“Thanks, but my mother’s dead,” I heard myself snap.
From the horrified look on the saleswoman’s face, it was clear I should’ve come up with a more tactful response when she steered me towards the Mother’s Day cards. After all, it wasn’t her fault my mom died; this lady was just doing her job.Fran McGuire died 16 years ago this August. After the first five or so Mother’s Days without her, I quit with the boohoos and just found myself mopey and depressed during the first week of May. Annoyingly enough, as the retail-fueled lead-in to every holiday gets longer (and Mother’s Day is no exception), I have even more time to feel crappy about what I’m missing.
So, just in case I forget about watching the woman who gave birth to me slowly suffocate to death from cancerous tumors clogging her windpipe, my email box is stuffed full of reminders:
“Kindle: The Perfect Gift for Mom!”
“A Mother of a Deal!”
“Mum’s the word!”
Ugh. You know how there are five stages of grief? Well, I was supposed to be over the anger part years ago, as bargaining, depression and acceptance have long been dealt with. But over the past couple of years, my anger has been rekindled. It’s not a crazy-lady, yelling-in-the-streets kind of fury. More like slow-burning, snap-at-salesladies kind of madness. Talking to other motherless women in the same boat, I’m somewhat relieved to find that my anger isn’t unusual at all.
“I was totally surprised to find how much Mother’s Day upset me,” says photographer Amber Sexton. “It’s a Hallmark holiday, but my entire focus is that all these other people have moms and I don’t.”
I never paid much attention to Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day for that matter) when my mom was alive, so, like Amber, I was also shocked by how much it burned once she was gone. “I expected to feel bad on certain holidays—my birthday, hers, the anniversary of her death…” Sexton continues, “But Mother’s Day wasn’t that big a deal when she was around.”
Neither Sexton nor I have children, so I reached out to editor Carly Sommerstein, who lost her mother about eight years ago. I wondered if perhaps being a mom herself took some of the sting out. “It hasn’t been made easier by the passage of time nor by becoming a mother myself,” she assures me. “In many ways, it has gotten worse since I had my son, because when you are a mom you need your own mom around for information, love, and support—both emotional and physical.”
Dr. Joyce Morley-Ball, an Atlanta-based psychotherapist and author, says she understands the sadness and anger the day can bring out in a person. “There’s that small part of us that feels cheated,” she says. “There are going to be those times—Mother’s Day is one—when you get that longing just to hear her voice … to hear her make a fuss … just to pick up the phone and say hello.”
So what should a grouchy, depressed, angry lady actually do on Mother’s Day, when everyone else is taking their mom out to brunch or at least sending her a sparkly trinket from Red Envelope? Morley-Ball, who lost her own mother 30 years ago, says simply, “Honor her.” Instead of spending the day in tears, she advises you “look at the positive impacts of her life, instead of the negative impact of her death.”
The doctor suggests this might be accomplished by pouring over photos, inviting family over to reminisce, or writing down some happy memories you shared. Hearing this reminded me of what my younger (saner) sister does every year: My mom loved few things more than a bargain, so Sue makes an annual pilgrimage to her local 99-cent store and picks up a few things she thinks my mom would approve of. Certainly buying a couple new sponges and a Menudo picture frame sounds like more fun than weeping over a tube of Pringles. So this year I have a plan. Instead of moping on my sofa, I’ll hit the flea market to see if that cheers me up. And if there is such a thing as an afterlife, I know my mom will steer me towards the deals.