This Is Not (Exactly) About Mother’s Day

My mother died in 2007.

For more than 10 years after her death, I was unable to make it through Mother’s Day without getting angry.

“F*** you!” I yelled at my computer when emails showed up offering Mother’s Day specials for brunches I would never get to eat with her.

“I can’t ‘make her day unforgettable,’” I mouthed with a clenched jaw when a deal arrived on a bouquet of roses. “She’s dead.”

Of course, anger is often part of the grieving process. And grief, as we know, does not follow a neat or short trajectory.  

I am still grieving now, almost 15 years on.

Now, though, the quality of the grief is different. The anger has diminished, replaced with sadness, wistfulness, and a great empathy for the person my mother was and the person I became in response.

I had—as many of us do—a sometimes fraught relationship with my mother. Yes, there was love on both sides, and never an intention to hurt, but ours was a classic example of how unprocessed emotion echoes through the generations. For many years, I was a silent and unwitting party to this pattern. My part in the pattern manifested as rebellion, defiance, and self-sabotage. I knew I wanted to be different, but I didn’t know how. Finally, I arrived at a decision that was both oppositional and healing.

I became a birth doula.

It may be surprising that I turned toward a second career built on connection and nurturing. The form of distant, intellectual mothering I experienced offered no model for how to create a space to hold difficult (or even pleasant) emotions. I felt awkward and unprepared in my early interactions with doula clients. I was much more comfortable tutoring them about the stages of labor or dispensing practical advice about packing for the hospital than interacting around the unpredictable and often intense emotions around childbearing.

Yet this was the medicine I needed. Slowly, I learned to exercise an emotional muscle I barely knew I possessed. Gradually, it strengthened. The surprise has been how central that muscle has become in every aspect of my own life.

I find myself flexing that muscle often in my work with writers.

I have my mother to thank and honor for the person I’ve become as a result of being a doula—my dear mother, whom I never would have called “dear” in the time we had together on this earth, but whom I am now able to see and hold with compassion.

We all have our stories of mothering and motherhood. What’s yours?

Mother's Day Appreciation Workshop

This Sunday, Jennifer and I are offering a free one-hour workshop appreciating mothers.

I hope you can join us as we explore “mothering” in the broadest sense of the word—including the literal women from whom we have sprung to the mothering impulse that lives within all of us, whether we identify as male or female. We invite you to explore the fertile ground of your matrilineal heritage and connect it to your own powerful urge to create. Through stimulating writing prompts, sharing, and a short gentle yoga session, you’ll experience how the power of a supportive writing community can nourish your solo writing practice. REGISTER NOW.

11 thoughts on “This Is Not (Exactly) About Mother’s Day

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  1. I had a similar reaction to my father’s death from leukemia in 2006. I was angry at advertisements for Father’s Day. But because of his death, I got first into acting and then into writing. So this traumatic event has sparked creative expression.

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    1. Yes–sometimes it just takes time and the anger and grief can be transformed. But I do wish we could get past the expectations we have about grieving. I still find myself in deep moments of mourning for my parents, who have both been gone for decades now.

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      1. That happens to me too. There are things which can trigger the grief: the departed person’s birthday or anniversary, a holiday that was always special, etc. But there are times when the grief comes unexpectedly too. You can have a good memory about the person: a joke they once made, or something nice they said on a particular occasion. And you can be smiling about it one minute, and fighting back tears the next. But you need to release the feelings in some way, so that you will have relief afterward. Part of the problem is society’s expectations too. Many people who have not yet lost anyone very close to them think that, after mourning intensely for a little while, you feel the grief gradually decreasing until you are able to “get over it.” Well, when the deceased is someone important to you, you don’t “get over it,” you just get better at recognizing the grief and hopefully you find a healthy way to deal with it.

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  2. Audrey, this is so beautifully vulnerable. Thank you for sharing your journey. I struggled with my relationship with my mom as well. She was angry and bitter and hard to deal with, especially at the end of her life. I find comfort in thinking she’s found peace. And to your point, the struggle in the relationship forged who I am, so I have some gratitude for that. Happy Mother’s Day to you!

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  3. I could identify with this, Audrey. My mom died in 2006 and lived with me for ten years before dementia forced us to place her in a home the last year of her life. In my childhood home, nobody said I love you. Neither my mom or dad were free with compliments when I came home with straight A’s. It would be different, I said, when I had my own children. I had to dig to find my emotional center that could be freely expressed with the ones I loved as it wasn’t learned behavior. But I found it. My mother was a sweet and wonderful person, and when she came to live with me those many years later, we could finally say I love you to one another.

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    1. I didn’t realize what a familiar note this would strike with so many. I do think there was something about my mom’s generation (born into the depression, growing up with a world war) that shaped it in particular ways that didn’t always allow vulnerability and accessibility.

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  4. Audrey, this was such a beautiful post that I had to respond. I really appreciate your honesty about a fraught relationship with your now-dear mother. The shortest way to comment would be to say “ditto!” I loved reading how your response to that relationship led you to becoming a doula. And all I can add is that I’ve always found your emotional presence in BYTS to be verrrrrry meaningful, helpful and connective. I’d say you’ve flexed that muscle mighty well.

    I also loved seeing the delightful pic of your Mom.

    And last but not least, totally relate to the feelings about Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day) when these can be “holidays” rife with heightened grief, sadness, regret, etc.

    Love and empathy from Martha

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    1. Martha, thank you so much. I do truly feel blessed to have discovered that “empathy muscle” and for the connections it has brought to my life, including you and all the BYTS community!

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  5. Beautiful and true! I have been so busy with school that I’ve been unable to compose an email about our weekend event, though I’ve been writing it in my head. So mike will go out late, probably tomorrow morning. Hope your beautiful tribute to your mom touches people and makes them curious to join us! Are you going to share it on social media?

    xoxo Jen

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