This letter is for everyone for whom Mother's Day is a difficult day. For everyone who lost their mother last week, last month, last year, or last decade. For every woman whose child has died. For everyone who wants a child, but hasn't been able to conceive. For everyone who had to have a preventive hysterectomy. For every couple waiting, and waiting some more, to adopt a child.
There's a reason that Mother's Day is a big deal, and it's not just about the consumerism of flowers and brunch. Maternal love is a super-charged love; it is the energy of life. The mother-child relationship is the closest and most visceral bond that most of us will ever experience.
In an ideal world, we have safe access to this energy, this love, throughout our lives—sometimes as the one who is nurtured; other times as the one who nurtures. But for many people, it doesn't turn out this way. Our relationships with our mothers may be fraught with pain or difficulty; we may lose each other too soon; we may never have the chance to be the parent we dreamed of being. And the rupture and loss of those relationships can feel like the very heartbeat of life and love being taken away from us. We may feel robbed; we may feel that this was our birthright. We may feel cast out of the human community, stripped of our normalcy.
This is my fifth Motherless Mother's Day. For the previous four, I have felt bitter and angry and bereft. For some reason, this one is different. Something has profoundly changed.
I have begun to realize that while my loss may have cast me out of one part of the human community—the part that skips blindly forward, oblivious to hair-raising fragility of life—it has also inducted me into another. I've been given access to one of the most deeply transformative, disruptive, life-changing transitions that a human being can go through. And because of my own experience, I have the privilege to touch into that profound transition with others.
Don't get me wrong; I still rage. But the walls of my anger have begun to crumble. I have seen that no one is exempt, no one safe from the fires of loss. I no longer want to use my rage to separate myself from others, for we are not separate. Although I am unique, and my mother was astoundingly great, and pancreatic cancer is fucking awful, and although my beautiful relationship with my mom will never be replicated on this earth, my loss is not only personal. It is also universal.
Why does this Mother's Day feel so different? Because I no longer have the bitter luxury of pretending that I am alone.
You see, I've been participating in a yoga-and-grief group. Each Tuesday night for the past few weeks, I've gathered with seven other women (and our amazing instructor, Nancy Perlson) to practice meditation and yoga, and to grieve our losses. My classmates have lost parents, children, spouses. They have faced the pain of illness, of deaths by violence, of becoming an orphan.
Half of my classmates are younger than me by several years. They are the same age, or younger, as I was when I first faced my mom's death. "I wasn't prepared for how much it would hurt," one of my classmates said regarding the approach of Mother's Day. Something in her voice, in those words, made my invisible jaw drop open. Another wave of motherless daughters is here. Another wave will follow after us. Sitting there, holding silent space for her with four years of grief under my belt, was like handing her a torch—while continuing to hold onto my own.
Four years after my mom's death, sometimes I feel like a screaming infant and sometimes I feel like an earth goddess with a sword that cuts through bullshit.
We are all of those things. We have survived.
PS: Happy Mother's Day to all of you, and especially to my mom—that astounding singer, poet, activist, cook, yogi, builder, wife, sister, and friend whom I will fiercely miss forever.
I began writing The Pearl in August 2013 as a subscriber-only, weekly email. I now cross-publish it online, but you can still become an official Oyster and get it delivered.