Ode to a mother

Why did we even bother celebrating Mother’s Day?

Mother.

One of the strongest and most profound words in any language. Able to stand as a single word in its own right. Stand bold and fearless. Mother: the embodiment of feminine, of love, of compassion, of resilience and of strength.

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Most of us think of our mothers with deep affection and get an involuntary smile. The woman on whose breast we suckled as an infant. The one who brought us up—for the most part. The one who dabbed mercurochrome on our cuts and bruises, who was always ready with a hug, who picked us up when we fell and the one who nursed us through the night when we were sick with fever. Those days have become a distant memory. All that remains of her now are sweet memories or perhaps only bitterness and resentment–we see a frail, bent-over figure, clinging to her walker as she shuffles down the nursing home hallway.

Mom. Mother. Mutter. Mutti. Mamma. Moeder. Mater. A single word that contains so much depth and width: life-giver, love-giver, hope-giver, courage-giver.

Mothers can wear different hats during their lifetime: woman, female, feminist, mother, biological mother, adoptive mother, step-mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, spouse, lover, friend, teacher, scientist, gymnast, acrobat, chemist, nurse, gardener, CEO, president, prime minister or anything—in short: a human.

And humans aren’t perfect. They have flaws.

“I hate my mother,” is a phrase one hears much too often. “I’m so scared I’ll become like her.” “She never cared about us. She was only concerned about her job, her social commitments, and her looks.” “My mother saw me as a nuisance—an inconvenience.” “My mother never really loved us.” “My mother never said a word when Dad raised hell at home with his outburst, when everyone had to cower around in fear. She didn’t defend us.” “My mother should have left my father decades ago—there was no love left between them—but she stayed because the church taught it was wrong.” “My mother simply walked out on us one day.”

What would a perfect mother look like? Sorry, but they don’t exist. Isn’t that what makes them so dear—ordinary people with wonderful capacities and attributes and terrible flaws in one glorious mix? Which makes us aware of our own blemishes and make us love them in spite of.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of a mother is “a female parent, a woman in authority, a superior in a religious community of women, or an elderly female.”

Honoring women, and specifically mothers, is nothing new. The ancient Greeks used the annual spring festival to honor Rhea, a maternal goddess, centuries before Christ. The Romans celebrated and honored their own mother goddess, Cybele. Early Christians celebrated some sort of Mother’s Day from the earlier centuries and from the 1600s in England, Mothering Sunday was celebrated annually in May.

Mother’s Day in America was first officially celebrated in 1908 when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in Grafton, West Virginia. (The second Sunday in May)

In Britain, the revival of the celebration of Mothering Sunday is attributed to Constance Smith, who was inspired in 1913 by Jarvis’s campaign in America. The practice soon spread throughout Britain, and the day was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. She revived the practice of making a simnel cake and taking it to Mother. These feelings blossomed consequent the loss that many mothers felt following the First World War.

Today, Mother’s Day has become a big business worldwide. It is the 3rd biggest retail holiday of the year. In 2015 spending gifts in the US has reached an all-time high of $ 21 billion. This year we’ll probably surpass $22 billion (in the US alone.)

Why do we spend all that money? Why do we bother? Are expensive gifts honestly the best way to honor a mother, to show our love and appreciation? Is it possible that we have become so caught up in material possessions and devices that we believe we can “buy” everything? That we can buy love? Perhaps we don’t even realize we have substituted spending time with, loving in-spite-of, granting grace, forgiving past wrongs, with a quick purchase. The more expensive, the bigger the emotional hole it can plug. Nothing like a gift to soothe a guilty conscience. And the next day, things continue unchanged, life goes on.

Fortunately, one also hear these voices: “My mother has been my inspiration throughout life. She motivated me.” “Mother made growing up fun.” “She taught us to be fearless and never let anyone stop us from living our dreams.” “My mom was the most beautiful woman I’ve known. She taught me the importance of having a gentle spirit.” “Mother taught me how to toughen up.” “We grew up with an absent father. Mother’s love carried us through it all.” “There was never much money growing up. Mother, nevertheless, always had a  spare dollar to brighten up a bleak day.” “I’m all grown up now—and she is still one of my best friends.”

My mother will turn 93 later this year. And what does that make me? Sort of a young man? I don’t see her that often since we live 16,000 km apart, which has been the case for the past 18 years, since we emigrated. I did an advanced Mother’s Day celebration when I visited her in March this year. It was good to spend some time with her again.

She is far from perfect. (Like myself.) There are so many things she could have done different, better, with her five children. One sorrow I do have, is that I denied her and my father, the opportunity to see two of their granddaughters grow up, and now even to see and enjoy their great grand children. One hope that I cherish is that before she passes, she will have made peace and initiated the healing of decades-old wounds with her offspring, and they with her.

