The evolution of loss, or Thoughts on Mother’s Day

It’s been 14 years since I lost my mother to a valiant but brief (and ultimately futile) battle with cancer. The loss of my mother remains, even after all these years, one of the single most defining events in my life. She passed away six weeks after I turned 31 and four days after she turned 50. To say I was unprepared for her death would be an understatement. I spent the early years after her passing in a dark space that was only worsened by the death of my grandmother (my mother’s mom), just 18 months after my mother’s passing. In less than two years, I lost the women who had mothered, nourished and raised me. I lost my moral compass and foundation at a time when I still needed them.

As a Black woman, my very essence sits on the foundation of my mother. The deaths of both my mother and grandmother left me adrift in a family of men and, as I wrote many years ago, my father in the early years tried his best to mother me. But despite his attempts, the loss of my mother was always with me.

Over the years, I have gone through many stages of grief and growth. The birth of my daughter, for example, served as a reminder that at a young age, I had become the eldest woman in our family. For better or worse, I was the matriarch of our little clan. It isn’t exactly how one expects to spend their 30s.

Since my mother’s death, my relationship to Mother’s Day has been very complex. On the one hand, as a mother myself, my children and others have wanted to honor me as such; yet, all around me. I see generations of mothers who serve as reminders of what I lost.

My son’s marriage last year and entry into parenthood have combined to once again redefine the very role of mothering (and by extension Mother’s Day) as I settle into my newest role as mother-in-law and grandmother. The newest editions to our family have forced me to realize that with loss comes evolution but that it’s often a slow-moving process.

Several days ago, I found myself in the card aisle trying to search for a card for my beloved daughter-in-law as I wanted to acknowledge her own entry and transformation into the mothering club. I have not stepped foot in the aisle selling anything related to Mother’s Day since 2005, the year my grandmother died. To say it was a jarring experience would be putting it mildly as I searched frantically for a card appropriate for my daughter-in-law and instead was surrounded by cards to our own mothers. Halfway through the card search, I felt my eyes well up as I realized I was surrounded by people looking for the right cards to give to their own mothers. A simple and maybe even at times onerous task that I will never again do in this lifetime.

I eventually found a card and my way to the counter and held it together long enough to pay for the card and to exit the store. It was upon leaving the store that the shifts that I have been feeling in the past year around my own mother really made sense. I will never not miss my mother but there are certain milestones that loom so large that you need the presence of an elder.

The past year has definitely been one of those milestones as my son’s marriage and his wife’s pregnancy felt very much like uncharted waters. After all, how exactly does one support their adult child after they get married? The parenting manuals don’t include these tidbits and Lord knows, everyone has a story about “that” mother-in-law and the one thing that I have committed myself to is not becoming that kind of person.

My mother’s absence was acute for me not only during my son’s transitions but in the past several years as I have re-started my life after 20 years of marriage. Truthfully, as the decision was being made to separate, it was my mother’s words and wisdom that I craved most of all, as no one in my circle could understand the decision to part ways with my husband.

Gone are the daily longings for her, but in the big moments…in the moments of indecision…I miss home; I miss my mother. Yet as the years pass by, I see her reflected in the habits that I have picked up over the years. I see her in the way that my daughter jiggles her foot and in her build which looks like it will be as slight as my mother’s. I see her in my son; unlike his sister, my son knew my mother and was close with her until her death. I even see her in my grandson’s eyes. The same dark eyes that we all have: her eyes.

No one can ever replace her and as long as I am of sound mind, I will never forget her. But after all these years, I have come to realize that in giving me life and loving me, she bequeathed something far greater. A spirit that lives on in not just her children but her grandchildren and now her great-grandchild. The day my grandson was born, I had a somber talk with my father as I was feeling her loss on that day and wondering what she would make of becoming a great-grandmother. My father reminded me that she was with me and knew and indeed she is. So on this Mother’s Day weekend, I thank you Mom. Until we meet again and until that time, may your spirit rest over our clan and may I be half the woman you were.
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The Ambivalence of Mother’s Day…thoughts on the day

Today is Mother’s Day, a day we celebrate and honor the women who in the ideal world not only brought us into the world but also raised us, nurtured us, sustained us and just loved us. It’s a day where the good feelings seem to flow like cocaine at a 1980’s rock party! Yet for some women Mother’s Day is a double edge sword, where it feels less than good because as a society we have a very narrow lens of what we consider to be mothering.

Many women come to mothering with eyes wide open, hearts full, just knowing they will love everything about mothering. Yet I was not one of those women, getting pregnant at 18 after being married a mere few months, made me ambivalent at best about mothering. I spent my entire pregnancy scared that I might die in childbirth and when my son was born, I didn’t even see him until four hours after birth. Yet the first time I laid eyes on him, something deep inside me stirred, I knew he was my world but I had no idea even after falling immediately in love with him how radically different my path to mothering would be.

