Mother’s Day is here again, which is great for most people whose mothers are still alive. But for those of us who have lost our mothers, this holiday presents an onslaught of media messages urging us to reach out to someone who we can no longer touch.
“I was overwhelmed by the onslaught of Mother's Day displays in stores, radio commercials and especially those pull-at-the-heart strings attempts to convince people to buy flowers, cell phones, and clap-on lighting devices,” said Rebecca Soffer, an independent producer and writer in New York whose mother died in a car accident in 2006.
Bex Schwartz, a New York-based creative director who lost her mother "relatively suddenly" in April 2010, spends the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day in what she describes as “a state of fury. That first year, all the omnipresent Mother's Day shit made me sad. But now every time I see an ad or get an email telling me to shower my mother with love (and gifts) I just get angry.”
"When you don't have a mother, suddenly it seems like the entire world does." remembers Soffer. That first year, she joined a friend's family for brunch, but "as lovely as they all were, all I could think of was how uncomfortable, and even angry, I felt among them."
Time makes the pain different in its depth or sharpness, but doesn’t erase it. “I am tired of people telling me that, now that I have a daughter, Mother's Day will no longer be sad for me,” said Shannon Sarna Goldberg, NYC-based food-writer and blogger who gave birth to her daughter Ella last year. “True, this is the first Mother's Day in 15 years where I feel like I have something to do other than be annoyed and sad and generally brooding. But to say that the presence of a child (or any additional relationship) will negate the loss of one's mother shows a lack of understanding of what it means to be motherless, and a lack of recognition of the sanctity about what our moms mean to each us.”
The first few years are predictably rocky, as the shift happens from omnipresent-but-innocuous Hallmark holiday and excuse for family gatherings to a wrenching reminder of what has been lost. “I was in too much pain; it was easier to try to shut down the meaning of Mother's Day because I was an only child and my father was in too much pain to ask me to remember her with him,” Soffer remembers. “I ended up talking a long walk along the Hudson at the end of the day, far away from restaurants, Duane Reade card displays, and, most importantly, families.” But after a few years, she missed acknowledging a day with so many memories attached. “I decided to try out ways to feel connected with my mother instead of expending so much energy ignoring her.”
In trying to cope with Mother's Day, the challenge is to synthesize our losses within the construct of larger society, while this day-with-capital-D goes on around us, punctuating our landscape with signs of celebratory sales and elaborate floral arrangements. So we search out ways to remember.