A few years ago, I was mourning the loss of my marriage on Mother’s Day. This year, I find myself mourning a much greater loss: the loss of mothers.
Not my own, thankfully. My own mother is still with me, young and healthy and, barring catastrophe, likely to be here for many more second Sundays of May.
But she lost her mother six weeks ago, and when she did, I lost my “second mother” — my beloved Gram.
As passings go, it was a good one, not perfect, but about as good as it gets when you nearly make it to the century mark. This time last year, I wrote in the book that she was “apparently immortal” as she was still happily living alone and driving her old gray sedan hither and yon, terrifying onlookers every day.
No one – not even God – wanted to be the one to take the car keys away, and so instead the angels chauffeured her to Heaven. Or more, likely, she drove them. She’d been driving for more than 70 years, and never had an accident or ticket.
It was a wonderful life.
It’s hard to grieve a wonderful life, when so many around me didn’t get to live theirs to the fullest.
My closest friend, Diane, lost her young mother to cancer a few months ago, and walking past the Mother’s Day cards at the pharmacy is a dagger.
Also in Ohio, the husband and four children of Jennifer Phillips Graham, the best friend I never met, are enduring their first motherless Mother’s Day this weekend.
“Jen 1” – she got the honor because she was a smidgeon older than me — was ripped from her family by pancreatic cancer last fall, just months after her diagnosis. The speed of it was brutal and shocking. In the middle of her futile treatment, on my birthday, Jennifer sent me four quarts of whisky-pecan ice cream, packed with dry ice, with a note: “Enjoy your life. Every minute.”
I do, and I try, Jen 1, but I am sad for you and your children this weekend, and I’m sad for my mom, and for Diane, and my friend Debra-Lynn, who wrote this beautifully moving essay about how you will always miss your mother on Mother’s Day, no matter how many years she’s been gone.
Because I have a tendency to wallow, my sadness also extends to mothers who no longer have their children, which to me seems the greatest grief of all. I will never pass a Mother’s Day without thinking of Madonna Badger, the Connecticut woman who lost her daughters and parents a few years ago in a house fire.
I even feel sad for the damned moose whose calf was eaten by wolves. (And, just for the record, would you people at the Huffington Post please quit posting video that has NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH MY LIFE but still tears my heart to shreds?)
But I find that God – or the universe, or Love, or whatever euphemism you want to call the holy thing that animates us – always provides the solution before the problem arrives. For me, for this problem, it seems the anguished comfort that the dying Jesus gave his mother at the cross.
“Mother, behold thy son.”
And to John: “Behold thy mother.”
A sacred transference.
My own mother did this automatically, reflexively. She sent me a Mother’s Day card and gift this week, a lovely surprise. When I called to thank her, she said that since she didn’t have her own mother to honor, she was adopting me for Mother’s Day.
Beholding her mother, in her daughter.
It won’t take away her grief, but it takes away a little of her aloneness, and mine, and her caring honors the mother that she misses. For everyone missing a mother this Mother’s Day, it can be a healing gesture.
Behold thy mother. She may be gone. But she’s everywhere. That’s the nature of mothers. Of love.