When Mother's Day Carries Sadness with it.

For the last two years I have written with tears about how emotionally challenging Mother's Day is for many people.   This year, on Mother's Day, my 92 year old Grandmother is near a beautiful peaceful death.  Somehow it seems right that she would die near mother's day and instead of sadness we can celebrate her long life and her four children, 11 grandchildren 17 great-grandchildren.   The hospice nurse said it would be any hour.   Here are the posts that I hope will be healing for all.  

photography Vicki Whicker

May 13, 2012

Holidays are a challenge for anyone who has gone through any kind of grief.  Someone can wish someone something as benign and simple as "Happy Mother's Day" or "Happy New Year" or "Happy National Zucchini Bread Day" and depending on the associations the recipient has with that particular holiday it can make a wound surface or a wave of sadness come through.

I was looking at the kind and genuine Mother's Day wishes that friends were sharing on Facebook, but I was also noticing how many people were posting pictures of their mom's who had passed away.  How this day for them brings pain with it:  pain from all the memories of love.  Someone explained to me that the physical pressure you have in your heart from losing someone you love is that person now living inside your heart.  That you can now feel them inside of you.

But that pain of missing someone who was there for you is easier to feel than the pain from someone who wasn't there.  The child who wonders why their mother was so impatient or angry or wasn't giving them the love and support they felt they needed.  Again, I've touched on this theme many times before:  motherhood is the most demanding of jobs.  It is a full-time position of constant needs.  It takes the strength of Hercules as well as tremendous patience and wisdom.  Wisdom we don't always have until later.  There is no guide book.  We all learn as we go trying to do our very best.  I always thought because of my natural passion for homemaking that I would be the ultimate mother.  It was something I always wanted to do.  I hadn't counted on the sleepless nights or the ache and worry when your child is sick.  I constantly have to remind myself to be PRESENT with my girls.  To truly listen to them instead of get caught up in my hobbies and interests.  To look them in the eyes and really listen to them.  And then the joy comes from delighting in their interests and their happiness instead of just kind of nodding through as you try to clean up the house or check things off the "to do" list.  A friend said you never really understand how hard motherhood was for your mother or truly appreciate your mother until you become a mother yourself and then finally understand the full scope of the job.

I remember the day Melissa Madeline was born.  I remember when we took her home from the hospital and I remember looking at Jason with more love that you can ever possibly feel for someone because he had given me this child I loved beyond any emotion I had ever felt in my life.  It was the deepest form of love I could ever have for both him and for her.  I felt my world would end if anything ever happened to that precious child.  I worried about her each breath and checked on her all night.  When Katherine was born again I felt the same immense love.  But now I had two babies and looked at Jason begging for help.  How could I care for both of them.  The love was so immense I felt like I would burst.  And then the hard times came and those are the things that chip away at the marriage.  The demands of the outside world that make things so hard on all of us.  How could we start with such a perfect love of this child and then get divorced.  How was that love for our children not strong enough to hold us together?

On this day I I also think of my friends (sadly too many to count) who have struggled for years with infertility.  I especially think of one friend who finally got pregnant after years and years of trying then had to suffer the baby dying.  The worst pain of all is to lose a child.  And on Mother's Day I think of those dear friends who have suffered this worst of losses and pains.

For me I have a huge mixture of emotions on Mother's Day.  As long as my grandmother is alive (she will be 91 this June) the day is basically about her.  It isn't about my mom or the young mom's.  It is about all of us going to visit Granny.  For some reason Mother's Day has always been a lot of work in our family.  Yet another party for my mom, my sister, my sister-in-law and my aunt to rally around and cook for.  If you remember my toast  from my sister's 40th about "being raised to believe that it was our "job" to be there.  To be the hosts and caregivers and comforters and celebrators.  To let others know they matter."  So Mother's Day is not an exemption from that job.  However, about 7 or 8 years ago my sister came up with a BRILLIANT plan.  She decided that since Mother's Day is a day of work for us that we should celebrate Mother's Day the Wednesday AFTER Mother's Day by going to the Ojai Spa.  We could each truly relax and be pampered and not work or care for anyone but ourselves for those few hours we could be at the spa.  So I highly recommend to any of you to lower your expectations for the actual day of Mother's Day and do something for yourself in the week afterward:  a massage, a pedicure, a movie, alone time with a book...whatever fills you up and nourishes you so you can restore your strength to be there for others.

