I have struggled with Mother’s Day all my life. I lost my own mother when I was nine, many of you know. I don’t really remember my father knowing what to do with that day anymore afterwards. We had no other family around to celebrate, and so it just kind of became a non-holiday in our house. I sometimes wish we had continued to make it about her – but maybe he had the right way of doing things. Maybe it was too hard for him, and so he changed it. And perhaps, that was just the better way for us, who knows.
Through my twenties a few times, I tried to celebrate this day again in her memory… it went disastrously. The first time I went to a little french bistro and tried to order a lovely single dessert to just take home with me. The ten minutes I was there turned out to be a festival of triggers I was not prepared for. Mothers and daughters and daughters and mothers… I was surrounded on all sides. I held it together just long enough to get my dessert and anxiously bolt out the door… upon which the tears began to flow instantly. I don’t even recall what I did the second time I tried, likely I decided to block the traumatic event from my memory entirely though. Needless to say, after two attempts, I decided Mother’s Day was no longer a day I was going to associate with my mother. It didn’t work anymore.
In my late twenties, I met Drew. Having no parents myself, I quickly became part of his family and began instead celebrating his mother on this day. It was always fun but bittersweet for me. I usually could not get through the day of watching him and his siblings with their mom without breaking down. It was still wonderful to celebrate his mother, but also compounded my awareness of mine not being here.
In a very odd way… Drew’s death changed this for the better. Now, I have a new job on this day… to honor his mother FOR him. It has brought new purpose and meaning to this day and allows me to not only honor his mother but also him. I hate to even admit his death has brought good things… but this one I cannot deny. His mother and I have a bond now that we would have never had if he hadn’t died. We both wish he were here and that we didn’t needed to have such a close bond, we are both eternally grateful.
Now, almost three years after his death, that is still how I am doing things. His mother, and his grandmother, are the center of this day for me. And my mom? She still has a Mother’s Day… I just decided to move it to her Birthday instead. I figured out that this works better because it is not a holiday EVERYONE is celebrating… instead it is just OUR day. It makes it far easier and eliminates all the triggers so that I can just focus on my mom. I buy her a card and write something to her, buy myself some flowers, and a small piece of cake or dessert and some wine that I enjoy for her. I honor both her and myself on this day, as I think honoring me would bring her such joy. It’s also a great excuse to eat some seriously bad-for-you cake.
I think when anyone we love dies, we are forced to make a decision – either adapt ourselves to the traditions or to adapt the traditions to ourselves. It sucks. But there it is. Sometimes, we might decide we don’t even want to celebrate certain events or days anymore. And that’s okay. We might decide to change it or even walk away from a holiday entirely for a few years and revisit it later when we are more healed and ready. Maybe not every holiday is like this, but there will be some.
The point is… We always have the permission to change things. To do it our way. To find a new way that works for us and our immediate family. Even if that means moving Mother’s Day to February 26th like I did… or choosing not to celebrate Christmas at all until you are ready, like a good friend of mine did for several years after her husband died. Or assigning the job of hosting Thanksgiving to another member of the family, like my mother-in-law did after Drew died. We always have a choice to change it if it isn’t working or if it feels like too much. No one will hate you. And if they do, that’s their problem.
Now I celebrate my mother–in-law and all of the other mothers in my life on this day. It has taken many years and a very long and winding road through grief, but now I am able to see all mothers as an extension of my own mother’s love… and so honoring them in fact is always honoring her, too.