{Guest Post} Happy(ish) Mother’s Day!

happy mother's day afterwards blogThank you to Clare Wright, an Australian mother and blogger for this wise Mother’s Day reflection. It is so refreshing to read the wisdom of others when my own words are few. Clare is a gifted writer, you can find her at whenihadaseahorse.wordpress.com.

In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, I found myself both transfixed and irritated by a particular advertisement on Facebook. It wasn’t obscene or crude or exploitative, it was just, well… a bit ridiculous. Clad in a gold negligee with glossy blonde curls cascading over her slender shoulders, the “mother” rises like a mermaid from a pastel sea of roses, pastries, handbags and parcels piled across the bed. A glittery pink eye mask is pushed up her porcelain forehead, and gosh she looks well-rested.

I know advertisements are meant to tap into fantasies, but I couldn’t help thinking this one had gone too far. Perhaps it’s just my own stage of life, but I feel like fantasy for a lot of mums would be waking in a bed sans children after the stars have set. And here is the problem: after enduring weeks and weeks of a glistening, pink media assault, it’s inevitable that many mums will feel dissatisfied with their messy, noisy, slightly tatty Mother’s Day reality.

Last Mother’s Day I remember being sleep-deprived after feeding a baby through the night, and feeling a bit sorry for myself that my husband was working all day and I couldn’t whip out my “it’s Mother’s Day” card to excuse myself from of any of those menial mum-jobs: changing nappies, fixing meals, bathing kids, never-ending bedtime-rituals. I wrote about the sense of disillusionment that my Mother’s Day was far from the “catalogue version” I had been promised.

But this year I’ve been thinking of a dear friend who has just celebrated her first Mother’s Day as a mum and her first Mother’s Day without her own mum – having lost her suddenly a month before the birth of her first baby. It’s caused me to reflect on all those women who are grieving the loss of a mother or a child or who – whether through fertility issues or just the twists and turns of life – have never been granted the child they so desperately wanted.

Yesterday two very different crowded spaces – my Facebook newsfeed and the cemetery near our house – both conveyed a common story of loss and sorrow. For many, Mother’s Day brings a churning restlessness of the heart, a yearning ache akin to homesickness for an alternate version of life with no missing pieces. Thinking of these women (and men) has shaken things into perspective, and enabled me to shrug off the ludicrous fantasy that the media trots out each May.

Late last year I attended a friend’s birthday dinner with a group of girls I mostly didn’t know. As the night progressed and the food and wine flowed, a chequered assortment of life-stories emerged (as they always do at a successful girl’s night). It turned out that a birthday was only one of several events worth celebrating that night. From a group of six women in their mid-thirties, one was pregnant with her fifth child, another with her first through IVF, one had brought along her first baby daughter, one had an adoptive son and was hoping to adopt a second, one was late because she had to settle a three-year-old and breastfeed a ten-month-old before coming (that was me), and one (the birthday girl) had gleefully left two pre-schoolers at home with their dad.

It struck me: what a wide diversity of journeys to motherhood were represented by our small table alone. What thorny, winding, lonely paths many women walk to become mothers. And what travel-wounds some must sustain along the way; what bruises to the heart, what crushing blows of disappointment, what bone-aching weariness. I can only imagine, because I’m one of the lucky ones. My two beautiful children came easily: a sunny, babbling toddler who kisses everyone and hurts himself way too often, and a mostly sweet, sometimes spiky four-year-old girl with an incredible imagination, and a gift for making up songs.

For those whose Mother’s Day was marked by sorrow, I hope that you found some measure of comfort: a soft place to fall, a quiet corner where you could speak your grief. May the God who knows all things guard your heart and mind with a peace which exceeds anything we can understand. I am grateful to those friends brave enough to show me their travel-wounds, to share a little of their pain. On a day when most of the hearts on display are flawlessly fashioned from soft and whimsical fabrics, it can’t be easy to reveal one that is broken and bloodied. We need to see those hearts on Mother’s Day. We need to honour the tales of desperate loss as much as those of joy and triumph. Some of us need to remember the richness of our blessings lest we take for granted all that we hold in our arms. What we don’t need are more unattainable, airbrushed goddesses swimming through oceans of gifts – because that isn’t anybody’s truth.