I won’t rehash my past since its been written about on this blog before, but I will say I have been a teen mom, a single mom, and a non-custodial mom and of all those labels the one that draws the most raised eye brows is that of non-custodial Mom. After all, it’s one thing for a Dad to not be around but a Mom? Even now in 2011 when most of us consider ourselves open-minded about parenting, after all we know gay couples that raise kids…it’s the non custodial Mom that still throws us off balance. After all how does a mother leave her child?

In my case I didn’t exactly leave, but fear, intimidation and a lack of money led me to agree to something I didn’t want or believe in; back then I was naïve and thought it would all work out. I did not understand that in agreeing to give my ex full custody (granted at the time I agreed to that my son was actually living with me) I was putting myself in a bad situation. By the time I was finally in a place to fight back, it took thousands of dollars and I was able to get joint legal custody with my son living with his Dad. Joint legal custody is powerful because it meant legally we were on the same foot but my son still lived with his Dad and nothing could change that. So as regular readers know that’s how Black Girl in Maine came to be.

My son was 6 when he went to live with his Dad and in those early years Mother’s Day often felt like hell. The first year he was with his Dad I didn’t see him on Mother’s Day as I was still in Chicago. I remember people assuming I was not a mother as they did not see a child, as a mother to not be acknowledged can be hard in general but something about a day that hinges on cards, flowers, food and time spent with your progeny when said progeny is not with you can just send you over the edge, emotionally and mentally.

By the time my son was 10, we were in Maine and I started being able to have my son on Mother’s Day, yet even that felt fraudulent. After all the next morning he went back to his Dad’s house, granted it was better than the years we were 1100 miles apart since once I moved to Maine, I saw him regularly.

Little did I know that by the time my boy turned 12, I was going to enter another club that makes Mother’s Day excruciating as hell and that is the motherless club. My Mom passed away when my son was 12 and that really added to my ambivalence about Mother’s Day. Due to the fact that statistically women live longer than men, generally a woman can expect to have her Mom around until she is in her 50’s, so if you are in your 30’s and motherless it seems strange to many. Granted there are many women who are motherless for a myriad of reasons, as I realized yesterday when my favorite barista shared with me that she had not spoken to her own mother in years. Again the mother-child relationship is fraught with tension and despite our best intentions it cannot be summed up easily and stuck on a card ready to sell.

Now Mother’s Day has evolved again for me, as my son is now 19 and away at college and I no longer have to claim that label of non custodial mother though I do because it shaped me and has shaped my parenting towards my 5 year old. As my husband lovingly jokes there are times I over parent her to make up for what I feel was under parenting with my son, granted my son has never felt that way and despite my not being around every day, our relationship is strong. I must say that as much as I bitch about technology and social media, it has allowed us to stay very connected since let’s face it as a college freshman yakking on the phone with your Moms is not a priority. Yet we text, tweet and Facebook daily.

Today this post is for all the women who don’t have a Hallmark style relationship with mothering especially non-custodial Moms and motherless daughters/Moms. Don’t get caught up in the imagery of mothering, trust in your heart and know you are a mother no matter what. For women whose mothers are no longer in your life, honor the women in your life who nurture you regardless of connection. There is no reason you can’t do something special for women who have nourished you emotionally or mentally.

Have a Happy Nurturer Day!

The motherless mother

It’s the eve of Mother’s Day, a day that I have very mixed feelings about. On the one hand it feels very commercial and superficial yet when you have no mother it feels even more mixed. After all there is one to buy a cheesy card for and take out to dinner.Just reminders everywhere you go for what you no longer have, or maybe never even had in the first place.  For me there is the added burden that it was on a Mother’s Day that I broke my mother’s heart. It took years to repair the damage but now that she is no longer here even a sappy Hallmark infested day sends me into a quivering mess.

When my Mom first passed away, I was at an age where there were no other members in this new club that I found myself in; after all when you are barely 30 and your Mom is barely 50,the expectation is  that your Mom will be around. The early years were hard because I literally knew no other women in my age group who were motherless. Oh, I knew women who had rocky relationships with their Mom, hell they may have even wished their Mom was dead but in most cases unless there is serious dysfunction, most do like having dear ole Mom around.

Now as I start to dance towards 40 I have started to meet a few more women in this club, it’s a strange place to be. I think even more so when you have your own kids and see part of the life circle no longer in existence. Folks always ask  me or rather say “Well you have kids” as if somehow having my own kids takes away the pain and emptiness of no longer having a mother. Just as my kids are kids, in my mind’s eye I am still someone’s child except that one half of the duo that made my very life possible is no longer here and no matter what there will always be pain around the subject. Especially where I feel her life was cut short, after all 50 is too fucking young to die when no one prepared us instead we were led to believe she would be healed. So perhaps the reason I feel pain is because I never got closure on my terms.

So as I prepare to be treated well by my loved ones on Mother’s Day this post is for all the Moms who no longer have their babies and the babies (no matter their age) who no longer have their Mom’s. May you find peace on a day that sometimes feels like it’s all about cards and gifts yet the absence of the key players that make it Mother’s Day have you wanting to hide in the closet until Monday.