As some of you already know, this past year I have been working as a hospice volunteer and a death doula. It has been a challenging, wondrous, draining, heart-warming, illuminating time. I can’t say it has been easy. But I can say that it has been beautiful. Through this work, I have been honored to witness many genuinely raw human moments, sometimes from an intimate perspective and other times merely in passing, as a fly on the wall.
Some of the most loving, loaded, and complex dynamics I have seen are between mothers and children, not just biological mothers, but mother –figures; the women who stepped up and stepped in to play a role, the importance of which I can barely fathom. Motherhood is not for me, but I have reverence for those who choose it and do it well.
On this Mother’s Day, I can’t help but think of the son who haunted the halls of the hospice center I volunteer at, night in and night out, never accepting my offer of company– too distraught to allow himself a distraction. I think of my beautiful Alzheimer’s patient and her devoted daughter who sat at her bedside clutching a rosary during her mother’s final hours. The mother who looked so serene as she was dying and the son who admired her and brushed her hair. The grandmother who made sure to leave cooked food in the freezer for her children and grandchildren to eat after she passed. And the mother whose daughter’s beddings I changed after she died.
I have no grand conclusions to draw from these experiences other than noting death is the great amplifier – it brings all crucial issues to the forefront, whether they are matters of love or bitterness, and everything trivial just falls away. On this Mother's Day, cherish your mothers and grandmothers, mother-figures, or the memories they left you with. Cherish your children and their mark in their world. Remember that you are part of a great experience, a marvelous journey full of pitfalls and accidents and scraped knees and broken hearts, but also of elation and joy and wonder. And your mother is at the bookend of that journey.
There is a lot of advice out there on what to avoid today, how to safeguard your feelings, but what if you embrace them? What if you allow yourself to access your grief and stay engaged in it till you feel ready to disengage? What if you use today productively, to process these –often repressed–emotions that will inevitably crop in your dreams, flashes and outbursts. I know that this is not a safe option for everyone so listen to yourself, but if you do feel up to it, maybe write a letter to your mom, mother figure, child that you lost, write a stream of thought that captures your feelings, or draw and paint. Maybe do something as simple as lighting a candle in their memory. Sometimes focusing these often too-strong-to-be-described feelings into an action can help release them.
If you are grieving today, remember that you are not alone. Don't hesitate to reach out to your loved ones for help and support.