This year my Mother’s Day was lovely. There was no sleep-in, I missed my mum who lives overseas, and I had to do all the dinner and bedtime routines myself after my husband went back to work. My little boy put a tooth through his lip and kissed at least one girl he probably shouldn’t have in the playground. There was the odd tantrum, sibling fight and quite a bit of screaming when we got lost and lunch was delayed on our scenic drive through the hills. But there were homemade cards and a gorgeous locket, a cheese-platter in the hills, a playground and a toasted sandwich for dinner that my husband cut into a swan at my request. I thumbed my nose at the glossy-haired goddess in the advertisement and revelled in the glory of my sticky, stinky, messy, slightly tatty, beautiful family. I am blessed beyond measure.

The Grief that Stole Christmas: Facing Holiday Fears

{Photo: Afterwards Blog Christmas}

Thank you to the Grief Toolbox, Grief Healing and JR Writes Things for featuring or suggesting this post.

C.S. Lewis said “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” This can be especially true during the holiday season. Here are three big ones I faced during the first few Christmases without mom.

Fear #1: Christmas will hurt me

We are somewhat inclined to believe that Christmas is a supreme entity. Ugh, Christmas is coming and it’s going to do terrible things to me. The reality is that Christmas is made of moments like any other day that will be filled with our own actions, emotions, choices, thoughts, and words. Christmas itself cannot hurt us.

If you are like me, you have probably experienced a “random grief attack” somewhere like the grocery store aisle. We see mom’s favorite can of soup. We have a mini-meltdown. We dry our eyes and move on to frozen pizzas. The thing that makes Christmas sadness different than can-of-soup sadness is our anticipation of it; our anticipation produces fear which is often worse than reality. While the soup attack takes a few moments to get over, we curse ourselves by dwelling on Christmas like the end times – paralyzing our ability to let grief flow through us in the moments it naturally comes to us.

There is no medicinal quality in trying to determine “what Christmas will do to us this year” – it’s important to let our emotions come as they are, no matter what day it is. This also means that we don’t have to be sad because it’s Christmas. How about we just throw out our calendars and feel sad whenever we do, okay? Let’s focus on what’s happening right now.

Fear #2: Things won’t be the same

We are terrified for things to be out of our control on Christmas Day. It’s the one day of the year that we can revert to childhood comforts and bask in the familiarity of everything that’s home to us. But we ALWAYS have cinnamon buns in the morning. Who put out bagels??

If you’ve experienced the melding of traditions in marriage, you have an idea of what it can mean to fear losing this safe place; each spouse cautiously pokes unfamiliar turkey around their plate or sceptically bites into a foreign cookie recipe… Let’s face it, you never paid much attention to mom’s famous stuffing until your spouse plopped a new one in front of you – all of a sudden her stuffing means everything.

Grief is this, in the extreme form. You don’t want anything more stolen from you than what has already been stolen. Fair enough. But because fear is so incredibly draining I’m going to say this: Maybe, especially the first year, maybe letting go of the stuffing recipe for now is okay. There may be more important places to direct your emotional energy that day. You can come back to the stuffing next year when everyone is ready – the recipe will still be there; your memories will still be there. I promise, as difficult as it is, you are not forgetting or disrespecting your loved one if you let things change this year.

Fear #3: My loved ones may not behave how I want them to

As people can be a bit touchy on those first Christmases, a sad heart might be perceived as a grumpy one; a happy heart might be assumed an insensitive one, and so on. I remember holding my breath, praying that everyone would carry on normally and try to make the best of it. I clung to the emotional traditions of Christmas. Please everyone make this a happy day. Don’t disappoint me. Nobody be sad. These thoughts were a form of trying to control others and left no room for people to be what they really were. Not everybody will be ready to try for normal, or even happy – they each have their hopes and fears lingering under the surface. And this doesn’t mean you should feel ashamed if you are happy.

It’s bound to be a bit confusing and chaotic until you learn how to fit it all together – and you may very well feel something similar to homesickness in the process. But if I could go back to the first year, I would look myself in the eye and say let it be. Let them be. And communicate with each other about what you need – the more, the merrier (literally).

