Mother’s Day is a punch in the gut for anyone not celebrating with their mother. The ache doesn’t discriminate against the reason of absence. The social media feeds that will be saturated with Mother’s Day tributes will be downright painful for all of us coping with a void.
The feeling of motherlessness is overwhelming countless times throughout the year, but near Mother’s Day its intensity can be downright suffocating. As the days creep closer to that Sunday, my anxiety level continues to steadily increase to an agitated state. This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom, since making the decision to cut off contact with her for my own sanity earlier this year. Conflicting feelings are battling inside my heart- dread of the actual day and anticipation of its passing until the next year. While traditional holidays celebrated on my own have been developed over the past several years, the awkwardness of establishing a new way to get through the day is fresh.
Not surprisingly, my past several weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R have centered on making sense of the emotional tornado brewing. While working through this, Dr. R has repeatedly encouraged me to really figure out what I needed in order to comfort myself. Pulling the covers over my head with the companionship of pinot noir and Grey’s Anatomy reruns was my first instinct. Or to abandon my smartphone for the weekend and seclude myself at a hotel. To not be reminded of what I am missing on Mother’s Day was the answer I continuously kept arriving at.
As I continued to mull over my grand holiday avoidance plan while mindlessly browsing a bookstore last week, I unintentionally found myself face to face with a display of Mother’s Day cards. While originally admiring the artwork, upon closer examination something caught my attention. Besides the floral print and loopy cursive type used, each Mother’s Day card had a common theme. Every card expressed gratitude to the receiver (mother) for being a strong, positive influence in the giver’s (child) life by using words and phrases such as: supportive, encouraging, understanding, caring, accepting and unconditional love. At this point in time, my mother cannot be the person in my life to do provide any of those things, nor can she even provide those for herself. However there are a handful of women in my life that embody the uplifting traits that are celebrated on Mother’s Day that do.
None of these women knew me as a child, nor do they have any connection to my mother. But their presence in my life mirror the qualities recognized on Mother’s Day. Rather than being present for my first steps as an infant, their support kept me steady while testing the shaky legs of my young adulthood after moving into my own apartment. Sure they weren’t around when I was struggling to figure out fractions in the 5th grade, but their insight based on their own life experience has helped me problem solve issues ranging from finding love to independently putting air in a car tire.
My artwork didn’t hang on their refrigerators, yet when an article of mine is published they are the first ones who read it. Their honest feedback and sometimes hard-to-swallow constructive criticism are rooted in their belief of my full potential, giving me motivation to try harder in a way that I had never experienced. They missed out on the countless nights I awoke with tears over nightmares fueled by RL Stine’s Goosebumps, but haven’t flinched at my raw emotions when the lump in my throat has become too large to choke back tears. These women came into my life after the growth spurts and braces were past, but their influence has been an essential contributing factor to the reason I am now growing into a woman who is finally comfortable in her own skin.
At this stage of life, the role of a mother has drastically changed and being able to celebrate these maternal figures is a step towards redefining what Mother’s Day now represents for me. I still expect the day to be full of messy, complex emotions that will include me ingesting a bit too much wine. Grappling with the loss of my mother’s former vibrant presence will be a continuing process that will extend far beyond Mother’s Day. And while no person or action can completely ease the ache, the friendship of these surrogate maternal figures radiates a warmth and hope that can only be found through a mother’s love.