Sunday is Mother’s Day.
The modern “holiday” of Mother's Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia.
She launched a campaign to make "Mother's Day" a recognized holiday in the United States. Eventually US president Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation creating Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May, making it a national holiday to honour mothers.
Not truly a “holiday” — no one gets the day off work, or earns premium pay that day — it’s popularity spread to other countries.
Jarvis soon became resentful of the commercialization of this special day, and grew angry that companies would profit from the holiday. By the early 1920's, Hallmark and other companies had started selling Mother's Day cards.
As with so may “holidays,” capitalism and rampant consumerism have perverted the intent, insisting that a holiday could only well and truly be celebrated through the purchasing and giving of cards and gifts.
I know of several women who refuse to celebrate “Mother’s Day,” saying that every day is Mother’s Day, to them, and setting aside a single day to honour Mother’s is a rather trite gesture.
By that logic, there is no point to celebrating birthdays. Really, none of us really did anything on the day we were born, except to emerge from our mother’s wombs. The effort was all theirs.
I heard one comedian describe a birthday as simply a celebration of not having died during the previous 365 days.
But I digress.
I have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day.
It has been just over 20 years since I lost my own mother, who succumbed to cancer in September 1993.
Anyone who has lost a parent, especially a mother, knows that the pain of that loss never completely goes away, although it does diminish over time.
I recall once, not long after my mother passed away, talking with one of my older cousins (actually, since I am the only child of an only child, he was my mother’s cousin), whose own mother (my great-aunt) had passed-away several years previously.
He said there were still times when something good would happen, and his first reaction would be to pick up the phone to call his mother and tell her. He would catch himself, hang up, and spend a few moments in a bit of a funk.
I certainly understand that, having experienced it myself a number of times.
There are still times when I am trying to recall something that happened, or where we were when something happened, or who else was there… and I want to ask my mom, because she’d remember. But I can’t.
As is likely the case for most of us, I’m sure I caused my mother no small measure of heartache — some of the things I did, some of the decisions I made. I’m not sure that I ever truly apologized to her for those times, although I’m certain it wouldn’t have been necessary. She would understand.
Perhaps the biggest regret I have is that she never got to see the man I have become. I was only 33 when she passed away. At the time I felt quite mature — “never trust anyone over 30,” after all — but looking back I realize that I was just a young’un.
While I had been doing well enough for myself, I hadn’t yet settled into a career, hadn’t got married and hadn’t provided her with grandchildren to spoil.
I’m sure she would be quite pleased that I have earned a degree in Music, and become a teacher and a writer. (She paid for my first computer, with the caveat that I use it to do some writing.)
Despite being married and subsequently divorced, I know she would have been pleased that I had gotten married. Having been divorced herself, she no doubt would have understood that, too.
I suspect, though, were she still alive she would be trying to find someone for me to meet, with an eye to possible marriage.
There are those, including some of my elder aunts, who suggest that my mom is “looking down on me” and is likely quite pleased with the person I have become.
First of all, I’m not a fan of the notion that deceased relatives are “looking down” on us, as if heaven is some sort of celestial glass-bottom boat, and we are pretty fish swimming about the coral reef.
I do believe that she would be pleased, but the metaphysical debate of whether or not our predecessors are watching the drama of our lives unfold does not interest me.
But while I am not quite pleased with the position I currently find myself in — still on the supply list, working three part-time jobs, with no real financial security and a meagre outlook for my retirement — I know my mother would remind me of the positives.
I did go back to university, earning a degree in music. I am an accomplished musician.
I did go to teacher’s college, and earn a B.Ed. I am a good teacher.
I am very involved in my church, sitting on and chairing several committees, and welcomed as a worship leader and musician in several local congregations.
Certainly, she would not be surprised that I became a driving instructor, although I suspect she still would grip the dashboard with unwarranted force, frequently covering her eye with her free hand if she were my passenger. Mom was never a good passenger, regardless of who was driving.
I did receive one specific compliment from her a few months before she passed away. I was in town for visit, and as she was not up to it, I cooked the big family dinner: Turkey and all the fixin’s.
She was impressed, so much so that she admitted it was better than hers, which was quite a compliment, indeed!
It’s far too easy to take things for granted. Until her initial diagnoses of breast cancer, my mother was someone who would always be at the other end of the phone line, always ready to offer advice or assistance when needed.
Home was always a place I could return to, whenever I needed.
Certainly my mother had expected to grow old; my instructions were to place her in a home if she ever got as cranky as her own mother had been at the time.
I had every reason to expect that she would grow old, and possibly cranky.
The day she phone to tell me of the diagnosis, I realized just how tenuous our existence is. Expectations of longevity were dashed.
While there was every hope for successful treatment, there was always the nagging fear that accompanies a diagnosis of cancer.
Following the surgery and subsequent treatments, the outlook was good.
Mom, herself, decided that life was for living, and began planning vacations: Disney World, a trip to the Stratford Festival.
She had a good two years, before the cancer returned.
Well, not the best two years. In the intervening year, my step-father’s health deteriorated. He lost a tremendous amount of weight, and was eventually diagnosed with a tumour in his kidney. The kidney was removed, and all seemed well.
Mom passed away in September 1993. I came home in time to be with her for a bit before she passed away. I don’t know whether she was even aware of my presence there, she was in such agony.
I stayed for the funeral, and for a time afterward to help Dad adjust, but eventually I had to return to Hamilton, and to work.
Two weeks later, I got a call from my grandmother, telling me Dad was in the hospital, with multiple tumours in his lungs and brain. He passed away in November.
Even now, the emotion sometimes gets the best of me. No thirty-something is prepared for the loss of a parent. To lose both parents a mere ten weeks apart was far more than I was ready to deal with. But… what choice do we have?
So, approaching twenty-one years since their passing, I find both Mothers- and Father’s Day somewhat bittersweet.
I can’t say that I think about them every day, but I do think about them often. Having a special day set aside to honour parents doesn’t make it any easier, nor does it seem quite so special, now that they’re gone.
On the other hand, for those who still have time with their parents, and especially with the mother who bore you, cherish every day.
Take the opportunity on Mother’s Day to do something special, whether you take her out to dinner, who cook the family meal for her. Buy her flowers, and chocolate.
Most of you know that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. Perhaps part of the reason is because, even though I was an adult when I lost my parents, I can empathize with Harry.
There is a scene in the sixth instalment of the series, Half-Blood Prince, where Fred and George Weasley surprise their mother with an unexpected gift.
When she comments on this, George responds, “Well, we find we appreciate you more and more, Mum, now we're washing our own socks.”
Yes, those who say that “every day is Mother’s Day” are right, and you should let her know how much you care each and every day. But don’t let that stop you from celebrating on that one special day, too.
Let her know how much she’s loved and appreciated.
Treasure the time you have, for you never know how long that will be.
Another Harry Potter quote would be appropriate: from the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban; Sirius Black, revealed as Harry’s godfather and friend of his departed parents, tells Harry, “But know this; the ones that love us never really leave us. And you can always find them in here [points to Harry’s heart].”
Such memories are important, and will bring you comfort. Take the time to make plenty of memories, while you have the opportunity.
Happy Mother’s Day