Mother’s Day and the Aftermath: Why I Still Don’t Do It

I quit Mother’s Day 10 years ago when it rolled around 2-3 weeks after the sudden death of my mother. I’ve tried a few times since then. Really, I have. But I still can’t do it.

Even when I became a mother 5 years ago, I still was not interested in Mother’s Day. Although someone apart from my husband and me insisted that my son get me a card one year and it stuck.

Mother’s Day generally is not a good day for me. It comes at the end of the back to back…to back series of significant dates: the anniversary of Mom’s death, her birthday 7 days later, and Mother’s Day roughly the weekend after that. By the time Mother’s Day rolls around, I get points just for getting out of bed, y’all.

I still don’t go to church on Mother’s Day. I’ve tried a few times. It’s too painful. And when you combine that day with the usual baby dedications that occur, I really can’t do it.

Yesterday was no exception. In fact, I spent much of it in tears…probably because of hormones. Probably because I was a dumbass and watched Trouble with the Curve, which hit a teeny weeny bit too close to home. Probably because people keep trying to make me do Mother’s Day. Probably because it marked the end of those three weeks that can be so tough–at least at some point along the way.

People keep telling me it will be different once this baby is born. (People who know I have a son also asked me how my first Mother’s Day was or if I’d gotten any “pre-mommy” gifts…and I had to remind them that I ALREADY AM A MOTHER. But somehow that brand of motherhood is not legit because I didn’t birth the child I have walking around right now. Which is a whole different problem with the prevailing sentiments of the day.)

What people fail to realize is that Mother’s Day will continue to come at the end of what some years is an intensely emotional three-week period. What people may not have considered is that I will not dedicate this baby on Mother’s Day. It’s hard enough to be pregnant and hormonal. Add to that the fact that this baby will not get to know my mother as an actively involved presence in his life and that I will round out this pregnancy and birth without the presence of my mother–to say nothing of parenting this baby without her…I can’t imagine putting all of that together on one day.

I don’t see my sentiment about Mother’s Day changing any time soon. And even if it becomes a day of celebration for me, I will be ever mindful that it is not a day of celebration for many.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t celebrate Mother’s Day. If it’s a good day for you, have at it. The best it has been for me so far is a day in which I again express thanks for the mother I had, for the wisdom she gave me, and for the ways in which she loved me so very well. But I don’t need Mother’s Day for that.

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Loving Deeply

The problem with loving people deeply is that, at some point, the relationship changes or the person leaves, and you have to adjust to the change.

The problem with loving a place deeply is that, at some point, you will have to leave…and adjust to the change.

The problem with loving your work deeply is that, at some point, the work you do will change, and you have to adjust along with it.

I realized today that, after this week, I have four weeks left of my internship. I’m working to soak it all in, knowing that I will move on to something different in a different place and with different people. I am thankful for the ways in which I have been able to love and be loved deeply this year…for the many things I’ve learned along the way…and for becoming a better person and practitioner for it.

But in about four weeks, I’mma need my own box (or three) of tissue.

Bend Before It Breaks

I’m quickly approaching the 9th anniversary of my mom’s death–a date which is book-ended by other significant dates over the span of about 6 weeks. I usually start feeling and/or anticipating the pain that inevitably comes around mid-March.

So here I am.

This year, it’s been a different experience. My grief is much closer to the surface sooner that I thought it would be. And in many ways, it’s just as raw as it was nine years ago. This time, though, I’m allowing it to surface and to come out–and providing space for it. Because I clearly have not finished the active grief process, and I know I still need to do that.

The tag line for this blog is an African proverb that spoke to me in the months following Mom’s death. It occurred to me today that I’ve been trying to outdistance the pain and grief still residing inside of me even after almost 9 years. I’ve succumbed to it on occasion, but usually on my terms–which meant short-bursts-because-I-had-to-but-not-really-sitting-with-the-pain-and-grief-and-allowing-it-to-come-out-so-I-can-fully-heal. Grief doesn’t really work on one’s own terms, and I cannot outdistance it anymore. Nor am I trying to.

This year, when it wells up, I am welcoming it to the surface, holding it, and then letting it go. I am finally–truly–walking wading through the muck because I know I need to and because I am finally okay with doing so. Mainly, I think, because I feel better equipped to wade…or because I’ve finally come to a place where I really am okay with letting go of the pain and keeping only the memories. Either way, I’m leaning into the process in a way I haven’t before.

Responding to Tragedy, Or Why I Needed to Process This Before Monday Morning

As this new day dawned, it was appropriately overcast and cold. With the news of the school shooting in Connecticut yesterday, I think we all feel overshadowed by the tragedy–grieving with and for those who lost someone, thankful that it wasn’t us, squeezing our people just a little bit tighter and a little bit longer, wondering at what goes on inside of someone to push them to such a senseless act. As the stories continued to come out, it hit closer and closer to home.