So as I think of this day and all that it means.  I celebrate the women who never had children but who have been the best aunts and friends and support systems for others.  Those women have often had an enormous impact on the world.   On this day I celebrate the friendship we all have for each other as we help each other along this bumpy twisting road of life.  I think with gratitude of all the lessons I've learned.  The lessons I learned from being a mother.  The lessons I learned from being a daughter.  The lessons I've learned from the friends I've had and all of their experiences.

And just as I'm writing these last words Melissa Madeline is waking up.  She looked from under the covers and said "Happy Mother's Day."  Last week Melissa Madeline made fun of me jokingly and truthfully saying "this is the house of JOY."  And now in this morning she reminds me with her sweet smile that no matter the pains and sufferings in life:  JOY exists.

May 8, 2011

I have the privilege of having many people share their most personal and vulnerable stories with me. I suppose it is because I'm a very open and vulnerable person myself and am filled with compassion. Recently I've had quite a few incredible people come up to me and tell me about the pain of their childhood and how certain words or actions by their mother's hurt them. Interestingly enough all of these are successful people with great friends who made adjustments and became loving compassionate giving people despite the shortcomings of their parents. 

After listening to these stories Janice Tieken posted on Facebook "Sometimes I imagine that people come from a perfect loving families and that I am in the minority to not have to be so. Logically I know this is false. Of course some do, but not all by far." Then she wrote "finding a way to love our flawed parents benefits us the most." Her post had 28 comments! 28! All on the pain experienced by flawed parents and how each person dealt with and overcame that pain. Each person had a way of dealing with their own pain. But most wrote forgiveness was ultimately the way they moved forward.

Here are two examples that were beautiful and heartfelt:

"I've experienced the full cycle of difficult parents and childhood to the redemption of then facing issues and becoming beautiful, heartfelt souls. Now when I look back I can concentrate on the beauty, before the resolve, I only saw the pain. We are all just childlike souls here who make mistakes and react in fear until we learn grace (my experience). & looking at & learning from the pain & patterns is freeing. I don't know that anyone had a painfree childhood but I think those who get to examine & learn & ultimately choose what they bring forward have a richness others don't know." -
 D.k. Crawford

"No one is perfect; just as we are flawed, so are our parents, and others, flawed. True love, I think, involves accepting and loving people despite their flaws."

For me I always wanted to be a Mom. I wrote about it in my high school year book that it was one of my goals. From the time I was little I imagined being a mother. I liked to do so many homey things like sew, cook and knit. My sister and I were constant "nesters." We'd move into our cabin in Yosemite and immediately make our little shelf next to our bed "home." The same with a hotel or wherever we went. We did all sorts of things to make something homey and having children seemed the ideal extension of our natural "homemaking" abilities.

I was a camp counselor in high school and had "the best cabin," "the best dining hall table." The kids respected me and liked me and seemed proud to try to do a good job and follow my lead without me having to yell or be strict. I just explained the rules and the goals and they followed them. I thought I was so good with kids that I would be the perfect mother.

I wanted to have four kids in four years, just like the Bringard's. My mom had had four kids in 6 years, which was a lot of fun for us as kids but closer seemed even better.

Then I got pregnant. I was so sick for the entire 9 months. I never imagined I could be that sick for that long. I never imagined that when Melissa Madeline was born I would love her so much that my protective maternal instinct of worrying went into overdrive. "If there was a tidal wave where would I escape to. If she feel out of the stroller and into the drain how would I rescue her." Danger seemed everywhere. I was afraid to leave her alone if I took a shower.

I had this concept that I would anticipate her every need so that she would never have to cry. I would feed her and care for her so well that she would be supremely happy. Then at five months I got pregnant again. And sick for only the first 3 months this time, but was on bed rest for pre-term labor for the last three months. My mother and a slew of army wives helped me care for Melissa Madeline around the clock while I was on bed rest since Jason was at work. Jason took care of her when he got home.

Then Melissa started having the febrile seizures and we didn't know what was wrong. Were they just the high fevers, were they something else. The most bizarre thing happened to me. Whenever my children were sick I would get angry. It hurt me so much that they were in pain and suffering in anyway so my hurt turned to anger because I didn't want them to be sick.

