“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Elizabeth Stone
Sunday March 15 is Mother’s Day in the UK. What a day of mixed emotions!
Mother’s day changed irrevocably for me when I lost my own mother in 2001 … and this year it alters once again, because it is my daughter Stella’s very first mother’s day, as mummy to her son Charlie who was born last July.
It is a strange but lovely feeling to have a daughter who has herself become a mother.
I count myself very lucky because I had a good relationship with my mother and my rapport with my children was modelled on that foundation. My heart goes out to those who do not relate well to their own mothers, particularly on this day of celebration of motherhood. If it would disturb you to read a piece that essentially eulogises motherhood, feel free to give this week’s blog post a miss…..
When I became a mother myself, I began to better understand my own mum, and this is happening now with Stella and I. There is a new understanding between us, and indeed admiration, for what it is to be a mother. I feel very blessed for those special years when I was myself a mother and my mum was still alive. The times of being simultaneously a mother and a daughter were especially precious. We shared and exchanged a great deal about parenthood and I am so glad that Stella and James were able to know their grandparents throughout their childhood.
Motherhood is a job of fulfilment and challenge in almost equal measure and my mum’s innate wisdom, love, kindness and humour stand out in my memories of her.
When James died in 2005, I asked myself, “Am I still mother to a son and a daughter?”
But of course I am!
I did not stop being my mother’s daughter when mum died, so I should not consider myself any less of a mother because my son died.
I am still myself. First and foremost I am me, and I was granted the gift of motherhood twice. Nothing subtracts from that, even though one of my children is no longer here.
Becoming a mother to two beautiful children remains my biggest ever life achievement.
Becoming a bereaved parent raises all sorts of questions that mothers (and fathers) should never have to answer. I have often questioned whether I was a ‘good enough’ mother …. Throughout my children’s upbringing it was a question I asked myself fairly regularly.
But it is no good now, playing the game of ‘what if…’ because I know in my heart, and I have the faith to believe, that what happened to James was meant to happen.
There is nothing that I or anyone else could have done to prevent the accident of his death when it occurred.
I can say that now with conviction from the point of nearly ten years post loss, but I certainly would not have been so confident about it at the beginning.
Guilt is one of the worst aspects of bereavement.
As a mother, I feel guilty that I could not protect my son from the ultimate harm that befell him.
“Did I teach him well enough?
Should I, could I, have done more?
Why us … why him … why me?”
I had to stop asking myself these questions because they prevented me from moving forward in the grieving process. Yet, I believe they were inevitable, valid questions to ask, though they must remain unanswered.
I did the best job I could in bringing up my children and that is the most that any parent can ever do.
The origins of Mother’s Day in the US go back to 1870 when Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and poet, worked to establish a Mother’s Peace Day. Howe dedicated the celebration to the eradication of war, rather than the glorification of mothers
In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially recognised Mother’s Day, proclaiming it a national holiday and a “public expression of our love and reverence for all mothers.” Gradually over time the day has evolved into the commercialised celebration that we know today.
It all starts off well enough. Which mother has not been brought to tears by the wobbly, loving writing on the first mother’s day cards from her small children? I remember too the annual service at our local church, where every child solemnly presented his or her mother with a little posy of flowers.
I enjoyed years of cards and carefully chosen presents from my children … we never went ‘over the top’ but always observed the day lovingly, as did my brother and I with our own mum.
I miss my mother’s presence though it is nearly 14 years since she died; I miss my son’s presence in an entirely different way. Mum lived a relatively long life, and her death was part of the cycle of life and death that we recognise as the norm. But James’s death came almost before his life had properly begun and this carries particular regret and poignancy, not just on Mother’s Day, but for all the years of life that he will not now experience.
Living each day with these absences makes me value even more the memories of the presence of my mother and my son.
Sophocles said “Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life”. I have lost one of my anchors but the importance of being a mother remains key to my living my life with as much joy and positivity as I can manage.
Being a mother is unselfish in a way that does not feel unselfish.
We put our children’s happiness and well-being ahead of our own. We do this not in any expectation of reward, but in love and devotion to those wonderful beings we have nurtured and produced. We may feel we are doing it all wrong – after all, there is no rule book – but almost invariably we are doing it right – or the best right that we can manage.
I salute mothers everywhere and wish us all a very happy mother’s day. Go gently, and know that you are doing the most amazing job in existence!