Adina Giannelli is one of my favorite bloggers. She started the ferociously wrenching , unsentimental, and poignant blog Today for Talya shortly after the death of her infant daughter. Last year she wrote this Mother’s Day guest post for me, in which she described her experience as a childless mother in the midst of a seemingly endless sea of mothers with babies. This year she wrote another Mother’s Day guest post, but from a different perspective: as the mother of a 5-month-old son, and still, Talya.
Mother’s Day 2011 was the first after my daughter’s Talya’s death. At her father’s insistence, we spent the day together in Vermont, a kind yet misguided attempt to distract me from the pain of my own reality. It was a nice idea, but because there are mothers in Vermont, and because many of these women were celebrating the holiday, I found no geographic cure, no relief.
Instead, I observed the pleasures of the day, open celebrations of maternity, families together and evidently happy. It was a hard day. I felt voyeuristic and a bit strange.
I saw, in other women and their children, what I knew I would never experience with Talya. Behind dark sunglasses, I watched attractive young mothers with their toddlers, sweetly clad in seersucker jackets and Laura Ashley dresses. I eavesdropped on adult daughter and mother duos, turned to something resembling peers, lunching, shopping, laughing through city streets, taking in the world. I spied on aging retirees caring for their own elderly mothers, roles reversed, caretaking tables turned.
They seemed to be having a wonderful time, but I was not.
* * *
I don’t have any surviving memories of Mother’s Day from my own childhood. I’m sure we participated in some type of celebratory charade, but I can’t say that I recall its form. The year I turned six I wrote my mother a card, which I still have in a box somewhere. Dear mom, Happy mothers day, I really love you! Love Adina. I don’t remember actually loving her, but I do remember thinking I wanted to be professional card writer when I grew up.
As a teenager, emboldened and embittered, I decided that Mother’s Day was a load of crap, and that participating in such an anesthetized, corporate holiday was fatuous, regressive, and something that only a tool of the patriarchy could possibly enjoy. This view carried me through adolescence and early adulthood, and clear into the third trimester of pregnancy with Talya.
In May 2010, hugely pregnant with my daughter, I realized that corporate or not, I actually looked forward to celebrating this holiday. I visualized the year ahead, and imagined Mother’s Day tea with a sweet baby in a yellow dress, inching toward her first birthday. Creating traditions, forging bonds, watching her grow.
Except on Mother’s Day 2011, things were different. Talya had died. I was no more anyone’s mother, and there was nothing to celebrate. There was no baby, no tea, no yellow dress. Watching mothers and their children together seemed like a particularly terrible way to spend the day. I’d expected a high five from life, motherhood, the universe. Instead, I took a chair to the face.
* * *
This year, things have changed. Mother’s Day 2012 is upon us, and I have had a second child, Samuel—who in the Bible is viewed as a seer, a prophet, and if we are to take the meaning of his name literally, proof that G-d has heard.
It must be good, having Sam, they cheerfully offer, as if the presence of this joyful, gurgling boy, a fat cherub of a baby slung easily over my hip brings some relief. As if I’d lost a set of keys, but had the good sense to make a replacement in the event of this very contingency.
And it is good, having Sam. Sam is a great gift, but the joy of his presence does not negate the sorrow of his sister’s absence. Mother’s Day offers a rare opportunity to reflect on this reality, the fact of Talya’s absence, and the strangely liminal nature of my existence, which is caught between two worlds, two children, two conflicting yet somehow complementary lives.
* * *
As a bereaved parent, Mother’s Day is crappy, and it comes at a crappy time of year. Spring is in full throttle, a gross and graphic reminder of life, in bloom, the threshold of summer, the month leading up to June, when Talya was born, the beauty of the time of year and its meaning, its gorgeousness, its seemingly endless light.
It’s hard to juxtapose all this with the darkness of her death, and what that means.
The second year has been hard, in general—in some ways, harder than the first. Talya’s birth, life, and death, Sam’s birth, and life, and hold-my-breath, future, all seem to overlap and intersect, take up the same corners of my memory. Though Sam’s life is wholly independent of his sister’s, these two seem oddly intertwined.
* * *
Today, Sam is a little more than five months old, and we’ve settled comfortably into his first spring. He is fat and happy and generally enjoys eating, listening to singing birds, and watching the lights. He has taught me happiness in the face of great sadness; to accept joy in its various forms; to live, even amidst death.
The joy of Sam aside, I miss Talya every day. I can’t imagine not missing her, remembering the baby she was, and imagining the person she might have grown to be. For me, Mother’s Day will always be about her, and I can’t really imagine celebrating this holiday in her absence.
So Sam won’t be dressed in yellow, and we won’t be attending any teas. In most respects, I anticipate a day much like any other Sunday.
* * *
In lieu of celebrating, I will be spending the day with Sam, and we will walk, and sing, and play, and pay a visit to his sister’s grave. There will, throughout the day, be milk (for Sam) and tea (for me). Perhaps I will wear a yellow dress.
I hate platitudes, so I won’t advise you to hug your precious flower extra close because my daughter is gone, and you never know what could happen. I won’t tell you to be grateful for your children, be they wonderfully sweet or impossibly challenging, because life might be over in an instant. I won’t advise you to call your estranged mother, because I certainly won’t be doing that, and I won’t tell you you’re a tool of the patriarchy for partaking in this Hallmark-sponsored celebration.
For those of you who will be celebrating this holiday, I suggest this: make it good. Do not worry about finding the perfect present or writing the most thoughtful card. Do not bother with some pettiness or drama. Don’t get so caught up in the details of the day that you neglect what matters: the people who make your universe, whether through birth or adoption, deed or word, blood or other bond. Time is quick, and life is short, and if the ones you love are with you, hell. That is the gift, and that is the celebration. Happy Mother’s Day.