I love that Mother’s Day comes along in the spring. Not only does it give my kids a chance to get me something that I’ll love all summer long (they usually fill my flower beds for me, the gift that keeps on giving!), it’s a time of renewal and optimism. The only real problem is, I’ve not always been able to enjoy this holiday. From the moment my own mom died unexpectedly, sixteen years ago, it’s been a struggle not to make it a day all about missing her.
The first time it rolled around after her death I had a three year old and a two year old. My whole life I had celebrated the holiday as the giver, not the receiver. It was easy to pamper my mom. She was one of those moms who gave to everyone else before herself. She raised five kids of her own, while taking in foster children at the same time. When the foster care years ended she began taking in babysitting kids. She started a youth group for the kids in our remote country neighborhood. As her kids left home she started a lawn care service and hired hard-to-employ young adults, teaching them how to be responsible. She never stopped giving, so finding ways to celebrate her life came easily.
Then suddenly, just months after her fiftieth birthday, she was gone. I was such a new mother myself that seeing Mother’s Day as ‘my’ day didn’t quite sink it. It was all about her, and all about the absence of her. With the patient encouragement of my poor husband, I trudged through the first couple of years, trying my best to hold back the tears as my preschoolers handed me construction paper cards.
One year an unexpected turn of events changed how I saw the holiday. The month after my third child was born I took all three of my children to the town park that was just past our backyard. As my two older children climbed on the play equipment, I paced with their fussy newborn brother. My attention slowly turned to an event in the pavilion nearby. There were long black limos, a full orchestra playing soothing music, and rows and rows of folding chairs. It took me a few minutes to realize what I was witnessing.
I had read in the paper that a couple in my neighborhood had lost their daughters in the crash of TWA flight 800, just the week before. Their two young adult daughters, their only children, had been traveling on a long anticipated trip together to Europe. And in an instant, they were both gone. As I stood in that park, trying to calm my colicky baby, they were putting their beautiful daughters to rest.
Tears began to stream down my face as I tried to take in their loss. As I pushed through my days, sleep deprived and hormone driven, in my house that seemed to be overflowing with children, their house was forever silenced. No grandbabies would hug their necks in the future. Instead of two future weddings, they had planned one, combined funeral. The tragedy of the moment shook me deeply.
I thought of that mother for months afterward. When the demands of young children threatened to overwhelm, I’d think of her, and her forever quiet house. It calmed me and kept me centered.
Then a new Mother’s Day rolled around. The familiar dread began to creep in. Until one day, when I thought of my neighbor with the incredible loss. I couldn’t imagine how hard the day would be for her. Two girls who most likely showered her with gifts, cards, and flowers were no longer on the planet. I was fairly confident that it would be a dark day for her.
So I got out a card and I wrote a note. I told her I was thinking of her, and how hard the day might be for her. I told her that she must have been a great mom, to have raised two such accomplished daughters. Their funeral had been full of testimonies of how special they were. I told her that although I didn’t know her, I would be thinking of her on Mother’s Day. I wished her peace and comfort. Then I sealed the envelope and dropped it in the mail.
And as hard as that letter was to write, it cleansed me somehow. By reaching out to someone else, I was comforted. I realized it was exactly what my own mother would have wanted me to do. Her life had been about giving to others, seeing needs and meeting them. It felt so good to write that letter that I wrote another.
That year, and every year since, I’ve seen Mother’s Day in a new light. I send a card to my wonderful mother-in-law, and one to my stepmom, but I also send out a small stack to others. Every year I think of women I know, especially women who might be overlooked on this special day, and in memory of my mom, I write them a note.
One year I sent a card to my husband’s aunt, who had lost her teen daughter in a driving accident the year before. Another year I sent one to a mom I knew from the kid’s school, who had had a tough year as her son battled a long term illness. Single moms get overlooked a lot, especially the ones with kids who are too young to really get it. It’s rarely hard to think of moms to put on my list.
A few years ago I had a special card made up, with a picture of my mom on the front(the picture above). It felt right, continuing her mission, in a way that I think would make her proud.
As the years have passed and my own children have grown, I have been able to relax and settle into my own role in the day. I solidly acknowledge my role as a mom and see how it’s important for children to spend one day celebrating the role a mom plays in their lives. I definitely saw how deeply I needed my own mom, once she was gone. I suspect my children need me as much as I needed her.
So this year I’m making my list and writing out the cards. It’s become a part of the tradition for me, as much as admiring my newly planted flower bed. Being a mom is hard, and helping each other out whenever we can only makes sense. And it doesn’t hurt that it happens to make my heart ache a little less in the process.
8 thoughts on “How A New Mother’s Day Tradition Healed My Heart”
That is absolutely beautiful, Judy.
What a powerful testament to your mother’s spirit Judy.
A friend and her children each wrote notes to me the first Mother’s Day after my mother died, each filled with examples of how I’d been a mother to them too and reminding me that those of us who love each other do, in a way, provide “mothering” where it is needed. I hope to pass along your tradition and theirs this year Judy. Thank you.
Such a touching story! I will share it with my Aunts and Dad who are still finding it hard to deal with the loss of my grandmother!
Thank you for sharing <3
That is so moving I don’t even know what to say.
Perhaps this : I cried reading it.
what a lovely tradition…your mother must be so proud of you, wherever she is. what you said about single moms kind of struck a chord with me…my husband passed away 5 weeks before our only child was born, so i spent my first mother’s day (last year) alone with a colicky baby (6 weeks old at the time). several people thought of me though, and sent me notes, and it meant so much to me. i wanted to tell you how very BIG the “little” things like what you do actually are, and thank you on behalf of all the forgotten and grieving moms you think of.
Thank you, Cardus. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope your life (and your baby’s life) is full of people who love and support you. Hugs from New York.
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