When Mother’s Day is Hard

This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?

I am now at the age that people I know are starting to have to care for rapidly aging, sick, and/or deteriorating parents, particularly mothers for whatever reason. I’d get into the gendered expectations of care and the mother-child relationship versus father-child, but that’s not the point. I see and hear the pain that my friends are going through, and I ache for them and with them.

I watched my own mother suffer while my grandmother, her mother, spent the last four months of her life in Intensive Care as a result of an unexpected stomach rupture that my grandmother underplayed until it was too late. I rushed home from California, when she first went into the hospital, having undergone emergency surgery where they couldn’t even close her up properly. I held her hand and quietly told her it was ok to let go if she wanted to, that we would all be fine.

She fought for another few months, but I had to fly back to California, and I never got to see her conscious again. The next time I flew out, it was for her funeral.

I wasn’t lying when I told my grandmother we would all be ok – I really did. Little did I know that my mother’s relationship with her sister would never recover, and neither would my mother’s mental health, not really. It’s been 14 years, and I still get emails from my mother telling me how much she misses her mom, still today.

And I don’t get it.

Anyone who read this tinyletter and/or my blog(s) knows that I have a…complicated relationship to my mother. I also often live-tweet/vent about my visits to Montreal or her visits to see me and her grandkids for my own sanity. When one of my friends, who had recently lost her mother with whom she was very close to, told me that I should treasure the time we have together, and that she would do anything to spend time with her own mother again, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to seem cold and callous (and I wasn’t complaining to my friend, she had overheard it on the way into the room), but at the same time, I didn’t recognize this desire to spend more time with my mom.

I don’t get this longing and I sometimes envy the connection some of my friends have with their mothers, but it’s not a part of my own relationship with my mom. And the older I get, the less I long for it, and the more I appreciate the life I have built for myself, largely without my mother. We aren’t estranged, and we visit as often as we can given we live in different countries and work full-time. But, most of my life has been decided and accomplished without her.

I didn’t tell her initially about my engagement to my husband because I knew she wouldn’t approve. And when I did finally tell her, she never mentioned it again. Never even asked to see the ring. She snapped back at me later that she was just giving me space and following my lead, but I took her cold creation as proof that she was disappointed in my choice. Which, she also admitted she was, but “it’s your life.” We ended up not having any family at the wedding ceremony, because I wanted to be happy, not worried about my mother’s disapproval, or my in-laws fighting.

Same with my first pregnancy. I held off for so long telling her the news, but relatively safer given my distance.After I found out I was having a daughter, I had a meltdown because of my own broken relationship with my own mother, as well as how I was convinced that my mother would judge my mothering harshly and disapprovingly, that I was still unworthy and worthless in her eyes.

I don’t know when the secrets and the silences started. I didn’t tell my mother when I started my period for months. I hid tests for her (good and bad), forged her signature, hid events at school where parents were invited. When I had something I had to present to her, my heart rate would climb, my breathes would get shallow, and I would avoid giving her or showing her whatever I had to for as long as possible. The only thing I didn’t hesitate to give were swim meet sign up sheets – it was the one thing I couldn’t do on my own. And then one thing that meant enough to me that I could overcome whatever anxiety I experienced.

I know where the silences and secrets started, long before I was a teenager and no one talked about anything in my house, nothing that matters, anyway. We “kept up appearances” as they say. When I was doing my PhD, my mom emailed me and asked me to call her ASAP, and when she answered, she excitedly exclaimed “They found a lump!” and I about fell down from the incongruity of the statement and the tone in which she said it in.

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing! That’s why I wanted you to call! To share the good news!”

I called my brother afterwards, wondering since he was much closer to home if she had let him in on the secret. She had not, and had presented the information to him in the same way. We were both shook, but looking back, it was more about the shock of it all rather than the actual implications of the event.

Maybe I’m trying to talk myself into believing that when the inevitable happens, I’ll be devastated. That I will feel something resembling what everyone else seems to feel about their mothers and mortality and loss.

Maybe I mourned already.

I feel like I’ve been mourning the loss of my mother since…well for a long time. She’s a part of my life, but I’ve spent a lot of time disentangling her from my mind and from my heart, putting the proper distance between us so that its less about mother-daughter, and more like…I don’t know. Kinda like a less immediate family member, how she cares about and for her aging aunts and uncles, invested but not in the same way.

This is to say that Mother’s Day is complicated for me. I call her, wish her a happy mother’s day, which will be found lacking because there is no gift or even card, and she’ll sadly wish we were closer and could see each other more, and I will wish she would stop wishing that because I am where I want to be, engaging at the level I want to be engaging at. My own kids will give me a gift they selected but their dad purchased, and most years I get something special to eat, made my husband. If it’s nice, we find a beach to go to, because it is my favorite place. But this year my husband is away and its supposed to rain and thunder all day Sunday, so I’ll cuddle on the couch watching movies with my kids.

Which is perfect.

But I will hold off declaring Happy Mother’s Day on social media, because I know that there are so many people in situations like mine where their relationship to motherhood is fraught and complicated and sad and angry and anything but happy and joyful and warm. I know it’s hard. It’s so hard. And it’s hard when people have great relationships they moms and they want you to have it to and tells you all the ways you’ll regret it later.

It makes me feel broken sometimes. Oftentimes. And it is broken. But it has been broken for so long that I don’t even miss the thing that maybe one time I had but has become so murky in my memory that I have moved on. And just because you want something doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. I’m at peace with that.

But my choice to make happiness in a different way isn’t broken, and neither is your way to cope, deal, and even thrive. May Mother’s Day be a peaceful Sunday, in however you need it to be.

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