A Motherless Mother’s Day

I was 20 years old when I experienced my first Mother’s Day without my Mom, eight months after her death. She had lived 10 years fighting Breast Cancer and eventually, the fight became too much. However, it was not until I was 29 that I learned the origin of Mother’s Day. I was gearing up for another May. The month of May is emotionally taxing because, as you know, Mother’s Day reminders start early. Every year I am reminded by television, social media, radio, billboards, sales in stores, and my own family and friends that Mother’s Day is coming up.

When I was 29, I was pregnant with my first child. I was feeling especially emotional that year, pregnant and not being able to share the experience with my mom. About to be a mother but no one to offer me motherly advice. Going through the pregnancy journey alone, with no real confidant to support me. Although I have an amazing support system and an amazing father, no one loves you quite like your mom.

The history of Mother’s Day is not well known. What people believe about Mother’s Day is it is one of the (deserved) Hallmark holidays. It is a day for cards and gifts to be bought, to shower mom with appreciation and love. And while one day is dedicated to showering moms with love, we all know that mothers deserve this treatment all year long. But the history of this day was never meant to shower living mothers with love and appreciation. The history of Mother’s Day is much different than what you think.

In 1907, a woman named Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day, on the second Sunday of May, as a way of remembering her mother and all the other mothers who have passed away. Since Anna was unable to celebrate her mother every day, she wanted to create a space, a day, a holiday, in which she could celebrate and remember her mother and all that she sacrificed for Anna. After five years this celebration caught on and resonated with other motherless daughters. The tradition moved throughout the United States and became something of its own.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday. Over time, it became a day to celebrate grandmothers and aunts and was expanded to primarily recognize living mothers. Anna resented how this holiday had transformed into something that she could not celebrate, as her mother was deceased. She tried to enforce rituals, like wearing a pink and red carnation if your mother is alive, and wearing a white carnation if your mother is passed. However, these trends were not picked up and the holiday became what we know it to be today.

When I read the history, I became angry. As a motherless daughter, who was about to transition into a motherless mother, I wondered why a day meant for people like me and my story was twisted and turned. Don’t misunderstand my anger. I am happy for all the daughters and sons that get to celebrate their mothers. But I am also angry and jealous. It’s something I am not proud of, but I understand. It’s something I want to be able to switch off, but I can’t. It’s also not something I can explain to anyone who has a Mom. It’s not something that anyone can resonate with me if they are able to fully enjoy the holiday. 

The week leading up to Mother’s Day is always the worst for me. And to top it off, I am so misunderstood. Often labeled as grumpy, I am just sad. Really sad that I am living my adult life without my mother. I am sad I did not have the opportunity to have an adult relationship with her. She can not offer advice, comfort, love, happiness, laughter, and whatever else it may be that a Mother offers her adult children. My favorite quote by author Vicki Harrison is: “Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim,” Every May leading up to Mother’s Day, I am swimming for dear life.  

While I am now a mother to two wonderful children who love to celebrate me on Mother’s Day, I still feel an intense hole in my heart. As a motherless mother, I recognize all the women that feel pain with this holiday. To the motherless daughters and mothers, I see you, I know you. To the women who long to be a mother, I see you, I know you. To the women who have lost a child, I can’t imagine your pain on Mother’s Day. To those who do not have a relationship with their living mother or child, the pain you feel on this day is recognized. 

And even as I share my vulnerability and truth about Mother’s Day, I wish all mothers a very happy Mother’s Day. I yearn for the day that those who suffer from their losses, in various ways, are recognized, validated, and loved on this day too.