Originally published May 2010.
Most of you probably know that May 12 is Mother’s Day. (If you didn’t know, you’re welcome for the reminder.) I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know, until my husband reminded me while we were at my in-law’s house this past weekend. Somehow the volumes of junk mail, commercials, and radio ads for discount roses hadn’t tipped me off to the exact date.
When your Mom’s dead, Mother’s Day is a little…different.
It’s not that Mother’s Day is a bad day for me now. In fact, I do take a little pleasure in no longer wrestling with anxiety surrounding the need to find a gift for Mom that somehow expresses my appreciation for her changing my diapers, combing my unmanageable hair, calming my nerves before prom, teaching me the difference between my weight and my worth, and helping me pack to move away to college, then California, then back to Richmond again.
I have to admit, there are times that I feel a bit smug about that. While the rest of the world is making hectic last-minute phone calls in a desperate attempt to get a vase full of wilted, overpriced flowers delivered for exorbitant last minute rush-shipping fees, I am calmly purchasing a card for my mother-in-law while doing my usual weekly Target run.
Don’t get me wrong, it stinks to not have a Mom on Mother’s day, but I’m usually the type to look for the silver lining in situations. I may be stretching a bit to find this particular silver lining, but I feel that I owe it to myself to do that.
It is hard each year to watch the endless commercials, and see the huge rows of Mother’s Day cards in the stores. It is beyond ridiculous to have well-intentioned people ask me what I plan to do with my Mom that day:
“I bet your Mom misses you!” (Yes, I’m sure she does.)
“Are you going for a visit? I’m sure she’d really love to see you.” (Actually, I’m pretty sure she’s thrilled that I’m here and not “there” right now.)
“What did you get your Mom for Mother’s Day?” (Umm…nothing. She’s, well, dead.)
Needless to say, I always squirm, and try to answer these questions as delicately as possible. If it’s a stranger in a grocery store, I generally smile, and lie through my teeth. Why would I ever try to explain Mom’s death to a polite woman trying to buy milk, and leave her wondering what she will do on Mother’s Day when her mom dies, or what her own kids will do when she dies?
When it’s someone I know I will see again, I usually take a deep breath, and try to gently and carefully answer. “We’re getting a necklace for my mother-in-law, and I’m planting some flowers in memory of my Mom. She died a few years ago, and doing something that she loved is a great way for me to feel connected to her. Are you planning anything special that day?”
I’ve found that it’s always a little easier for people to take in the information if I start and end on a positive note, and give them an easy out by asking them a question about their family. And in the end, that’s really what’s important to me – that it’s easier on them.
I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I’m going to have awkward conversations, and speechless moments when I tell an unsuspecting acquaintance about Mom. But the other people, the innocent individuals who are just making conversation, it’s just so hard for them to handle the information I have to hand over to them. (I bet my Mom would have known exactly what to do in these situations, but that’s not something you think to ask before someone dies.)
So, as Mother’s Day comes and goes again this year, I will go through the same series of events I go through every year. I will absent-mindedly watch the jewelry store commercials, and ignore the junk mail flower solicitations. I will purchase cards for my amazing mother-in-law, and the other amazing mother-figures in my life. I will try not to make eye contact in the check-out line of any store, and I will plant something pretty for Mom.
It might not be what most people do on Mother’s day, but it works for me. And really, that’s all we need to do when we’re grieving – find what works for us.
Comment on this article, and tell us what works for you on Mother’s Day, or any holiday without your loved one. Sometimes, sharing and hearing how other people face their holidays can be a great way to find the strength and grace to face your own.
Alisha writes about her personal experiences with loss and healing. You can read more of her work here.