rituals for the holiday. I am focusing less on the expected ways to celebrate and more on the meaningful. My new ideas are varied, and I share them in the hopes that others who are grieving may find something here for themselves:
- I will reach out — with a phone call, card, or both — to a dear friend who recently lost a parent, as I know Mother’s Day will be hard for her, too.
- I will pass along my Mom’s collectibles to her friends so they have something to remind them of her.
- I will send the flowers I traditionally sent to my mom to someone else in my life, someone who would appreciate being acknowledged, and I’ll make that a tradition, a way to head off the grief Didion describes as “waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”
- I will take my kids for a long walk during which we’ll share stories about my Mom. We’ll end our journey with an ice cream cone — her favorite was a vanilla and chocolate soft swirl twist with sprinkles — and make that another annual tradition, a new way to bring sweetness to the holiday.
Perhaps, most importantly for me, I’m marking Mother’s Day by photo sorting. It sounds so mundane, but the act of going through my mother’s photographs has been comforting, an exercise in forcing myself to reconcile the past with my new present. It’s also a time travel of sorts. I’ve found black and white snapshots from when my mom was a child in the 1940s, small color photos of my parents as young newlyweds in the 1960s, and pictures from the 1990s when my brother and I had gone off to college and my parents filled their empty nest by traveling together, seeing sights around the world. While I’ve found many photos that were embarrassing (I was a teen in the 1980s; is any explanation needed?), I’ve also been reminded of lives well lived and of people who brought humor, compassion, and strength to their connections with family and friends. Those are legacies worth honoring.
In the hopes others will hold on to memories of my parents, too, as part of my Mother’s Day ritual, I’ve packed up photos from my mother’s collection for her siblings and closest friends. When I stood in line at the post office to send pictures all across the country, to Oklahoma and Colorado to New Jersey and Maine, I found my grief making room for something different. It wasn’t happiness — it’s still too early for that — but perhaps it was a bit of peace.
In that peace, I find comfort, and the wherewithal to look at Mother’s Day head on. I may not be able to be with my Mom on that day, to call her up to tell her I love her, but the act of remembering and cherishing her makes that day, and each day, filled with her, which is what I really want.