Motherless on Mother's Day

A mother and her young daughter waited on line ahead of me at the campground bathroom. I watched the mother as she watched her little girl with a proprietary eye, and I remembered watching my daughters in the same way when they were small. I saw her size up the men who were also waiting for a bathroom to open up, covertly examining them for any sign of creepiness or trouble. I don’t think they were aware of her invisible no-fly zone around her daughter, but I was. I had a sudden, visceral memory of that powerful feeling, like a mother bear or a mama lion or any ferocious maternal animal that would kill to protect her young. I remember keeping that pleasant expression on my face as I guarded my girls and thought, “Don’t even think about looking at my kids, pal.”

I no longer have the luxury of vigilance over my adult daughters, but their well-being is still my heart’s fondest desire. It occurred to me, while watching that watchful young mom, that no one feels that way about me anymore. With the recent death of my mother, who had outlived my father by seven years, I feel more vulnerable to the threats and pitfalls of the world. This is a groundless concern, of course, as for the last five or so years of my mother’s life, I mothered her far more than she mothered me. Still, I’m aware of the acute pang of being orphaned. There’s something sobering about realizing you are the oldest, highest living branch of the family tree.

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I cringe at such self-pity: ‘no one feels that way about me anymore.’ It’s true that I can no longer rely on the safety net of parents, but I was so lucky to have two parents who loved me and did their best to bring me up in safety and in style. And I am so lucky to be the mother of the four most fantastic daughters ever to walk the earth, and to co-parent them with their wonderful father. Such blessings should leave no room for self-pity.

I suspect that my daughters are worried about me, because they are planning to come home this Mother’s Day. They want to make sure that I know I am loved. My mother, God rest her, was a demanding soul, and so Mother’s Day was always her day. Now that it is mine, I don’t know what to do with it. The store displays of Mother’s Day cards are a reminder of the weird fact that I don’t need to buy one, that I don’t need to try to figure out which card will make my mother happy. It’s a strange freedom.

The young mother at the campground has left me pensive, but this thought arrives: Someone does feel that way about me. God feels that way about all of us. Sounds trite, I know, but it heartens me that the ferocity of God’s love surrounds us and protects us. In God’s embrace we are neither fatherless nor motherless. In God’s care, there are no orphans. 

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Trish Keller
2 years 5 months ago
My mom died last month, and as a mother of young men, and having "mothered" my own mother as she aged, I have handled the loss with a great deal of acceptance. But today on Mother's Day, the loss is palpably present and painful. But your words are consoling. Thanks for writing them.
L J
2 years 5 months ago
Interesting article, Ms. Schultz. I can't say I really understand your conflict. My mother died one year after my father's death, many years ago, and I talk to them every day. The are physically dead but I carry them with me hourly. When I visit stores and see the cards, I smile and recall the wonderful love I too had as a child, and later as an adult who cared for his sick parents. I miss my parents, to be sure, but the idea of being orphaned is not my case. I have my spouse, my family, my extended family, my friends, my profession, colleagues and more. If anything when I am alone I cherish the moment because I can be with Mami & Papi, like today for Mass. I lit candles at the BVM side altar at the church, and I was completely serene about they being with me, more so than the people standing next to me waiting their turn to light candles as well. I hope you move past this conflict and find a resolution soon. In Christ,

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