Making peace is crucial. It is hard. It requires the application of vast amounts of grace and the willingness to find healing

“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.”

Marianne Williamson

Life is not easy. Life is not fair.

Forgiveness can be the hardest thing we’ll ever do.

And yet, in the process we’ll discover, to grant grace, is to heal our own broken souls.

 

Dear Mother

 

Mother,

enclosed, please find twelve red roses,

one box of chocolates,

a wool scarf

and a Hallmark card—

a peace offering.

 

Dear son,

the flowers were lovely,

the chocolates divine

I’m not cold anymore.

What I missed,

was you

I needed to say—

how sorry I am.

I long for healing, for closure.

I hope

I pray

you long for it too

 

Mother’s Day 2016 is already three days in the past. Whether you call her Mom, Mother or Mammie, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you reach out–but not only on Mother’s Day.

Forget the fancy presents.

Just go and be there.

You may just discover—she’s been one of your fans, all along. You may have become blinded by life, by your own hang-ups, hurts, and sorrows. It may be part of the healing for your own tortured soul—and hers.

Go, be her child again.

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day!

 

If this post resonated with you, please share and leave a comment.

References:

  1. Pamela Hobart. Bustle.com
  2. Brainy quotes. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_mom4.html

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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12 thoughts on “Ode to a mother

    • Hi Lynne,
      Thank you.
      It can so easily happen that we don’t make peace with our parent(s) or children, (it works both ways), only to end up with regret.
      Best,
      Danie

  1. Hi Danie! What a great ode to mom’s everywhere. You’ve included both the love and the angst that most of our relationships hold to someone who is so tied to us physically and emotionally. As you mention, one of the best things you can do is go and spend time with them while we still can because the time will come when that is not an option. Thank you for including a link to my post about my mom too. In so many ways her “fearless” energy will be a part of me forever. ~Kathy

    • Hi Kathy,
      How can we not say “thank you” to them? The mother-child relationship is often complex, even strained.
      And it doesn’t always improve as time marches on. As you pointed out so well in your post about your mother; there are highs and lows, joys and sorrows.
      But to a large extent, it rests with us whether we’ll reach out in the end.
      Thank you for the feedback!
      Danie

  2. Well Danie, you’ve done it again … had to read to the very end and as per usual start to ponder. I’ve come to realize that you indeed are a true realist (how I often describe myself) and what you have to say resonates ! Have not had time to read your previous 2 posts but plan to do so now …..

    • Hi Linda,
      Thank you for the kind words.
      The reality is we are uniquely complex individuals, with multitudes of abilities and talents. And then life keeps on happening–it’s often not easy, but with hard work from both parties (parent and adult child), acceptance and peace can be found. Well, most of the time.
      Best,
      Danie

  3. Well actually, she put butter on a burn, lol, but that’s another story 🙂

    Thank you for this absolutely beautiful post, and the voyage it took me on as I thought about my mother!

    You are very lucky to have your mother for so long!

    • Dr. J,
      Oh, I forgot about the butter that was faithfully applied to the little horns we developed on our foreheads from bumping our heads!
      Yes, it is a great privilege to still have (both) parents around!
      Danie

  4. Hi Danai, What a wonderful column. It sure me stop & think about my own Mom. She was entombed in her own body after suffering a massive stroke. She was never able to speak again. She was confined to a wheelchair, but her eyes always lit up when I would walk into her room at the PCH. She tried so very hard to communicate with people, but couldn’t. May she rest in Peace.

    • Hi Dell,
      Thank you for sharing. That must have been so hard when they’re “physically” present, but effectively absent, incapable of communicating.
      That is what I was hoping to get across–the importance of reaching out while we still “have one another.”
      And if “lost,” find one another again.
      Best,
      Danie

  5. …. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.
    There is also no healing without inner peace –

    DankieDanie !!! Dit is pragtig en inderdaad laat dit mens weer oordink …. Jou en Dave se bydrae om Mamma ‘n ‘plek’ te gee is prysenswaardig en skep warmte om die hart . In die ‘virtuele’ werklikheid wat almal nou gaande het speel elke mens se eie vermoe om te skep die deurslaggewende rol in als, ook in verhoudinge – en mamma was juis ‘n skeppende wese. Let’s be the peace we need – namaste’

    • Hi Flore,

      It’s often not easy–forgiving. But without that, peace will elude us.
      We have to forgive and should, but restoring trust, is a different matter. That needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
      Dankie, Sus. Daar is so baie wat mens sou wou anders gehad het.
      And, while we have the option, the opportunity–let’s do the right thing. Regret is an uneasy bedfellow.
      Thank you!
      Danie