Next week will be the first Mother’s Day I’ve experienced with my mother on the other side of “the veil.”
At this point–with a week to go before the big event, I don’t know which is worse: the Photo Shopped confections of familial delight (so much pink!) or the rants about how Mother’s Day is capitalist b.s. that marginalizes people who have horrible or dead (or horrible and dead) mothers.
It seems to me that everyone is missing a good opportunity here to contemplate what motherhood means, in all its complexity and nuance.
I’ve written a fair amount about my mom over the last few years, especially in the wake of her death last August. While she was alive, I worked really hard not to embarrass her or disclose so much about her or our relationship as to create trouble.
The reality is that we didn’t always get along. She’d have told you that herself, of course. She’d have said I was intense and high-energy as a kid, prone to falling hard for some boy that would never, ever reciprocate. I didn’t rebel in my teens–she wouldn’t allow it–so my rebellion came later, in my twenties, when I began to reveal more of my own identity, my own opinions.
She didn’t always approve of what I had to say then. She
didn’t always approve seldom approved of my chosen relationships. She was, I see even in hindsight, totally wrong-headed in her approach to me during that time. She wanted to keep me under her thumb, her influence, right as I was struggling to fly.
Still, for all the frustrations of my early adult years, a decade later I elected to walk alongside her during her last days, to do her bidding, to honor her requests. Things like escorting her to the ER at 3 AM and representing her in Medicare/Medicaid appeals, while stressful and something of a learning curve, fit better my Type-A personality. Picking up her favorite fried okra? Not a problem. But if I never have to explain twice to another hospital nurse on the same shift that my elderly loved one’s hearing is just fine, thank you, I’ll be good.
Mother’s Day brings around lots of memes and sentimental remarks, and of them all the ones that bug me most of all are the maudlin ones wistful for “just one more hour” with a deceased mother. In a near-year of grief, I’ve never felt a longing for another hour or day. That isn’t to say that I don’t miss my mother because I do. But I also told myself when I began providing her with eldercare support–marginalizing my own personal and professional ambitions to shore up her emotional and legal needs–that those years were the final phase of our journey as a mother-daughter dyad. When I got to the other side–when she left this world, I didn’t want to have regrets or a list of “if onlys.” We’d part as tender souls, but with our own, new and separate trajectories at last.
In my heart, I believe she feels the same way.
There was a point last summer when I told a friend that it was time to put down my “Mother’s Warrior” armor and take on the robes of a priestess. I clued into the fact that my mother needed me to help her take those final steps home. Indeed, in her last days she experienced a deep spiritual crisis and, blessedly, I found the right words to soothe her. In so doing, I also reconnected with my own deepest spiritual beliefs–a story that is too precious yet to tell.
Perhaps it was that incident however that has shifted my perception of our relationship from one of mother-daughter to fellow travelers who, for over four decades, shared one of life’s most precious bonds. Speaking as someone on her own journey, I like to imagine Mom out there beyond the earth’s boundaries, twirling around stars and constellations. Could that be a fantasy born out of having a parent with a physical disability? Maybe the idea of her moving freely is at the root of that vision. Or maybe, as a mother myself, I see her liberated from the worries and frustrations–the weights–of motherhood and can now do and see all that she longs to do.
Still, every so often I do stumble upon her presence, as sharp and as clear a sensation as if she were standing before me again, in vibrant youth. This week, I’m sure she was hovering around my local nursery, checking out some hypertufa water troughs tucked beneath colorful containers of coleus and hanging ferns. When I notice her presence, I’m filled with the overwhelming sense that she doesn’t want me weepy or sad but rather to feel what I believe she feels: intense joy at the wonders of the universe.
While I honor my mother and her memory, I will mostly celebrate this week her spiritual rebirth, her freedom from the mortal coil, the constraints of all those cultural expectations about her womanhood, her motherhood, and even the confines of her relationship to me.
I like to think it is perhaps the finest Mother’s Day gift I will ever give her.