Because here’s the thing. I’m in the middle of my internship year as a school psychologist serving an elementary school and working on a preschool special education services team. That fact alone makes it more palpable. Then, I started this week at a neighboring school, responding alongside others to a crisis. And then there was the New York Times article about Sandy Hook Elementary School’s principal and school psychologist. They were in a meeting yesterday morning when the shooting began. They quickly left that meeting to respond–not thinking twice about what that might mean for them as individuals–and gave their lives in the process. The principal of Sandy Hook sounds like the female version of the principal with whom I currently work. The psychologist and I share not only the same role in a school but also the same first name.

I’ve been trained to run to a crisis when it happens. I’ve been trained in crisis response. I feel confident that my administrator and I would look at one another in that moment and instantly take action, working in tandem to respond and protect the children and staff of the school. But this school shooting has caused me to really examine my part of all of that.

On Wednesday of this week, I defended my dissertation. At the end of the meeting, one of my committee members handed me a copy of my abstract with a message on it. He congratulated me on a job well done and then said this, “I hope that you will continue as an advocate. We need you, my boys and me, to make the world better.”

That. Advocacy and making the world better. That is why I do what I do. And why I, too, would leave a meeting to respond…to protect…to do my part.

I am thankful that I work in a school alongside incredible administrators and very talented and capable faculty and staff members–all of whom deeply care for and are committed to the children in our care. On Monday morning, we will show up again, just as we do every day, to make the world better.

Earlier this week, someone asked me how to process/handle/deal with contact grief. She’d had a conversation with someone else who was working through some seriously heavy stuff and it left my person feeling the weight of it too. Perhaps you feel something similar regarding Sandy Hook Elementary School. I suggested a variety of things: yoga, meditation, a pedicure, reading or watching something with some humor, a glass of wine or beer, journaling, lingering over a cup of coffee, some kind of physical activity, whatever she felt like she needed to restore her soul. Because it looks different for all of us. Whatever that looks like for you, do it.

Others of you may be parents of children who will hear about the tragedy–because we live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and the 24 hour news cycle. You also may be people who work in a school in some capacity. There are a variety of resources out there for how to talk to children and one another–as well as manage the media consumption. I’ve provided those links below. There is an additional link for things to say vs. not say to children in the wake of events such as these. Note that that link was written by a minister and may need to be adjusted somewhat depending on your religious context.

Many of us have joked about the end of the world on 12/21/12 based on the Mayan calendar. My understanding is that something has been lost in translation and that 12/21/12 is a point in time that marks the end of an era. My hope is that, on 12/22/12, the sun will rise on a new era where we work to love everyone unconditionally, where we will work to be peacemakers instead of own them, where we will be sensitive to those around us and respond accordingly, where we will serve, protect, and advocate, making the new era–indeed the world–a better one.

Links to Resources:

Talking with Children about Tragedy

Responsible Media Coverage of Crisis

Five Things NOT to Say and Five Things TO Say to Children Regarding Trauma/Crisis Events

 

Father’s Day

Some of you have asked whether I was going to craft a litany for Father’s Day as I did for Mother’s Day. I must confess that I don’t have nearly the same sentiment around Father’s Day as I do for Mother’s Day. I am blessed with a father who is magnificent and with whom I have an extraordinary relationship–a relationship many may find to be improbable or even impossible with their own father. (I was blessed with a mother who was also magnificent and with whom I had an extraordinary relationship. All of which ended way too soon.)

So I was less inspired by my own experiences around Father’s Day and more inspired by the experiences of some of you. I hope this litany does for men, fathers and their children the same things it did for women, mothers and their children at Mother’s Day. Once again, please feel free to use this litany as best fits for you and your context.

God of creation, you have been in the business of fathering children for generations.

On this day, we thank you for the fathers who have desired to do the same, who have contributed to the process of new life through creating children and adopting them. We thank you for the ways in which they teach us to love and care for ourselves and the world around us.

We pray for the men who deeply desire to become fathers but labor to do so. We ask that you provide hope in the midst of distress and struggle and that you remind these men that they are no less of a person because of imperfect biology.

We pray for the men who have loved and lost children–for whom this day is fraught with painful reminders of who and what they have lost. We pray that they may encounter you in new and different ways through other children in their lives and find peace.

We thank you for the men who have made a difference in our lives as fathers, who loved and cared for us in the ways you would. Who taught us how to work hard, enjoy what we do, and get outside and play.

We thank you for the men who have worked to be the best fathers possible but whose experiences of parenting have not matched their expectations. We ask that you bolster these fathers of children who may be prodigals, of children who make choices for themselves that may be different than what we would like. Remind them of the ways in which they lived up to your idea of fatherhood and that love and grace is neverending.

We thank you for the men who tried to be fathers, but who may have failed because they lacked the resources–emotional, financial, physical–required to be present as such. We pray for those sons and daughters who mourn the father they are or were not able to have, that they may find in you, and in this community, the deeply loving and nurturing presence they have missed.

