This Mother’s Day made me feel sad. Our family’s last grandmother, my step-mother-in-law Grace, died last year. Also, the news all around us conveys so much grief for and about mothers—Sandy Hook, Boston, and now Cleveland’s horrendous news of abducted and abused daughters. Happily, these Proserpinas have returned to their families, but how much horror there is for them to process, and us, too, at one remove.
Reading Mother’s Day tributes leaves me feeling ambivalent at best, because most of what is said I couldn’t really say about my mom. Today Joanna Connors in the Cleveland Plain Dealer salutes those three girls’ mothers (and the perpetrator’s, to whom she’s generously compassionate), as well as her own mother. She extols a mother’s self-sacrifice (“This is the bond. This is the strength. This is the hope”), and all I can think is, Not my mom.
My mother couldn’t have supported and campaigned for me and my sisters like the dogged mothers Joanna writes about. She may have felt for us. She may have grieved when we were sad or suffering. But she couldn’t demonstrate these feelings, and she didn’t have the wherewithal to help us much.
I used to winnow through the drugstore’s selection of Mother’s Day cards to find one expressing some attenuated affection that didn’t downright lie. I can’t post a Mother’s Day encomium on Facebook. I can’t laud her steadfastness and love.
My mom did, however, help make me who I am, for better or worse. So I can quote here the Mary Oliver poem I use for the epigraph to my book Missing: Coming to Terms with a Borderline Mother.
Someone I loved once gave me
A box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
That this, too, was a gift.