Why Mother’s Day Hurts

Grief has been making herself a general nuisance in my life this week. She’s preparing for Mother’s Day.

Yesterday, I picked up a bronze memorial plaque at the trophy store bearing my mom’s name; it will adorn a bench on a deck that leans over a duck pond–the pond where, every time Mom visited us, we took my little boys on a walk with a bag of bread crumbs.

Before I picked up the plaque, I had prepared myself for feelings nostalgia, reverence, sadness. I didn’t prepare for anger. I’m not angry about Mother’s Day. (Well, sometimes I have been. On days when no one prepared anything or they ran out that morning for a card–but that’s another story.) I wasn’t angry about the plaque. Late in the day I noticed that I felt grumpy, sullen, and irritable. And then I was tearful. For no apparent reason.

Grief opened the front door and told Anger, Come on in, and Anger came in and sat down and put her feet up. She looked over my plaque and said it was a lovely thing to do. Mom would have liked it. The place I picked out in the park is perfect. What a nice way to remember her in a town where she never lived. And then Anger whispered, It’s not fair. And I agreed. But then my my brain responded in my mother’s voice, “Life’s not fair,” which made me miss her more.

I can picture us on the deck, throwing crumbs and watching the ducks jostle each other for the crusts. We would stand there over the pond and say “Oooh!” when a duck swept in with wings bent to snatch up the bobbing cube. We laughed when two ducks raced for crumbs. “Good throw!” we both say to the little boys hanging on the railing, pleased with themselves.

There we stood together: mother, daughter, grandsons, tossing bread scraps to the ducks and geese of Deep Run Park.

This is the picture I have: Mom, with dark, gray-speckled hair and a big smile and little boys in dirty sneakers jumping up and down while they wait for more crumbs; the oldest boy with messy brown hair, his hazel eyes bright from drinking in Grandma’s knowledge during the walk; the middle boy with fly-away blond hair and blue eyes alive with mischief, planning something and making Grandma chuckle; the baby boy, in the stroller, waiting patiently while he bats his long dark eyelashes, making Grandma smile and watching his brothers explode with energy.

I see myself there, too. I am young and thin for my height, with long skinny legs in shorts and dark brown hair that’s fuzzing slightly in the humid Virginia heat. When I watch my mother with my sons, I’m caught in a time warp. She makes me feel ever so slightly like a little girl when I am near her; and yet, I am this other person, the one who says Don’t climb the railing. Don’t lean over the water so far. Don’t take your brother’s bread crumbs.

Life is glorious. And it goes all too fast.

Is that why I’m angry, even while I’m grateful? I live in an emotional and theological paradox, thanking God and loving my life and hurting because I’ve lost my mother, my first memory-maker.

How have I never realized that she must have felt the same way about her mother?

I guess that’s why Mother’s Day hurts. It feels a whole lot like mothering.

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