As a celebrant I’ve helped to farewell many mothers and in so doing I’ve witnessed the ways in which they have been honoured. This hasn’t only been by their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren but also their partners who have parented with them. I’ve witnessed farewells for mothers by those for whom they were a mother figure; the people they cared for, the friends of their own children, their nieces and nephews, the people who were welcomed into their homes as one of the family, those who shared life celebrations with them. As I write about ‘mothers’ today, I use the word to represent whoever this is for whoever reads this.
Mother's Day is a celebration honouring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society. Mother’s Day can be a day of mixed emotions; today is the first time for many facing Mother’s day without that special person who gave them life, who cared for them, nurtured them and comforted them throughout the years she was with them. For others like me they’ve been missing their mothers for many Mother’s Days and will again for many more. It’s important to remember at this time, that the special qualities of our mothers remain with us forever.
Originally, the idea of Mother’s Day was to promote peace and to honour all mothers. Mother’s Day was meant to give due honour to the woman who gave us life. Though we often have the feeling of gratitude towards our mothers we sometimes forget to communicate this to them. Mother’s Day is also celebrated to share those feelings with our mothers, to spend some time with them and to make them feel special. Those who are apart from their mothers might express their feelings of love and gratitude by writing to them or talking on the phone. Those of us whose mothers have died need to find other ways of honouring these feelings and expressing our gratitude.
29 years ago as a young mother I said goodbye to our second baby girl Jessica, who was stillborn. 17 years ago I said goodbye to my mum, who died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 71. These events had a huge impact on me, I was changed, my innocence destroyed, my world rocked. As a mother and as a daughter I was challenged to move through a world that had thrown me into a depth of sorrow unimagined.
Each Mother’s Day I think of them and I miss them. That’s what happens when days of celebration come along, days when the celebration highlights what you’ve lost. I do know though that what’s helped me to navigate life is to see the positive in your relationship with them, to focus on the joy that has been, and on the positive moments we shared, allowing those to give me peace.
This relationship is also one that can be fraught. I listened last year to Alannah Hill, the fashion designer, being interviewed by Richard Glover; she had recently published a memoir of her life. As she talked about her childhood and her parents I was struck by the pain she expressed and the neglect and abuse that she suffered at the hands of her own mother. Even so, as she shared her stories, her understanding of her mother’s own pain and own journey demonstrated her love for the woman who was far from perfect.
My own relationship with my mother was not perfect; often I was the one caring for her as she had a very difficult life. She often relied on her children for emotional support and this started when I was very young. We were always very close though and she was a truly amazing grandmother. She was the woman that could pick up a baby and calm them with her embrace and soothing voice. As a result of her own problems, she was not always able to care for her children in the way we might have needed but there were the times you would call just to hear her voice, the times she would have the right advice, the times she would share that embrace.
We learn from our mothers. We learn from their actions and we learn from their words. We learn from their mistakes and some of us spend our lives trying not to make those same mistakes, trying to break the cycles into which we are born. The lessons they give us we pass onto our own children. We want our mothers to be proud of us and when our they’re no longer with us we miss them.
Personally, I’ve had time to grieve and to get used to life as it is and I’ve learned over time that no one is spared the feelings of grief that I have had to face. This knowledge that I am not alone has been a comfort. Helen Keller said that we the bereaved are not alone, that we belong to the largest company in the world, the company of those who have known suffering. This is a comfort.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and John Kessler when writing about grief point out that you don’t ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one, but that you learn to live with it. You will heal and rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. They assure that while you will be whole again you will never be the same. Nor should you be, it is right to be changed by someone who has been a significant part of your life, someone you have loved deeply. This is also a comfort.
So today, on Mother’s Day let’s be grateful for our mothers, to the women who have cared for us, who have given us our first home, who have stood by us in the best way they knew. Let’s be mindful that for many today is a day of sadness and of missing our mothers, our grandmothers, the women in our lives who have given their love unconditionally. It’s also a day when we miss the babies we couldn’t have and the children who have died before us. It’s a complex day.
There are many who have written about their mothers and I share with you some words of inspiration from eminent people who have done just this. Perhaps there is one here that is true for you.
Abraham Lincoln - All that I am and hope to be I owe to my angel mother
Jill Churchill - There is no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.
Erich Fromm - Mother's love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved.
Gail Tsukiyama - Mothers and their children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.
Victor Hugo - A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.
George Eliot - Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face
Robert Browning - Motherhood: all love begins and ends there
J.K. Rowling - Love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark…to have been loved so deeply…will give us some protection forever.
And finally, from George Washington - All I am I owe to my mother.