Mother’s Day can feel like a cruel hoax if you don’t happen to have a mother.

For those of us whose mothers are gone, the day can feel off-balance and out-of-kilter; not so much a celebration of your mother’s presence as a gut-wrenching admission of her absence.

And if what I write next sounds a little whiny, I need to write it anyway because I have a feeling other folks might be feeling this same thing:

Today hurts.

It hurts more than a thousand painful bee stings; more than a steel-toed kick in the shins. More than a paper cut to the tongue during an envelope lick. I’m not going overboard with the mama melodrama, either. My pain is real; it is not imagined. I miss my mother so much it hurts. I want her back. I want her to be my quarantine companion.

My mother has been gone for more than thirty years, so I’ve had time to make peace with her departure – but it didn’t just take time, it took work. Over the years, I’ve devoted hundreds of thousands of words and a huge amount of headspace to writing about (and celebrating, with genuine joy) our redefined relationship; no longer earthly and finite but ethereal and infinite. I’ve adjusted to her physical absence. Long, long ago, I stepped into a softer emotional space that allows me to think about my mom without feeling the jagged edges of pain and heartbreak. My mother-memories are soft.

But something in me has shifted recently. Perhaps it is a regression of my grief.

Since the violent onslaught of this violent, slaughtering disease, I’ve been missing my here-on-earth mama with a ferocity that I guess I had forgotten. I miss her kiss. I need her here-and-now presence. I want her to be standing in my kitchen.

And to those of you whose moms are also gone, I need to ask you to ask yourself these questions:

As you’re watching the news or processing all that is happening around you, do you find yourself wondering, What would she do? How would she react? What words of wisdom would she whisper? What would she tell me to tell my own children?  

In the midst of this living nightmare, have you been yearning more deeply for your mother’s touch? For the sound of her voice? The sight of her smile? For the simplicity of her mere motherliness?

What’s happening is that this greedy virus is not only snatching lives but the memories of lives. Because I’ve been missing her with such renewed intensity, my memories of her hurt. Granted, when Mother died, our relationship was forcibly and physically redefined. Today, we have something new between us. So redefined? Yes. Ruptured? I will not let that happen. I cannot give this dumb disease that much power.    

Yesterday in the grocery store, I saw a mother and child in the produce section. The mother, wearing a mask and preoccupied with the potatoes, never noticed that her daughter had stepped away momentarily to pick up a lemon that had rolled onto the floor.

The daughter scampered back quickly, but there was that moment of awful, abject terror and confusion — I could see it in her frightened little eyes – when she couldn’t pick her mother out from all the other mask-wearing mothers, and she didn’t know where to turn or what to do.

That mother-daughter scene took me right back to my own childhood, standing with my own mother in the A & P while she prodded and poked at the produce. I still remember the precise second I realized, with suffocating clarity, that, Lord have mercy, I was holding the wrong hem. I looked down at her shoes first — those shoes are not my mother’s! I even double-checked her dress again: It belonged to some other mother!

I’d lost Mother.

For a single, stinging instant, my little world stopped. I’m certain I would have fainted right there near the fennel had my mama not swooped in and scooped me up. But scoop she did, and oh, how I miss that scoop today!

If you’re missing your mother more than normal these days, especially on this doesn’t-feel-real Mother’s Day, know that you are not alone. Your pain is real — but don’t let it paralyze you. Don’t stay stuck. We’ve got living to do. Surviving to accomplish. Relationships with our departed loved ones to readjust. COVID to kill.  Goals to accomplish. Grief to kick to the curb. Gratitude to express.

I am bountifully blessed to have two beautiful children of my own — good-and-grown adults who I’m pretty sure love me ferociously. I suppose what I need to do on this Mother’s Day is bask in their love and bask in my mother’s memory simultaneously.

I must also remind myself that as much as I want her back (I would love to find my way back to that lavender-and-sunlight smell in the gentle curve of her neck), I know in my heart that I don’t really want her back here – not exposed to this awful awfulness. 

Still, I can let my imagination comfort me.

If she were here, she’d probably whisper into my ear, “Stay put. It’s too early to step back to the outside. Remain calm. Banish panic. Everything is going to be okay. We’ll get through this together.”

And I’d smile and whisper back:

“I love you so much. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.”

The author’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Clark, at about 27 years of age. Courtesy of the author.

Kristin Clark Taylor is an author, editor, and journalist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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