We pray for those sons and daughters who are fatherless because of disease and death, that they may have a sense of your presence in the midst of their pain and the solace and joy that come with fond memories.

We pray for the sons and daughters of fathers lost to war–the ones created by man and the ones that brew within–that we might recognize the complexities of this world and work for peace in spite of them. In the meantime, we ask that you bring peace to these families.

We thank you for the ways in which our lives are shaped by our fathers, by our quest for fatherhood, and for fatherhood itself.

Above all, Creator, may we all work to be the kind of parent for our children and the children around us that you have been for your children for generations. Help us to look to your Spirit as a guide for being parent–for knowing how to love, when to speak, when to whisper, when to stay silent, how to play, how to nurture and comfort, and how to be present.

We ask these things of you, in the name of our Brother, Jesus. Amen.

Blue Christmas

I was catching up on some blog reading just now and became acutely aware of just how…hard…Christmas is for so many. We are surrounded by…or affected ourselves by…loss and, at times, unspeakable grief. Christmas is a reminder that someone we love is no longer with us. And I’m constantly amazed at the number of people marking time at this time of year as the days leading up to and including December 25 are dates engraved on tombstones as death dates. Talk about a double whammy.

There’s a family in the midwest who are grieving the loss of a husband/father on this day, the second year after he died unexpectedly in a car accident. Black ice. Leaving behind a wife and a slew of children–many of whom were adopted. Three of whom were adopted about the same time Ryan was. From the same country.

There’s a woman in San Diego who will bake brownies tomorrow night and spend time outside writing a letter in a journal to her brother who died at the age of 22 from a heart attack. She’ll share a brownie with him and write about the year that is coming to a close. It’s how she marks the time that passes as she moves forward in her grief.

There’s been consistent news coverage in our area since Sunday night about the just-turned-21-year-old woman who was driving drunk and hit and killed a man who was a husband and father of four children. Hell. What do you say to that?

There’s the husband and daughter of a beautiful woman who died of cancer in August who will experience their first Christmas without her. I can’t say for certain, but I would imagine that Vicki did Christmas big. I can’t say for certain how her family will do this Christmas, but I firmly believe they will be surrounded by those who love them and who will share in the memory of Vicki.

And then there are those of us who may not be marking an anniversary, but we certainly have linked Christmas, in a very powerful way, with the one(s) we’ve lost. Most of us still participate in this holiday. We certainly give it our best shot. Some of us still aren’t there. But we all try to move forward, even if it means clutching the scars that remain.

Tis the Season in Which I Participate

When the question came up during Community Time a coupla weeks ago about whether you are a Scrooge, True Believer, or mere Participant when it comes to Christmas, I sensed that I’m a participant. I just couldn’t really articulate why. And then I landed on a radio station the other morning and it started up a Christmas song. One of the ones I really like. And then it occurred to me that I don’t really listen to much Christmas music…or really even get into Christmas that much anymore.I do try.

I’m the one primarily responsible for decorating (though Al does the lights on the tree), shopping for presents, and gift wrapping. I do basically all of the meal planning, cooking, and baking. I’m also the one involved in coordinating gift giving and other plans with family.

I’m right smack in the middle of it all.

Which is why I can’t be less than a participant.

But that doesn’t mean I enjoy all of it. Or most of it.

Growing up, Mom was in a group of women who got together once a month to play Bridge. Or catch up on the latest news (gossip?) from work. Or both. And everyone agreed that every December, the group was going to meet at our house. It was a combination of things, really. If you knew my mom, you knew that woman could throw down in the kitchen. If you had the opportunity to be at my house between Thanksgiving and the week after New Year, you saw the decorations that were pretty much everywhere. And the Christmas music playing most of the time. And the baking. Good Lord, the baking.

And I still really miss that. As in, I still don’t do well without that.

Certainly, it has gotten better over time. Decorating our tree this year brought back memories of decorating the tree–and even the whole house–in years past. Mom’s Southern Living cookbooks still smell like home…and I’m using one to make a breakfast casserole for an event soon. Other recipes for my holiday baking are hers, too. Others are some I acquired from two Christmases in Ukraine. And all of my people LOVE the results. Even if it sucks the life out of me to make it happen. (Baking is still a mixed bag for me. I love it and I feel connected to Mom…remembering the times I helped in the kitchen or just sat perched on our step stool, talking with Mom while she cooked and baked but staying out of the way in our small kitchen. But it does take a lot out of me.)

Of course, I can’t tell what takes my energy. The extra work I have to do to pull off Christmas in my house…the fact that it’s yet another holiday without the person who made it so special…the fact that it’s the end of another semester of school which always amps up the workload…or a combination of all of it.

Whatever it is, I still participate. Mostly because I’m participating for others. And hoping for the best when all is said and done.