Monday, May 3, 2010

I Understood

It’s that time of year again. The calendar pages turn, one by one, until the winter finally takes a step back and lets in some warm spring air. It’s a glorious time of budding trees and bright colored blooms. I adore this fresh new season. But every year there is one part of it that’s bittersweet. It’s a simple little holiday, an innocent Sunday, usually tucked into the month of May, that is set aside to honor our mothers.

You would think I would adore this holiday, considering I am a mother to four children. And I do. I appreciate their gestures of love, their crayon sentiments dripping with glitter when they were little, their hugs and high fives now that they’re older. My husband makes sure we do something fun and meaningful when that day rolls around. Many years he and the kids have planted my spring flower bed, as their gift to me. It is a wonderful reminder, for the rest of the spring and summer, that I am blessed by this family.

But there’s a reason I have mixed feelings about Mothers Day - no matter how much I try to let the holiday be about me, it always seems to circle around and be about her, my own mom. And I can’t call her or drive to her house or even send her flowers, because I lost my mother almost sixteen years ago, when I was a new mom myself. She had just turned fifty and we were on our way to creating a new relationship, her as a new grandma and me as her daughter-turned- mommy. I was just starting to quiz her about this new life changing job I’d begun, and figured I had lots of years to ask all the right questions. But it was not to be. A bad headache turned out to be a stroke and in a flash she was gone.

I struggled with grief, and this holiday called Mothers Day, for many years. It just didn’t make sense to me that she’d be gone. I felt robbed and short changed. I could not make sense of her absence and no one had an answer for my pleas of ‘how can this be fair?’

I rebelled against the idea of the stages of grief, because the last stage is acceptance and I knew I’d never come to a place where it was okay that she was gone so soon. But the years have a way of softening the edges and for me that meant although it still frustrated me that she was gone, I understood more. Slowly, with each passing year, I understood more.

I understood that I became a different person because I lost her. In wading through the biggest loss I’d ever known, my heart grew a new chamber of compassion. When friends around me began to suffer similar losses, I could truly say my heart hurt for them. I knew how that felt, and knew what words brought comfort and which ones were well intentioned but hurtful.

I wrote long notes of love and encouragement in the sympathy cards I sent, instead of fearfully just signing my name. I knew that even more than a casserole delivered to the family after the funeral, a note of encouragement on the first major holiday without their loved one was a priceless gift.

I understood that my life path was different because she was gone. My home base evaporated as my dad moved on and remarried. We no longer gathered in my childhood home for holidays. Jeff and I felt more free to move our family to new states, if that’s what his career path required. We welcomed and treasured the visits from my dad and step mom but no longer felt tied to the place I grew up.

I understood on a much deeper level what I meant to my own children. I realized that missing my mom in such an intense way meant her love and encouragement mattered to me so much more than I’d ever known. I looked in my children’s eyes in a new way, understanding the intense effect I was having on who they became. And I began to take my job that much more seriously.

And most of all I finally, oh finally understood that she is never really gone. She lives on, not just as my only daughter carries her name, but as that same child’s eyes sparkle in the same blue hue as her grandmother’s every time she throws her head back and laughs. She lives on in the tender hearted gestures I witness on occasion, when big brother reaches out to little brother with a helping hand or pat on the back. Her heart was bigger than Texas and I see remnants of it in each of these children I am honored to be raising.

Each Mothers Day the sting lessens a bit. I have a few friends who will face their first Mother’s Day without their mothers this year. It will be a rough one, I have promised them that. But they’ll get through it.

The tears will fall and the memories will be bittersweet but they will survive. And slowly, oh so slowly, the edges will soften for them too. Someday they will look back and see their mothers in a different way.

And in new, unexpected ways, they will be comforted. And hopefully they will understand.


terry said...

Oh my dear friend. I understand how bittersweet every Mother's Day can be. And every other day.

It takes our breath away. But remember, we have them forever.

If you can get your hands on a little novella called FOREVER written by Mildred Cram you must read it. You will love it. She wrote the story for An Affair To Remember. If you can't find it, let me know.

Kelly Salasin said...

(note: this might be a duplicate post as my first flew away)

Lovely piece Judy. I appreciate the way your writing flows, from the flipping of the calender to each place of "understanding." Thanks for illuminating the complexity of what seems a "simple" holiday.

Yours in the kaleidoscope of love that is writing,

Here's a great piece on mothering ourselves from Tama Kieves:

Colleen said...

As a mom whose baby was 3 months old when I lost my own mom, thank you for writing this! Tears were rolling!

Anonymous said...

Although your Mom was beautifully unique she passed some admirable qualities to you. I hope you understand what a gift you are.