Photo by cesarastudillo
Earlier this week, a friend shared with me that she tends to be filled with anxiety this time of year. No, it isn’t the gorgeous spring weather that gets to her. It’s Mother’s Day. Her son died four years ago, and she says it’s hard for her to grasp any claim on a day for moms, since she can no longer claim to be someone’s mom.
My first thought was, “But you are! You gave birth! You nurtured and loved so much it hurt. You wanted more for your son than you ever did for yourself.” Who am I, though, to tell a grieving woman how she should feel about her status as a mom?
Mother’s Day is complicated, and ripe with an appropriately complex array of emotions. That’s because motherhood isn’t nearly as straightforward as gynecologists say it is.
My best friend from childhood, whose own mother died in a car accident when we were 20, is herself a mom who has never given birth. Both of her children were born in China, and came into the world with complicated special needs. When my friend adopted them, she gave them life in a way that seems to somehow outdo the life I gave my daughters when I birthed them. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but I guess I’m saying that my job was easy, and I didn’t make any momentous decisions of the heart.
Another friend, who is a pastor, told me that the kids at her church make gifts for all of the women on Mother’s Day. When one of the kids was confused about who would be getting the gifts and how they could tell if someone was a mom, my friend gently and wisely did her best to explain the complexities of this role we call motherhood. “Not all mothers have birthed,” she explained, “which is why we will give every woman a gift.”
You can’t always know who is a mom, who longs to be a mom, who thought she was on her way to becoming a mom, only to have lost that hope. And then there are the many women who have been like mothers to people—often they are more the mom than the biological mom. Some people are nurtured by their biological moms, along with others—I am a stepmom, and my daughters have a stepmom.
This year for Mother’s Day, I get to be with my mom as we celebrate her mom. My Grandma June died on January 19. She was in Michigan, at a nursing home near my parents, but her vibrant life was lived in Iowa, and then California, so my mom and her siblings made plans for us to all gather in Iowa for a memorial service and Mother’s Day.
We will celebrate a mother and grandmother who has gone on to join her mother and grandmother. I am so thankful for all of them, and for all of the complex stories that are helping me reshape Mother’s Day into something full of depth and beauty.