It took me a long time to able to admit that to myself and an even longer time to feel comfortable saying it in public. It still feels off sometimes. I know how much this day means to most people, especially to mothers. And so I try to keep my bitterness to myself most years.
But something feels very different about Mother’s Day this year.
It is the first time in my life when the specter of guilt is not looming over me. It’s the first Mother’s Day when I am truly motherless.
A bit of backstory:
My parents divorced when I was in the second grade. The details of the divorce are mostly unimportant almost twenty years later. It’s not my story to tell. But the consequences very much are mine to bear.
I lived with my mother for a brief period—maybe six months—before moving back in with my dad. I don’t have exceptionally unhappy memories of my time living with her, but for whatever reason, I ended up with my dad.
After I moved out of my mother’s house, I saw maybe a handful of times between second and seventh grades. My dad was always insistent that I send cards to my mother on Christmas, her birthday, and Mothers Day, which I did (more or less easily—I remember some years were especially hard and hurtful, like when I wrote “I hate you” instead of the mandatory “I love you.” I guess even then I was in the habit of “telling it like it is.”)
The last time I saw my mother in person was driving away from my seventh grade parent-teacher conference. I remember seeing my mother standing by her car in the middle school parking lot as my dad and I drove away. While she spent some time out of state, she mostly lived about 40 minutes away. Yet, we never saw each other in person ever again.
The relationship was rocky thereon out. For a while, it was virtually non-existent. I sent cards—or maybe I didn’t. She did the same. We might have spoken on the phone once or twice a year at most. The guilt, however, was exceptionally strong, as was the hurt. And the feelings of abandonment.
She made effort too late to restore the relationship, coming back around during my senior year of high school. Through some long and arduous conversations, I came to a place of forgiveness and (relative) peace, wishing no ill, but neither desiring a relationship. It seemed too late at that point. I recognized the biological bond and understood that she would likely have a much deeper connection to me than I could ever have to her, yet I could not possibly bring myself to care for her as anything more than another human being and a child of God.
We kept contact—this time solely by email and, when technology advanced, through Facebook. I kept the communication open as a favor to her. It was mostly harmless to me and, for whatever reason, seemed helpful to her. The exchange of cards for birthday and milestones had long stopped.
This all changed just before Christmas, when the line in the sand was finally drawn and the relationship ostensibly ended. A fight erupted over something or another and, all of a sudden, we were no longer Facebook friends. The last vestige of the relationship had crumbled.
And I finally felt free.
Rather than feeling the hurt of a broken relationship—the hurt which springs from a mother who could not love me like I needed to be loved—I am free to mourn the passing of a woman who, at one point in my life, was important; a woman who carried me in her womb for nine months; a woman whose blood mingled with my own blood; a woman who spent hours in labor to bring me into the world.
My mother was and is no hero.
But she was my mother. With a hefty emphasis on the past tense.
Was. No longer.
While the physical person who was my mother is still alive, the role—the relationship—is long dead. There is natural mourning that goes along with any death, even if it is only symbolic death.
But at least now I can freely admit that I hate Mother’s Day, because I have some sense of hope—exceptionally faint and awfully distant—that that won’t always be true.