When my daughter died 3 days before Mother’s Day, and only a couple of years after the death of my mother, a day of celebration became for me a day of sorrow. On that day each year the pain of grief feels raw again, and temporarily overrides the powerful antidote of treasured memories. On this day each year I have to rely on tried and tested coping strategies to help me refocus awareness on what I have, rather than on what I have lost.
My experience is shared by many, and is especially painful for vulnerable children whose mothers have died before they were able to develop the kind of coping strategies that serve me well. My heart goes out to the many hundreds of grieving children who have shared their stories with me over the years, to the grieving children in my own family, and to the grieving children currently being cared for at ‘A Friend’s Place’.
No matter where we fit in our social structure, rich or poor, privileged or underprivileged, the death of someone we love, someone who is central to our everyday sense of security, identity and wellbeing, causes immeasurable pain. Forever after, days of celebration have the power to reopen or exacerbate those ‘wounds of the heart’. Prince William and Prince Harry are testament to this. Like all people bereaved as children, they still find Mother’s Day particularly difficult. For them, and many other people around the world, the sounds and images of happy families, ‘in your face advertisements’, insensitive or thoughtless comments, all somehow manage to slip under the guard rail we slowly learn to place around our vulnerability.
A Time for Celebration
Mother’s Day – simple words that for many fortunate people produce memories, images, thoughts and feelings that stimulate a flurry of card and present buying. Family breakfasts, lunches, picnics, visits and phone calls are planned and locked into busy calendars. Young children write heartfelt messages on cards they have decorated and buy gifts their fathers may have contributed to Mother’s Day stalls at school. Mothers praise offerings of cold tea and burnt toast as if they were served by master chefs. Phone calls, flowers, simple gifts, email, text messages and family meals stimulate appreciative tears as they fill mothers’ hearts to overflowing. Love and appreciation demonstrated in action is powerful medicine.
Good mothers deserve to be celebrated, to be honoured and remembered. They are often the glue that binds family relationships. For many of us, our mothers provide our first experience of unconditional love, and our first experience of safe, physical touch. Our mothers are usually the first person to give us the kind of nurturing connection that creates in us a sense of belonging, and leaves us with a lifelong desire, conscious or unconscious, to recapture that rare feeling of intimacy without cost, of intimacy that is ‘us’ centred.
For those of us fortunate enough to have experienced good mothering, Mother’s Day provides an opportunity to focus on the role mothers play in our lives. They gave us life, a name, a place in the family, nurture, rules to keep us safe, values and beliefs. They taught us language, the way to conduct family relationships and how to build and maintain relationships with the wider community. They made us feel safe, understood, supported, encouraged, and most importantly, loved. No wonder many people look forward to and enjoy all that Mothers’ Day is meant to celebrate.
A Time for Sorrow
But life isn’t like that for everyone. Let’s think for a moment not only of those people whose mothers died prematurely, leaving vulnerable young children bereft, but also of the folk whose mothers were abusive, cold, punishing, narcissistic, abandoning, physically or emotionally absent. They may have grieved all of their lives as they longed for the mother of their dreams.
We may also wonder what Mothers’ Day celebrations might be like for mothers whose children have died prematurely? For women whose dreams of motherhood remain unfulfilled? For mothers of missing children? For mothers denied access to their children? For mothers neglected or ill treated by their children? For mothers whose children are imprisoned? For mothers whose children are lost in the fog of alcohol or other drug dependence, or of mental illness?
A Time for Celebration, Sorrow and Compassion
If you are one of the fortunate people, celebrate the day, treasure your memories, and make new ones. Then remember and show compassionate understanding to those less fortunate. Send a card, an email, a text message, flowers – show that you care. The gifts that our mothers have given us are multiplied when we use them to nurture, and to be other centred.
On this special day, let’s drink a toast to mothers everywhere, good or bad, for giving us life, and to mother earth who sustains it!
Dianne McKissock OAM
NCCG Outreach Support Service
Email support for dying and bereaved people and anyone involved in their care