On this holiday long marketed to honor mothers, I join Canadian writer Sarah Bessey in her thoughts about the day. She writes: "I always wish that we called this day ‘Mothering Sunday’ like they do in the UK and Ireland. Mother’s Day can be so complicated for so many reasons ..."
As a woman halfway through my seventh decade of life, I’ve walked through many of those complications. Early memories of Mother’s Day include church services with netted, pastel hats and white gloves, with corsages on the shoulders of many in the sun-dappled sanctuary. A white rose or orchid signified that the wearer’s mother was deceased; pink or red roses or carnations indicated the one who wore the flower had been spared that tender loss.
As an adult, I was generally in the pulpit of my own congregation on Mother’s Day. Prior to distributing the traditional bauble to the mothers, I’d issue my yearly disclaimer about death, loss, abuse, loneliness and more. All too often, there were just as many abandoned or neglected mothers and children in our pews as there were moms cocooned within the love and care of the nuclear family.
For the pastor mom, scenes of leisurely breakfasts-in-bed on a Sunday morning were non-existent, but the dinner table was full, and the invitation to "go put your feet up while we clean up" was a welcome change in routine. Often, the most beloved gift was the clay pot or handprinted art work created by the owners of those little-boy hands.
And Mother’s Day 2020? Like just about everything in the spring of this year, we’re in for an awkward day. We’ll try our hardest with Facebook Live church services, sappy social media messages and socially distanced takeout dinners. The temptation is strong to focus on the white-flowered corsages of loss, the long-standing dysfunction, the empty chairs at the table, the hands consigned to touching palms against windows, and the lips longingly blowing air-kisses into cellphone screens. Yes, it will be a day to measure loss, and to shed some ugly-cry tears, at least for a moment or two.
Who am I kidding? For a moment or two? The long-standing losses remembered on Mother’s Day are still with us: infertility, estrangement, abandonment, indifference, death. These losses are multiplied exponentially for 73,549 grieving families, the U.S. death toll due to COVID-19 as I write at 8:23 a.m. on Thursday morning (NYT). And while our own 2020 losses may dim in comparison, they are real none-the-less. In the midst of the fear generated by job loss, economic challenge, and worry over contracting the virus, being able to hold our mother, our child, and yes, even our grandchildren in our arms would anchor us more surely in hope, but those points of physical contact are beyond our reach as well. Yes, we mothers and children will weep this Mother’s Day.
As I type these words, I wish I could leave six inches of empty space at this point, space to ponder, to grieve, to stay for a while before we paste on a smile and face the day. In lieu of those inches, consider this a permission slip to take the time to breathe, to sit for a while with the heaviness of these days.
But. Yet. So. And. These conjunctions of movement, the habits of optimism, the genetic roots of a hard-working people, and the tenets of my faith serve as reminders that "sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning." That’s why I must return to Bessey’s thoughts on Mothering Sunday. "Mothering," she writes, "is a tender word, one that includes more stories, I believe."
Let me give courage to you this weekend. Once you wipe the tears, be surprised by joy. Drink deeply of the tender stories of the past and of today. Honor those who mother us. Listen for the mothering voices, even those traveling across the internet or rising from the chasm of memory.
And, no matter your gender or age, extend a mothering touch to another. We all ache in these days, and kindness and connection spread a healing balm. A blessed Mothering Sunday to you.
— JoAnn Shade, author of "Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant," can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She and her husband, Larry, are retired Salvation Army Majors.