A couple months ago, I discovered Adina Giannelli, a blogger who writes exquisitely here and at OpenSalon about life after the death of her infant daughter. We started corresponding via e-mail. We felt a kinship because we are each experiencing the ripple effects of the loss of a child: one through death, and one through divorce. I am honored to run Adina’s searingly poignant reflections on Mother’s Day in her guest post below.
Growing up, I hated Mother’s Day. It could have been because I harbored serious disdain for my own mother, who was an emotionally neglectful, physically violent boozebag, but I think I would have hated the holiday even if my mother had been more June Cleaver and less Joan Crawford, with whom she shared a birthday.
I’ve always been slightly contrarian. As an adolescent I categorized Mother’s Day with all other holidays: commercial, corporate, Hallmark, and beneath me and my bevy of black turtlenecks.
But years before I started channeling Sylvia Plath, I announced my non-participation in Mother’s Day. Not this year, I said to my mother, who was puffing on a cigarette, I’ll celebrate when they have a Children’s Day.
It’s possible that all snarky American children reach a point on the brink of adolescence at which they feel emboldened to inquire about Children’s Day. Despite deeply-set delusions about how special I am, I’m sure I wasn’t the first or the only.
I am equally certain that my mother was not the first or the only to reply that Every day is Children’s Day.
Last Mother’s Day, I was eight months pregnant and neck deep in finals for my last semester of law school. I gave no thought to the holiday. This year, though, I await the day with a real sense of dread. More than anything, I’m trying to avoid thinking about it, mostly because it holds a mirror up to my deepest wound.
Historically, my relationship to the holiday has been attenuated at best; I had no emotional attachment to its observation, or so I thought. This year, though, I don’t know exactly where I fit or what I am supposed to do. I never had any intentions of celebrating this holiday myself, and while this year is no exception, I know: it is going to be a slap in the face of a day. My only child is dead. I am the wrong kind of mother–the most depressing kind. Cast out of life’s feast by the death of my firstborn, I question: am I still a mother, even? Am I still her mother? I have no answers.
Since Talya died, it’s seemed like every day is Mother’s Day—the mothers are everywhere, with young children in strollers and fat babies worn in slings, on the street and in the grocery store and at the movies, in bars and shopping centers and at the gym. Like Gremlins, the mothers are multiplying, protecting and overprotecting their little rays of sunshine, applying sunscreen, adjusting winter hats, doling out Cheerios, changing diapers and politely disciplining untold numbers of children. They are pleased with themselves, even when they are displeased with their children. They are calm and raging, kind and cruel, loving and withholding, generous and unforgiving, the many legions of mothers I see, wherever I go, each day of my life.
They don’t even realize, I think, although I know: some of them do. I want to tell them, each of them, the ones that know and the ones who, thankfully, do not. But I realize: whatever I am contemplating is best kept to myself. Stop yelling at him, I think, be grateful your child is alive and before you, not dead and buried. But there is no Hallmark Card for that.
This Sunday I’ll be taking a day trip to Barre, Vermont, with Talya’s father, at his insistence, to look at some famous granite (?) and do some hiking or mountain biking. I realize, on writing these words, that this is a contrived effort, born of love –- an exercise intended to distract me from the day, and from myself.
As I write these words, I realize: (godwilling) I will have another child. Eventually (godwilling) this child will learn of Mother’s Day. Perhaps one day he or she will ask about it and ask about when we’ll celebrate Children’s Day. Maybe I’ll answer as my own mother did, that Every day is Children’s Day.
Depending on this fictive child’s age, perhaps I’ll offer standard feminist answers to explain why we don’t celebrate Mother’s Day in our household. Maybe I’ll say that motherhood is a social construction, that Mother’s Day is a gimmick manufactured by the corporations, that it reduces women to their reproductive function, privileges a certain class of women (and beyond that, certain kinds of mothers) over others, and that we must not be tools of the patriarchy. But these are stock answers—mere platitudes.
I will spare this future child the real answer, my truest answer, which is this: I cannot celebrate Mother’s Day, when his (her?) sister, my firstborn child, is dead.
And yet, with this imagined child before me, I will know this, also: I will have no need to celebrate the second Sunday in May.
When your child is alive and well, safe and healthy and in your company, every day is Mother’s Day.
May each of yours be happy.
beautiful, tearing, raw…i really don’t know what to say except peace be with you. xo.
My mother was 7 when her mother died and even now 44 years later she has a hard time on Mothers’ Day which is the only reason I participate in the holiday at all despite now being a mother myself. Really though we won’t do anything that different than our regular lives; last weekend my sister and I went out with our moms to brunch, this coming weekend it will be dinner.
I hope your trip is the peaceful escape it was designed to be.
Adina… My heart goes out to you, hon. I hope that you somehow find peace.
Pauline… Thanks so much for sharing.
Susan Ireland says
When my daughter was alive Mother’s Day was just a commercial holiday that I couldn’t chooose to ignore. (Just wait – when your 2 year old comes back from playgroup with a paper flower to celebrate your special day, try telling her, it is a manifestation of patriarchy, and you’re going to bin it for her own good).
Now that she is dead – Mother’s Day is just another painful reminder that all my children have died. I know from my bereaved friends, that it is no sweeter if they have surviving children – there is always someone missing. It is poignant and crap, even if it is a Hallmark Occasion. However, it is no worse than all the other crap commerical holidays – Christmas, Easter, Halloween… you name it….
I’m glad you’ve decided that you will have another child – that sounds very positive. I have to warn you though, mythical mothers days when your child is old enough to reason are probably a minor issue. Just becoming pregnant is enough to trigger an identity crisis for most of us. I am constantly asked – is this my first? Obviously not… but as Catherine was nearly 4 when she died, and I have done the gambit of breastfeeding, toddler groups, and so on, I am neither a new mother or the mother of 2.
I am constantly told I must get over my grief for my new baby. You don’t want her to grow up in an unhappy household, people chide. And she is dead, and you must move on is the constant refrain – as though I am somehow choosing to dwell in misery just to be belligerent. I am also offered good advice about clearing out my older duaghter’s possessions – as though an identical cot blanket or doll, freshly purchased, will some how be less contaminated by her sister’s death.
I wouldn’t worry about mother’s day – it will be the least of your problems!
I don’t understand people who tell you to “get over” your grief from the death of your child. Get through, maybe, but not over. I’m so sorry for your loss, and thankful that you took the time to comment.
Very well put. Anyone who says a person should just get over it, should learn to keep their stupid opinions to themselves and deserve WHATEVER follows that completely insane & inappropriate statement. sometimes the less said, the better.
i am sorry that you or anyone has to live through the loss.
I lost my only child who was 36 years old recently and will never get over it,Her name was Paulene and she was born on Christmas day.
Mothers day is horrendous despite the fact that I am now caring for her 8 year old.
She struggles because she doesnt have a mother when all her classmates are making things for their mothers and I struggle because I ask myself am I still a mother
I am so sorry. I really can’t imagine the pain of outliving one’s child. I believe that you are still a mother, very much so.