Last year at this time, I told my co-workers I was taking a few days off to travel to Missouri to visit my mom. “After all,” I told them nonchalantly, “This will be her last Mother’s Day.” They were shocked at my casual demeanor until I told them that Mom was 9-years post-stroke and living in a nursing home. In the last few months, she had been going downhill faster than an Olympic skier. Even a blind man could read the writing on the wall.
I had just seen her four months earlier at Christmas. She was still lucid, and could transfer herself from her wheelchair to her recliner, albeit in slow motion. She could still speak and express herself.
But the woman I found last April could no longer do any of it. She rarely – and barely – spoke. Her face wore an unchanging, frightened look. She could only move one hand and arm from the elbow down, but she could no longer raise her arm high enough to brush her teeth or comb her hair. She was an invalid now who could no longer get out of bed without the assistance of a crane. (Yes, nursing homes have a piece of equipment they call a “lift,” but it is, in fact, the human equivalent of a crane.) My three sisters joined me for this holiday, and the photos we took with Mom haunt me to this day. (And speaking of haunting, two of the photos in the set of pictures were taken by the resident ghost in the nursing home chapel. I’m not kidding.)
It was not surprising then when I got the call that Mom was in her final week of life and I went back to Missouri for what we came to call, “Hell week.” But that’s the subject for another blog. Mom died the end of June.
Thus began “the year of firsts.” As a funeral minister, I talk about “the year of firsts” to my audience at every funeral, which are the holidays and events in the first year after your loved one’s passing that have to be navigated without them. I knew my birthday and Christmas would be especially hard without Mom, and they were. But since I was never a big fan of Mother’s Day as a holiday anyway, I was not prepared to be gob-smacked my first Mother’s Day without her. But I was.
People who are mothers themselves at least have a spouse and/or children to fawn over them during this holiday. If nothing else, it serves as a welcome distraction from feeling the acute loss of the woman you called “mother.” But for single or childless women, and for men, there is no buffer between them and the grief of having no mother on Mother’s Day.
Madison Avenue, retailers, restaurants, candy manufacturers and florists LOVE Mother’s Day. It’s one of the busiest days of their year. Not surprisingly, we are bombarded with advertisements for Mother’s Day presents and outing suggestions weeks in advance. Yes, thank you Madison Avenue for putting this front and center in my consciousness for the last few weeks and for making SURE that I am acutely and daily reminded that I have no mother now to buy a flower, candy, or even Hallmark card for. In case I wasn’t grieving enough, your help in adding to my grief has been invaluable.
(Photo by Marty Espinola.)
Throughout my frequent crying jags, I have asked myself how I can navigate this day without her. SO many of my friends have long ago lost their mother, and I have witnessed their profound depression every year on this day. I finally settled on a few things.
1. I decided I would send a card to my mother’s two sisters, with whom I still maintain a close relationship.
2. I’m going to call said aunts on Mother’s Day. Money’s tight so presents are out of the question, but I’ve found a simple phone call can mean more than an elaborate gift. (Sorry Madison Avenue.)
3. I think I’ll also send a card to Mother’s best friend in the nursing home. She has no one to visit her - and I’m sure she still misses Mom – so this should delight her. It’s an honorable and fitting way to honor Mom.
4. And finally, I may just write my Mom a letter. I hear mail delivery at the cemetery leaves a lot to be desired, so I’ll leave it underneath her photograph on my shelf. I used to write letters to her weekly, so maybe one letter to her annually to bring her up-to-speed on my life would be good. I can tell her how much I’ve missed her, and how hard her death has been on me. And once I’ve finished flushing out my tear ducts, I can put this dam*@3# holiday behind me and move on.
At least, this is my hope. Me, and millions like me who no longer have a mother on Mother’s Day, will find a way to occupy ourselves somehow. And we’ll go on until the next holiday or birthday or special event we would have celebrated with our mother had she not died.
We’ll just face it one day . . . holiday . . . event . . . at a time.