Without writing all the details that many know about sleepless nights and throwing up in the middle of the night and the demanding, never-ending schedules of taking care of children I can sum it up by saying it was the most humbling exhausting experience of my life and I wasn't very good at it. The toddler years were the hardest when you had to watch them every second for fear they would fall and hurt themselves. After three, when they could play more easily, it got a little easier. But forget about "homemaking" and "nesting." Suddenly the house was in a constant mess from toys, laundry, crafts and projects. No more did I have a tidy house that we just cleaned on Saturday mornings. I felt like I had to put blinders on just to get through the day.

And I won't go into a long dialogue about the food but that had to be the worst blow to me. People pay me large sums of money to eat my food and here I had my kids complaining and crying about what I cooked. I cook to make people happy and give them a gift. And I got crying from the gift I was giving. I remember in a last ditch effort making Peanut Butter cookies for Melissa when she was two. I thought at least that had protein and maybe should would eat that. She didn't touch them. I cried. My children eat better now that they are older but being a chef and having picky eaters was also an extremely humbling experience.

About the time they were four and five I read an article from Oprah's "What I Know for Sure." In it was a quote from Toni Morrison that said: "When a child's parents enter a room, that child is unconsciously asking herself, Do my mom's and dad's eyes light up when they see me? Do they think I matter?" At the time I read the article my girls were still waking up very early in the morning and I can't say that my eyes were lighting up when they woke me up. I just wanted a little more sleep, a little more time to myself. But after I read that article I made a conscious effort to smile and be delighted whenever they walked in the room. And guess what happened: suddenly I was delighted. I started trying to count my Blessings of the time I got to spend with my children.

One famous actress said that her kids didn't care if she was famous or not or won an academy award or not. All her kids cared about was that they were what mattered in her life.

Of course there have been other challenges, the biggest perhaps was homeschooling my brilliant artistic special needs daughter who has Asperger's and Dyslexia. And at the same time doing the best for Katherine and her own unique needs. Life is a constant mixture of challenges and Blessings.

Now I'm a single mother. That has its own new set of challenges but I'm embracing them. And the girls and I are finding joy in being together. One night we were all folding laundry together on the bed, and Melissa Madeline turned on itunes and started dancing. Then Katherine started dancing. So I got up and started dancing. There we were all dancing, folding and putting away laundry. Melissa Madeline said "I love living in a house of girls." I read an article in Whole Living on the zen you can find in doing simple household chores and I realized my daughter found the joy and zen without even needing to read the article. The girls are quite proud of their new skills and I'm proud they are learning how to take care of themselves.

There isn't an instruction book on parenting. And we all know that "collective wisdom" on parenting changes so frequently. One Jungian analyst, Daryl Sharp wrote: "I used to have a fantasy that somewhere there was a Big Book of collective wisdom called What to do When. It contained the prescribed solution to all life's problems. Whenever you found yourself in conflict you could just look it up in the book and do what it said."

But that book doesn't exist. We all instead stumble along trying to do our best and figure out the curve balls the are thrown into our lives. But I have found one thing that does help. The answers lie somewhere in the combination of: forgiveness, patience, compassion, understanding and gratitude. Forgiving ourselves for our own mistakes is first. It is so easy to blame others and try to criticize others without looking in the mirror first. Secondly it comes in loving yourself so that you can freely love your children and others. Patience, compassion and understanding all speak for themselves if they are sought in their truest forms. Gratitude, like forgiveness, is worth an extra mention. I have found that Gratitude can turn your day around. Gratitude journals, daily gratitude lists, finding the SL's (Silver Linings) as my friend, Hollye would say. It is healing to look for all the things your parents did for you instead of put a magnifying glass on their shortcomings or your own shortcomings. Humor helps too. Sometimes the shortcomings become humorous and life becomes more bearable when you can laugh at yourself.

So on this Mother's Day I send rest for those who are weary. I send healing for those who have been wounded. I send gratitude for the many things my Mother did for me and continues to do for me. I send love to my daughter's who taught me to be someone far different that I imagined I would be. And I send peace and love to all.

Melissa, Me and Katherine
Photography Jose Villa 


The McRoos said…
beautiful photo!

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