Finding Happiness in What You Carry: A Bit About Mother’s Day

“Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine alone, but a living continuation of my mother and all my ancestors. These feet that I saw as ‘my’ feet were actually ‘our’ feet. Together, my mother and I were leaving damp footprints in the soil.”

                   – Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear 

 

If you ask me, most holidays are much ado about little of any real substance. Take Valentine’s Day. If you aren’t some kind of jerk, you’ve probably been halfway nice to the person you claim to love above all others. If that’s not the case, dinner and chocolate isn’t going to suddenly set it right. Despite soft-focus commercials about exotic weekend getaways and advice about the portion of one’s salary suitable for purchasing jewelry items, Valentine’s Day could just as well be called, I don’t know, Tuesday.

How about Christmas? Whether we’re talking about its Christian or pagan origins, it’s hard to see how any of what happens today relates to any of that. Why don’t we just call it “Buy Each Other Lots of Stuff, Eat Too Much, and Feel Guilty for Not Being Able to See All the People You Didn’t See Last Year”? The name could catch on.

Mother’s Day is a holiday I greet with goodwill, though, mostly because while it may be a sham perpetrated by florists and purveyors of edible fruit arrangements, it causes many of us to reflect on our moms, which is almost always a good thing. I say “almost” because not every mother is the best thing to happen to someone. Giving birth doesn’t confer sainthood, nor is it that rare a biological occurrence, so that in itself isn’t a thing worth shouting about. Yes, just as there are bad fathers, brothers, apples, and Star Wars movies, every now and then a less-than-stellar mom comes along. For people who don’t have fond mom-related memories, then, Mother’s Day can be a burden.

For me, it’s become a time to look back on all the things I never appreciated about my mom while I still had her. When I think that it’s been a little over ten years since she died, it seems impossible. Impossible that it happened the way it did, impossible that it’s been so long, impossible how the time has flown.

These are clichés, but all the clichés you hear about missing your mom are true: You catch yourself about to dial her up because of something you just heard, you swear you see her out and about in public, you have dreams in which she’s still alive but living on borrowed time. It’s as if there’s a kind of psychic bond that refuses to die, like a metaphysical telephone operator somewhere forgot to terminate a call.

My mother died in a hospice bed in Mobile, Alabama, on April 21, 2007, and my father and I were the only people with her when it happened. After she died, I didn’t write anything about it for at least three years. I wanted to gain a bit of perspective before I put it down, which isn’t like me, as people who know me will tell you. Normally, I can’t even think unless I’m writing. And I’m not sure what I knew then that I didn’t know before, either, but I’m glad I waited.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to toss out any haughty, priggish advice like “Appreciate your mother while both of you are still alive” because you won’t. None of us ever do. I’m not even sure we could if we tried. We might say we’re thankful for someone right now, but it seems we’ll never understand how precious that person is until she’s gone.

So yes, kids of all ages, be good to your mother while she’s still around. Buy her things. Listen to her stories. Call her for no reason. Laugh at her jokes. Drive her places. Tell her thanks just for the sake of saying it. Then, when Mother’s Day rolls around, it’s just another Sunday. And here’s an idea: Instead of feeling guilty after she’s gone, dig down deep inside yourself and try to be glad you had her in the first place.

I’ve heard people say that after you lose a loved one, it doesn’t get easier, but it does get different. The nature of the emptiness changes, and whereas memories once brought pain, they start to inspire smiles, and eventually, laughter. You’ll never feel like you did enough for Mom when she was alive, but once you get past the worst of feeling the universe has royally screwed you yet again—and that takes a while, trust me—it’s possible to find happiness in that part of her you still carry.

Happy Sunday, Mom. I miss you.