When my brother got divorced several years ago, he asked me not to talk with him about it. He said I had not been divorced, and could not really understand what he was going through. Fair enough.
He used a wonderful analogy that applies in many human interactions. He said getting a divorce is like having a flooded basement. If you’ve never had a flooded basement, you don’t really know how invasive and problematic it is.
What seems like a small amount of water can cause a great amount of damage. Friends will hear about your basement and be sorry, but they don’t really know how traumatic it is. This, he said, is what divorce is like.
I appreciated his frankness, and as I and millions of others approach the Hallmark holiday of Mother’s Day I fully get this metaphor.
I try not to think about the holiday, but you can’t help it because it is everywhere. Like every other Hallmark holiday, marketers see it as an opportunity to make money.
Today the trip to the grocery store to buy graduation cards for our nephews bowled me over. Next to the graduation cards was the large display of Mother’s Day cards. I couldn’t take it, and burst into tears.
My mother was a card person. I always spent a lot of time selecting the right card with the right flowery and serious sentiment. I never sent her a silly card; she liked the old-fashioned kind with a traditional verse—no ninety-nine cent card, no fat female friends, no cards with the singing computer chip, just something frilly and lacy with my signature.
Mom sent me cards for everything. She influenced me in this way. She also sent notes, often stuffed with newspaper clippings or coupons she thought I might need. Almost every time, I rolled my eyes at the clipping or coupon.
In college, she usually stuffed in a twenty dollar bill as a treat for me. When I was a freshman in college, I was almost embarrassed about how often she wrote me – usually once or twice a week.
In her waning years with dementia, my dear father always made sure she signed my birthday card each summer. I have these cards stuffed in the bottom of a desk drawer. Her signature gets increasingly frail as the years pass and the dementia takes a toll. The last card I have from both of them is from 2011; Dad signed her name. His wide, dark scrawl is so different from her petite, Palmer School form.
At the end, did she still know she was signing her oldest child’s birthday card? Did she know what a card was, what a birthday was?
I always took Mother’s Day for granted, especially as a child. I had two wonderful grandmothers and saw one or both of them, even though one lived ninety miles away.
We went to church on Mother’s Day and all the mothers got a corsage. If your own mother was dead, your corsage was white. There were always two or three women in the congregation who had no children. I remember thinking what an uncomfortable day it must be for those without children.
Mother’s Day makes saints of all mothers. I am no saint, nor was my mother. We had a complicated relationship, mostly filled with love.
But my mother battled depression, starting when I was fourteen. I didn’t understand her at all until I had my own child, and then I still often didn’t understand her. I learned that it was very sad that she was depressed, and I stopped being angry with her.
I’m not sure she ever understood me, but of course it doesn’t matter. I was her child. She didn’t care whether she understood me or not. I am a mother—I don’t care whether I understand my child or not. I just want to love him. My mother just wanted to love me.
That’s the damned thing about Mother’s Day.
It’s about our mother—not us as mothers.
My child is 23 years old and hasn’t realized yet that he will lose me someday. He’s lost both his grandmothers, when he was 20 and 22. I lost my grandmothers when I was 19 and 34.
I missed my grandmothers on Mother’s Day, but there was no lump-in-the-throat, ache like I feel today in anticipation of the Hallmark holiday. How ridiculous to feel like a motherless child at age 55?
The reality is I was very lucky in so many ways—lucky to never doubt my mother’s love even after her death, lucky to be so wanted and loved by a woman who would devote her life to me and my brother, lucky to have enough time with her to gain some perspective and maturity on the struggles she had in her life, and lucky enough to appreciate that.
When I lost my job four years ago, that loss netted a strange gift. That gift was time to spend with my mother—who had long forgotten much of who and what she was. Amazingly, the love never left her. So many people with dementia turn into someone else. My mother was always a person filled with love, and that never left.
I still feel her love with me.
My mother died in February 2012 and last Mother’s Day my son graduated from college, surrounded by everyone who loves him. I could not be sad on that Mother’s Day—it was his day, of course, his special day.
This year Mother’s Day is different. There is no overwhelming celebration. My father has a girlfriend now, since last December. My husband and I will be driving back from attending our two nephews’ college graduation party. Our son lives 800 miles away and we celebrated last Sunday with him, eating at Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington DC. I declared that it was Mother’s Day, so it was.
After my grandmother died, my mother missed her terribly. They were very close, and while it wasn’t the healthiest relationship in the universe, it was what it was. Every mother/daughter relationship—even the best ones—are fraught with drama.
After my mother raised my brother and me, she devoted her time to helping her mother care for her ailing father. They talked multiple times a day on the phone, and Mom took them everywhere. My grandmother was a difficult, intense woman who bossed my mom around in one sense, and treated her like a china doll in another sense.
I reckon this day like this, somewhere on a celestial country road, my mother is driving my grandparents somewhere in a late model Oldsmobile 98. My mother is lost, and my grandfather—who also had vascular dementia—is sitting in the navigator’s seat dressed in an impeccable suit with tie, talking about the excellent crops. My grandmother—no doubt dressed in something expensive and purple—is shaking her rings at my mother and providing bad directions. The three are all together, driving through the country for a nice lunch.
Lost and fielding commands from my grandmother, my mother is still happy because she is with her mother.