Motherless Mother's Days.
It’s March. The daffodils & crocus’s are starting to blush colour under their green hoods. It feels fantastic to be liberated after those weeks of cold, dark, winter. I went out this morning and was warm-ish! The shops are heaving under Mother’s Day cards, chocolates, flowers, bunting & miscellaneous gifts. And I hate it.
Because when your own mother isn’t present, it stings. A lot.
My Mum died in 2005. She was only 54. She had a sudden & devastating brain haemorrhage. I miss her every single day. Not just as a vague sentiment. But in actual moments. Still, when I think I'll phone her to tell her a piece of news, or something I think she would be interested in, I am shocked to know she is not there.
Mother’s Day is ubiquitous, and so it should be. Our Mothers are a unique source of comfort, tenderness & sanctuary, and this is why Mother’s Day exists. Although the cards on the shelves are awash with neatly & poetically expressed verses along the lines of ‘my mother is unique & wonderful’, there’s more to it than that. Mothers are responsible for our conception of the world. They set our attitudes & expectations in their creation & management of the mundane fundamentals of everyday life. They provide what my friend described this morning as ‘emotional regulation’ – they set the tone, the pace and the style for the home and the people in it. They carry the mental load, in every waking hour (and there are many of them) balancing the needs and requirements of every member of the family.
"She never quite leaves her children at home, even when she doesn't take them along"
Margaret Culkin Banning
Mothers bear the constant physical proximity of very young children. They hold space for the variable & intense demands of toddlers and pre-schoolers. Then onwards, Mothers hold the line as boundaries are pushed against, distinct little individuals assailing the frontiers of their safe world, trying to determine where their separateness from the entity that still holds them safe begins. Older still, and mothers are watchful for signs that all is well, or not well, in the shifting physical & emotional sands of their children. It doesn’t end there. Mother’s love is like gravity & oxygen; unseen, but vital to sustain us.
These are the common factors, regardless of the ‘type’ of mother we think we are. Working full time; working part-time; working (relentlessly) at home; with an attachment style; or with rock solid boundaries; it doesn’t matter which box you fit yourself in, all our kids have pretty much the same needs & behaviours. And what our behaviour as mothers gives our children is security. They are known by their watchful, instinctive, intuitive mothers, in a way maybe even we ourselves don’t fully understand. There’s an indistinct boundary between mother & child, an enmeshment, that may come from a time when we existed in one body. And then when our nourishment became theirs, and we were present to soothe, and warm, and protect, and fill those little bodies whenever they needed it.
"But behind all your stories is your mother's story, for hers is where yours begins." Mitch Albom, For One More Day
These are the reasons that mothers are special. Because they watch & are present whenever they are required. So when you become a mother, and become watchful & present, and realise how overwhelming & exhausting & diminishing it can be, and you are without your own Mother to watch you & be present with you, then Mother’s Day, frankly, is shite.
So I think all of these things as I’m assaulted by the flowers that garland the entrance to the supermarkets, and as I navigate the thickets of fathers & children discussing which flowers, & which chocolates, and as I overhear families planning lunches out at this or that favourite place. Because not only do I feel the loss of my Mum keenly, still, but I am excluded from this social event.
So is it possible to navigate Mother’s Day without your Mother, positively? Well yes. It won’t be easy, but it is possible.
Take the long view. If you can. It gives me some comfort to see all this as the circle of life. Stephen Hawking said “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist”. Sure, it’s philosophical, but she is, I am, we are, part of a beat and a rhythm. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Be thankful for the gifts she gave you. Resilience? Determination? A wicked smile? My mum gifted me the experience of long, boozy lunches, and a resilience that is both a blessing & a curse. Whatever it is you carry parts of your mother within you. Remember that wherever you go, whoever you are with, however far away you are from the last time you heard her voice, a part of her is nestled in you.
Seek out your mother in your home. I promise you, she’s there. I have pots & pans that were my mothers, and I’ll be cooking with them on Mother’s Day. The way the kitchen is laid out so perfectly replicates her logic, that my husband can find his way around my sister’s kitchen too, because my mum also resides, quietly, invisibly, in my sister’s home.
Pay it forward. My mother gave me a love of cooking, good food & music. I pay this forward to the children, because I like to give them a little bit of her. I cook the food she loved to cook us, and we dance to music I danced to with her. I’m not trying to recreate a moment, but to share something with them (they don’t always appreciate it, but that’s as it should be).
Take pride. Losing your mother is hard. Mothering without your mother at your back is bloody hard. But look what you have achieved. Look what you can do. Be proud of her for raising a woman who can survive. And be proud of yourself for keeping on; for asking for help if you needed it; for getting up every morning; for carrying on even now everyone has stopped asking you how you are.
Take sanctuary in the relationships you do have. No-one will replace you mother, and the hard truth is that you will not feel the security & intimacy she gave you. But. There is love & joy to be found in different relationships. Not the same. Not to replace your mum. But different & vibrant, and there to be enjoyed. If you can spend Mother’s Day with people who love you for who you are, then do it. Love is what it’s about.
Find something else to do. Mother’s Day is full of happy, multi-generational families, enjoying the time this weekend gives them to focus on their bonds. It bloody well hurts to see that, and know you are missing out. If you find this hard, it’s ok to avoid it! Arrange a lunch at your house. Go for a walk in the woods. Take a long afternoon bath. Whatever, arrange something that means you can avoid the peak of it all.
Take some time to ‘be’ with your grief. We mother’s are busy people. We have a tendency to put other people’s needs before our own. Today is a day when you can quite reasonably ask for some time to yourself, to think about your Mum, and how much you miss her. It’s ok to cry – and to sob. It’s ok to feel the hole that is left in your life. Recognising it, accepting it, makes it easier to deal with for the other 364 days (and to spot if you need some extra support from someone like CRUSE)
Realise the power of your Mother. Remember when I said earlier that mother’s love is like the oxygen & gravity that sustains us? Well it’s more powerful than either, because it retains its power even in its absence. The love your mother had for you is not diminished by her death. It remains a fundamental truth, and it is still within you, and accessible.
Be kind to yourself. She would be.
Charlotte Edun runs The Good Birth Practice in Sevenoaks. She has 3 young children – each born after very different labours – and is not so much a birth junkie, as a women’s power junkie. She’s quite convinced that if men had uterus’s or grew placenta’s there’d be monuments to them all over the world. Because of this, she’s committed to helping women find their own, unique good birth experience.