Have a Complicated Mother's Day

Holidays while in the middle of living and grieving

5/13/20244 min read

person holding white and pink flower bouquet
person holding white and pink flower bouquet

Yesterday was my 21st Mother’s Day as a mother. It was also my first Mother’s Day without my mother. It is hard to describe what this feels like. Having your family celebrate you when you do not necessarily feel like celebrating.

It is ok that a holiday is not ok

I became an orphan at the end of June last year. Since the birth of my son, I would call my mom on Mother’s Day but would spend the day with my husband and son doing our own celebrating. I would then give my mom her present the next time I saw her. But by 2020, Mom’s Alzheimer’s had progressed to a point that made phone conversations difficult. And it was COVID, so we could not do anything anyway. I decided to go to my mom’s house to see her. As I was driving home, I called my stepmom to tell her Happy Mother’s Day.

She told me that I needed to come to the house. My dad, who had been diagnosed with cancer six months before, needed to go to the hospital. He was not going to go until he saw me, and even then she was not sure. She needed my help convincing him. So, I turned the car around to go to their house. It was the last time I saw him outside of the hospital. One of the last few times I saw him at all because COVID would not let me visit him in the hospital until he only had a few days left.

I called my stepmom to tell her Happy Mother’s Day yesterday and we ended up crying together over this shared memory.

Even Bad Days Can Have Good Moments

Although there were tears at times yesterday, it was not all bad. We opened presents. We watched the Barbie movie (which brought more tears in the same places it did when I first saw it last year). We ate good food. We played board games.

I thought about memories of Mother’s Day as a child. Going to my grandmother’s house, for a dinner that she prepared. No one saw anything wrong with this idea. Playing with my cousins. Carefully picking out a present and a card for my mom. And these memories felt nice, not painful. I was happy to spend some time in them.

This was the first time I celebrated Mother’s Day with my son’s boyfriend. Which was fantastic. He and my son were both here this year, while last year they were living out of town. This was my first year not to feel guilty about not being able to tell my mom Happy Mother’s Day in any meaningful because Alzheimer’s prevented her from understanding.

Grief is a Journey

As much as I miss my dad, it is not as raw as it used to be. Except, ironically, on Mother’s Day, when I remember helping him walk to the car and picking him up off the ground when he fell and knowing that he was probably never coming home again. When I think about how much time I lost with him then because of COVID. When I think of how I cried all the way home because I was not sure the hospital policy would let me see him alive again.

Of course I missed my mom yesterday, but it was not as strong. Not until the end of the day. Then it hit me that I went the entire day without speaking to her. Without seeing her. On Mother’s Day last year, my husband and I went to her house for a visit where she was receiving hospice care. I wished her Happy Mother’s Day even though she did not know who I was. She was gone a month later. A few days after Father’s Day. I had the inverse of my call with my stepmom when I called to wish my stepdad Happy Father’s Day last year.

My not quite son-in-law’s mother has progressing cancer. He called her and then cried. I tried to comfort him, remembering that stage when you are pre-gaming. You are feeling grief for the grief you know is coming. And anger about the unfairness of it all. But you can’t start to heal yet because you know you are at the beginning of a long road. This was the worst part for me.

Memories can be just as real as life

I am learning to hold space for memories at this stage of my grief journey. The memories can be bittersweet without being abjectly painful. I can feel sad for no longer being able to see my parents again while feeling lucky to have had the happy times with them that I did. Both feelings can exist.

I am sure that I have a long way to go on this journey, but right now it is not too bad. Or at least it is better than before. There are tears, but they are different. They are no longer filled with rage but with an ache instead. And they are filled with love and memories. And these memories are more than just memories; they are real in their own right. I am beginning to understand that the lack of future holidays, does not diminish the holidays that came before.

Stop trying to stop time

I have this inclination to hold on to time as it is happening. To try to squeeze everything out of it that I can as it is happening. Because I know how fleeting it is. I know that we have a last Mother’s Day, a last birthday, a last Christmas with someone. I know that children somehow grow simultaneously slower and faster than we can possibly imagine. But I am starting to recognize that there is something on the other side. There are tears and there are memories and grown children call and visit. Time, like love,changes but it never goes away.