Motherless Mother’s Day

I have hated Mother’s Day since 2002, ironic as my Mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2000; I suppose it was because it was the first Mother’s Day without my father who passed in 2001.  It’s weird to dislike a day tributed to mothers, because I was fortunate to be one. I have felt quite ashamed of it for a long time, as I became a mother for the first and only time in 2000.

I have sat through many brunches, spa services, dinners and opening of gifts with chagrin with my ex husband.  How do you express your feelings when others are telling you that you should be celebrating being a mother? 

I suppose, it’s because I didn’t have time to celebrate being a mom in the true sense.  Shortly after my son was born, my mother was diagnosed with the disease and I had a two-week period, where I got to completely focus on my newborn and my new role.

Once my mother was diagnosed, I had to divide that new role into another role, and try to somehow balance it.  When my father passed 14 months later, my mother came to live with us full-time, and then I became a mother, to my mother. 

Looking back, I am not sure how I did everything, the school board meetings, the swim schools, the soccer practices, the Adult Day programs, the scheduling of personal support workers, the paid caregivers, the doctors appointments, working full time, studying and then becoming a single parent in 2013. (That’s a whole other conversation).  However; I did, although not gracefully, that’s all that matters.  Sometimes it’s better to just keep going and not think about your circumstances.  So back to the original topic- the day I despise- Mother’s Day.

I grew up in a household where Mother’s Day was a huge celebration, my dad made a big deal about it.  When we lived in Trinidad, we had huge family gatherings that celebrated the day- It was important.  So when my mother was diagnosed, and my dad was no longer here, it lost meaning to me.  What was I celebrating? My mother, was not the mother I knew, and that role that I had come to know was an unrealistic role that no-one prepared me for.

There wasn’t any blueprint on how this role- mother and mother to your mother. I loved being a mother to my son- that part of the role, but the many hats that were involved in my new role that I had to take on were above my paygrade. I am sure I made it all look easy, because when you can manage to do all of that, and still crack a joke, or pull yourself together, so you don’t look homeless, somehow the perception is, “she is strong”, people love perceptions- but as we know, it isn’t reality.

I have heard that said about me, and most people would love that “she is strong” badge- I don’t- people don’t check on the “strong” ones. Why do you think those that are peceived to be strong are? Because they had to be- simple! This trait was innate. I never knew what my mom was going through, we learnt stoicism at a young age. “People, don’t need to know what you are going through,” my mom would say. And she is absolutely correct, they don’t- but also don’t assume, and stop labelling people just on perception.

I did not want to disappoint my son, so I went along with the pseudo celebrations and tried not to let on, that I hated it. It’s sad to live in a society where you have to feel ashamed of your feelings, because clearly I am a mother, and I had a mother who was alive at the time so why shouldn’t I celebrate that precious gift?

My mother was a registered nurse, who left Trinidad at the age of 16 to attend Nursing school in England.  My father also left Trinidad at the age of 16 to join the Royal Air Force . My father wanted to get married to my mom right away, but my mom was adamant that she would only get married after she finished nursing school.  (Education was extremely important to her). My parents married in Leeds, England in 1965.  My parents then moved to Germany, where my dad was stationed, and my mom learnt to speak German while she worked at the hospital there. My brother was born 2 years later.

They moved back to England where I was born, and then we all moved to Canada.  Our lives would take us to several places due to my father’s job and my mom would just move us along and work at different hospitals.  I would always remember, (although at the time I used to be annoyed) bumping into her former patients who she would happily hug, and they would look at me, and say, “your mom is the kindest, most giving person I know, she took such good care of me.”  I would just smile, however I never really thought about it at all- how people remembered her kindness and what that meant-and how important leaving that type of imprint on someone is-she had that gift.

My mom was always giving, that was just her nature.  I would sometimes get upset with her, because I knew many people took advantage of that giving nature, but it didn’t stop her.  I guess that was just her way.  We had many discussions about this, but to no avail, she would not change her ways.

Watching her fade away for twenty years, was gut wrenching. I lost my confidant, my go to person, my anchor.  I had to figure things out on my own at the age of 30.  I am fortunate, I am luckier than some who lost their mother earlier, or have a strained relationship, or never had a mother figure. However, it doesn’t negate my feelings. 

I have listened for years to people that take their parents for granted and complain about many things about their parents, and I have bit my tongue. I guess the worst thing you can do to someone that has lost a parent, or parents, is complain about yours. I always say…. “Know your audience!”

I love the people that say “no offense” and then proceed to offend.   I want to make it clear that I am not jealous of anyone that still has his or her parents.  I don’t want “your” parents; you can’t compete with my parents, -they are not replaceable. 

Although pieces of my mother were fading away day by day, year-by-year, when I finally lost her physically, I still cannot articulate how that feels.

Because it has been 4 months, and we are inundated with this pandemic, it is like it never happened. The social distancing that we are going through in this pandemic, is similair to when you are looking after a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease, except without the carepackages and checking in. Social distancing takes on a whole new meaning- it’s more like social isolation.  In the last 5 years that my mom was in palliative care, there were no care packages, or dropping things off or checking in on her.  I suppose because there are no accolades for this. 

This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom physically here, which will be hard.  The firsts are always hard.  I know my mom was a write off to most people, while she was sick, but she lived with me, so these are my firsts, and she was never a write off to me.  

According to Freud, in his theory of grief and bereavement, the emphasis is on personal attachment. According to this theory the person is searching for the object of attachment, which is lost.  Freud describes the state of mourning as detachment. This is the disconnection from a loved one. He describes this as an intrapyschic process, which would either result in a resolution or a state of depression.  This would depend on the psychic energy a person invested into their loved one.

During this process the person identifies with the object of love and as time passes, the bereaved person starts to let go of the object and starts to form new attachments. Mourning is seen to be a process of rebuilding the inner work of a person who has faced a loss and therefore underwent extreme pain and distress. This re-experience awakens the love associated with this person who has been lost.  In addition, the death or the loss of a loved one, results in the individual losing their self-identity.

In the period of grief, the person is letting go a number of attachments, while forming a relationship. However, with time when the ego of the person starts to accept and accommodates the loss, makes the bereaved ready to look for and form new attachments.

I know I am a not alone, mom- less moms, friends and others, all I can say I know for a fact, that my mom did not want to leave me.  I saw how hard she fought with everything in her.  She was maybe 60 pounds and she fought hard, they don’t want to leave us, same as us, who wouldn’t want to leave our loved ones.  I find peace in that.  I have to say this out loud sometimes as I mentally say it in my head.  This was not their choice, Mother’s Day will be different than your friends, and we can still find gratitude.  When the anxiety creeps in and the tears fall, we can find joy in their memories.

We will always miss the people we have lost, but we can reach a point of gratitude for their existence and how they have altered our lives by knowing them.  I suppose I can change what Mother’s Day means to me now, I can make the day about appreciating life, which is what my mom gave me, without a trip down the card aisle.


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