Three years after losing my mother, I'm beginning to gain some perspective.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still devastated at my mother's absence and irritated by the onslaught of media messaging. And while I appreciate the sentiment, Skype telling me to call my mom on Mother's Day is a bit much - unless they actually can connect us, in which case, a resounding "yes" and "my bad for calling you out."
But halfway through Mother's Day here on the West Coast, I'm encouraged by the variety of posts I'm seeing - primarily on Facebook, but in other media outlets as well (see some interesting links below) - that indicate love for mothers past and present, hopes for future maternal roles, and the acknowledgement that although this holiday is an invented Hallmark one, its presence can be one that inspires some and hurts others.
Especially that last circumstance is something I'm seeing explored more and more, and although I don't envy the hurt that provoked the shift (because I do have my own), the fact that more of us are speaking out about this day as complicated (for some, suddenly so) is a good thing. It creates empathy among us all, increases appreciation and encourages us to reach out to those who make an impact regardless of whether they're biologically mothers or not.
As some of you may know, I have published two Mother's Day pieces - "Dealing with the Mother's Day Motherlode Now That Our Mothers Are Gone" last year, focusing on the media onslaught, and this year's "Marking Mother's Day When Mother is Gone" in the NY Jewish Week, which (if the Facebook Like counter is a reliable measure) has been read hundreds of times since it appeared on Wednesday. I've been blessed with really great feedback on these pieces, and have been very gratified to see this subject covered so well by other people who are putting their lives back together again after loss, and putting words to the process to share publicly. I wanted to use this space to share four pieces - not written by me - that I found moving, helpful and resonant over the last few days.
1. "The Unmothered," by Ruth Margalit (The New Yorker) - An Israeli writer living in NYC, Ruth Margalit writes about the loss of her mother, who died three and a half years ago at the age of 64 (my mother died three years ago at 66). Amidst memories of her mother and an occasional sentence that imparts an Israeli flavor that I know my mother would have appreciated, Margalit shares quotes from some of the books that kept her company during the time when her grief was most raw. (In my book-in-progress, I have a chapter devoted to this, my "bereavement bookshelf.") To wit:
I’m too aware of the fact that my mother is gone to wish her here in any serious way on Mother’s Day. But does the holiday have to be in May, when the lilacs are in full bloom? When a gentle breeze stirs—the kind of breeze that reminds me of days when she would recline on a deck chair on our Jerusalem porch, head tilted back, urging me to “sit a while”?
2. "An Open Letter to Pastors (a Non-Mom Speaks About Mother's Day)," The Time Warp Wife - Unless you're very new here, I'm Jewish. But I'm open to wisdom from everywhere, and often incredibly moved and inspired by writings from other faiths. In this "open letter" format, "non-mom" Amy Young ("I've got the parts, just not the goods") writes about how her church community honors mothers, and how it can be hurtful to those who are different.
A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.
In church, in synagogue, anywhere, she's spot on, and instead of just complaining about it, she creates a list of ways in which a religious community can support everyone on Mother's Day and beyond.
3. "Why I Hate Mother's Day," by Anne Lamott (at Salon.com) - The sublime Lamott, whose masterful words on pretty much anything I read and enjoy (even when what she describes doesn't precisely resonate with me), reposted a prior piece from Salon.com about why she hates Mother's Day and forbids her son to engage in celebrating it. "Mothering has been the richest experience of my life, but I am still opposed to Mother’s Day. It perpetuates the dangerous idea that all parents are somehow superior to non-parents," she says, proceeding to call Mother’s Day "incomplete and imprecise," noting that she is who she is "partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men. I have loved them my entire life, even after their passing."
4. "Reclaiming Mother's Day," by Rebecca Soffer (Modern Loss) - Soffer hasn't commemorated Mother's Day since 2006, when she lost her own mother. Or, you could argue (and perhaps I am), that she's been commemorating it every day since she and Gabi Birkner co-founded ModernLoss.com to provide comfort and space to emotionally explore for all those who are living with loss. In this piece, Soffer talks about this Mother's Day, her first as a mother herself, and points us to many of the site's most insightful pieces about mothers, daughters and loss, with stories ranging from never knowing one's mother to dealing with miscarriage; from teaching children about lost grandparents to the unthinkable loss of a child and its aftermath. This site is a special one, and not just because I once contributed a piece to it. Bookmark it and use it as a reference, on Mother's Day, Father's Day, or whenever else it's needed.
Sending wishes of love out to all those for whom this day is slightly more complicated than flowers, chocolates and Hallmark cards; there are more of us all the time, but based on the number of "alternative Mother's Day posts" and wishes extended to all, I do believe that the world - or at least my Facebook feed - is becoming a more inclusive and sensitive place.