As the years go by, Christmas brings with it a restored depth; the fear and aching take a back seat. They still exist in different forms, but they do not define the season. For the sake of my emotional health and Christmases future, I have had to let go of and grieve Christmas past. It’s not easy to leave memories where they are and build new ones, but it’s necessary – and it takes several years of fumbling through Christmases to achieve this. We have time. The good news is there is no such thing as “wasting” a Christmas if things don’t go well. The truth is that these first messy Christmases just need to be had so that we can build on them to get to better ones. Unfortunately we only get once a year to practice, but they do get better (if we want them to).

I send my love to all of you as you prepare for the holidays, whichever number this might be for you. May your fears be comforted and love be felt deeply in your spirit.

Mercy for Mothers in May

Another one of “those” days is approaching. Mother’s Day. It always feels a bit strange to me that I wasn’t with my mom on her last Mother’s Day here on Earth – I was in fact almost the furthest away I could have been, somewhere in the South of India. We shared a phone conversations that was brief, she had quickly passed the phone off to other family members without saying much. It sounded hard for her to be spending Mother’s Day without one of her children (compounded by the fact that she often worried as I traveled).

The tables are turned now and I am the one at home, wishing for a phone call from somewhere far away. Mother’s Day can be tough – it’s a reminder that I will never again pick a card from the shelf to give to her. I won’t wrap up quirky kitchen gadgets for her, or sling my arm around her shoulder to lean on her in appreciation (my favorite). But this year, I have decided that this Mother’s Day will be one full of “hope and healing”, which just happens to be the slogan of an amazing charity I’m blessed to be a part of, Mercy Ships Canada.

When I heard that they had created a Mother’s Day fundraising event, I couldn’t have imagined anything more perfect than spending my Mother’s Day weekend helping to improve the lives of women, so that their children may also experience the power of having a strong and beautiful mother.

The thought was so encouraging to me that I wanted to pass on the idea to you who are also facing feelings of loss as Mother’s Day roles around. What better way to honor the women we are missing than to improve the lives and health of other mothers across the world?

In a nutshell, women in West Africa commonly suffer after childbirth – sometimes for the rest of their lives – when they are not properly treated for the injuries associated with having a baby. Constant trickles of urine run down their legs – they are humiliated, outcast, and alone. It takes away their chance for a normal life and the chance to celebrate motherhood. Mercy Ships is using their giant floating hospital to correct these women’s injuries and give them back what they have lost in life.

Mercy for Mothers in May is a fundraiser supporting these efforts, and gives people the opportunity to create any type of event they want to raise money and awareness. More information is here: Mercy for Mothers in May.

It may still be too overwhelming for you to think about something like this on this holiday, don’t try to force it if it is not where you are at – it can add more stress than joy.

If you are feeling a bit courageous this year and think you may be ready to do something of this nature on Mother’s Day Weekend, consider joining me in creating fundraising events to restore women’s lives in honor of our Moms.

My sis-in-law and my mom on our last (and best) Mother’s Day together

The Years Go By

Special occasions are said to be most difficult during the first year. They are hard; you don’t know how to go about anything, you don’t know how it will feel, you miss them. So much.

The second year was almost more difficult for me though. It’s the second year when you discover they are really gone, and always will be. The second year I thought okay, she’s missing things now! That was the hard part.

The third go round feels different still. But, as far as I can tell, it brings with it a much greater amount of peace. You learn how to make them a part of things while they are absent. You understand a little bit more fully that they are here, and that happy occasions don’t deserve to be sad occasions forever.

On this, my “third” birthday, I wake up feeling happy and alive. Hopeful. She’s closer now than in the past two years, this can only mean bright things for years still to come.

NYE

I’ve had such a busy (amazing) holiday, without time to give my blog the attention it deserves, but I’ve been filled with love and look forward to what is next as 2012 rolls in. It is the first of new years that I truly look forward to without a pit of fear in my stomach. I sense the joy and new beginnings that will be had.

For those of you in the thick of the pain, I hold you dear to my heart. I know it is hard to imagine that one day the fear will dissipate. In time, it will.

For those of you feeling the taste of freedom slowly creep in, I celebrate for you. I hope you let it in; life is allowed to be good.

Thank you for the connection I’ve felt so deeply through your readership and words. I am encouraged. It has been the beginning of becoming “myself” again.

Here’s to living the life you imagine, no matter what you have encountered along the way. You are strong and courageous.

Hugs to all of you, and happy New Year!!