A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
Anna Jarvis. You probably don’t know the name, but during a memorial for her mother, Ann Jarvis, in 1905, she decided it was a great idea to honor your mother, so she campaigned and lobbied tirelessly to make it an official American holiday. Naively, she thought it would just be nice to write mom a letter of appreciation, or just say I love you. When Hallmark began selling Mothers Day cards in 1912, she got mad – so mad she tried to get Mother’s Day rescinded. She even got arrested at a carnation distributor’s plant in Philadelphia. America won out. There was, after all, a lot of profit to be made in this confusing holiday.
I remember my dad giving us five bucks to run to the corner store and buy a big box of chocolates for my mother. The funny thing is, she hated chocolate. The box lay open on the kitchen counter for days, and we nibbled on them like mice, leaving those gross jelly filled chocolates ripped open on display, like someone might come along and say, “Hey, that looks irresistible!” Maybe my dad…
The 21st century Mother’s Day has morphed into a grotesque commercial blowout, like so many American holidays, plying shamelessly on the consumers guilt or gullibility. I read an article about a woman who went on a website for people who want to commit adultery – sort of like a Sleazeball.com – because her husband did not give her jewelry for Mother’s Day.
My husband feels bad for me on Mother’s Day because A) my own mom is alive but has no idea who I am or what Mother’s Day is and B) my sons are far away – two in North Carolina and one in heaven. He has offered to buy me things but I remind him that I am not his mother. This seems evident. And I am blessed 365 days a year by two wonderful sons and their wives.
My children have bought me little trinkets over the years, including a necklace I still own and wear each Mother’s Day, but they know that my most favorite gift is a card or letter, just sharing their hearts with me. I guess if you have daughters this is not so uncommon, but sons emerge emotionally on rare occasions, like the seventeen-year cicadas. I have saved some of the Best of the Best over the years, including a box of poster paint handprints and IOU’s for doing dishes, back rubs and five dollars. Who knows? I may need them someday.
When you lose a child, the holiday screams at you at first, then over the years it becomes another reminder that we are not complete. There is a quirkiness that comes with this type of loss. My own mother, who lost a child when she was 36, skipped Quirky and went right to Crazy for many years. It did level off into an odd type of neurosis; sort of a combo Anxiety mixed with Fatalism and Reclusiveness. She loved her kids reluctantly after that. Motherhood had become risky and unpredictable. When my older brother had to tell her that my son had died, she started beating him in the chest with her little bony fists, yelling No! No! No! I think she was saying No more for me than Spence.
My mother grew up in the upper echelon of Southern society, where table settings and debutante parties trumped family time. Her mother’s alcoholism was a secret she shoved into a full family closet, until she was old enough to run, and she did – all the way to New York City. My father offered every thing she did not have; security, sanity and a family that fit nicely into a big station wagon. When my brother Timmy died suddenly in 1964, her world imploded and she accepted a twisted lie as her truth – she was no better at mothering than her own mom. She retreated into a purgatory of fear and self-doubt.
I think that the thought of her own daughter carrying the same legacy caused her to spin out into a gale storm of anger and confusion after Spencer died. My brothers intercepted and kept her away for a time so she could heal and I could breathe. Then for just a few years before her first brain hemorrhage, we became friends, and I discovered a bond we shared. We had both buried a son. After decades of being at odds and circling each other with suspicion, we found a common ground; a place of such unimaginable pain and sorrow that to this day I can only share with other women who have also lost a child. Then the connection is immediate. Deep calls unto deep. And there I found my mother’s love.
Like mom, I am quirky too – but with one outstanding difference. The anchor for my soul that is in Jesus Christ holds me securely from busting loose into a dark abyss without gravity or bearing. Yet I know what that dark place is like and it causes me to stay close to Jesus and look upward, using heaven to navigate by. For that, for this “thorn in the side”, I am grateful. There is no better place to spend your life than in Christ. And in that place of pain, He has made a garden. All kinds of things grow there. It’s crazy – good crazy.
I think grief is the most pure form of love. My heart is heavy for those who are new to this journey, who are spending their first Mother’s Day without a child that should be there, but is gone …the footstep, the laughter, the goofy cards and the clumsy words from a heart that loves their mom. If you know one of these moms, the broken ones, give them the best gift of all; let them talk about their son or daughter, or tell them you miss them too. The fear that you might awaken sadness is ridiculous. It never sleeps, trust me.
Spring is here. For those of us that endured the Big Freeze of 2015, we are a little amazed that anything can grow but it’s no big deal for God. The fragile bud opens, the pale green leaf uncurls like a baby’s hand and stretches out into new life.
In the hospital where I work, they play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” overhead when a baby is born. When I tell patients and families what it means, it never fails to illicit an “Awwwww” and a smile, even among the sickest or grumpiest. Upstairs a young woman holds out her arms and a squirming, wet and bewildered infant is laid there. She is mom, whether she is Princess Kate or a heroin addict. God has just changed her forever. The cord is cut but the heart is sealed with the most powerful love on earth. For as the little life unfolds and blossoms and someday leaves her, she is Protector and Keeper of the nest. Her job is to hold, then let go.
Can I suggest that this Mother’s Day we return to the humble beginnings of this day? Men, use words. Ladies, just love your imperfect mom. She did the best she knew how to do. Life is ever changing and in an instant, she could be gone. In the spirit of the first mother’s day, just say I love you and lots of Thanks. It really beats a box of chocolates.
***Anna Jarvis died at 84 in a sanitarium in Pennsylvania, never taking a penny of profit for Mother’s Day. Although she was the 10th of 13 children, 7 who died before she was born, she never married or became a mother. She insisted the day was Mother’s day, singular not plural, so that people would make an effort to honor their very own mom, in a personal way. Although she fought tirelessly to keep it simple and not commercial, she lost that battle. Like my own mom, she spent the last few years of her life with dementia and finally happy.