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On Mothering Sunday

March 14, 2021
by the gentle author

Valerie, my mother

What are you to do on Mothering Sunday if you have no mother? My mother died in 2005 and each year I confront this troubling question when the annual celebration comes around.

If I was religious I might light a candle or lay flowers on a grave, yet neither of these is an acceptable option for me. Contemplating advertisements for Mothering Sunday gifts, I deliberate privately over the tender question as my sense of loss deepens in the approach to this particular day, only for it to dissipate afterwards. This uneasy resolution brings no peace, serving to remind me how much I miss her. It is a feeling which grows with each Mothering Sunday that passes, as the distance in time that separates us increases and the memories fade. I do not expect or wish to ‘get over it,’ I seek to live in peace with my sadness.

I wish she could see where I live now and I could share the joys of my life with her. I have a frustrated instinct to communicate delights, still identifying sights and experiences that I know she would enjoy.

My picture of her has changed. The painful experience of her final years when she was reduced to helpless paralysis by the onset of dementia has been supplanted by a string of fragmentary images from my childhood – especially of returning from school on summer afternoons and discovering her at work in her garden.

I think of how she raised her head when she smiled, tossing her hair in assertion of a frail optimism. ‘Not too bad, thank you!’ she is admitting, lifting her head to the light and assuming a confident smile with a flash of her eyes. This was her default answer to any enquiry into her wellbeing – whether it was a routine or genuine question – and she maintained it through the years, irrespective of actual circumstances. When life was smooth, it was a modest understatement and when troubles beset her, it was a discreet expression of personal resilience. For her, it was a phrase capable of infinite nuance and I do not believe she ever said it in the same way. Yet although I could always appreciate the emotional reality that lay behind her words, I think for everyone but me and my father it was an opaque statement which efficiently closed the line of enquiry, shielding her private self from any probing conversation. From her I learnt the value of maintaining equanimity and keeping a sense of proportion, whatever life brings.

I realise that I was lucky to have a mother who taught me to read before I started school at four years old. Denied the possibility of a university education herself, she encouraged me to fulfil her own thwarted ambitions and – perhaps more than I appreciate – I owe my life as a writer to her. Yet there is so much I could say about my mother that it is almost impossible to write anything. I recognise that the truth of what she means to me is in a region of emotion that is beyond language, but I do know that what she was is part of who I am today.

Increasingly, I am aware that many of those around me also share this situation of no longer having mothers. Perhaps I should buy them all flowers this Mothering Sunday? Certainly if anyone enquires, I shall reply ‘Not too bad, thank you!’ with a smile and raise my head. In that moment, I shall conjure her robust spirit from deep inside me and she will be present, in my demeanour and in my words, this Mothering Sunday.

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36 Responses leave one →
  1. Sandra Stewart permalink
    March 14, 2021

    On a warm autumn day, far away (well possibly as far as you go), Auckland New Zealand. I read your offering about Mothering Sunday. Thank you Gentle Author, your thinking is correct. My mother passed away some 30 years ago here in New Zealand. We were both born in the UK (Essex), and she now rests in a not too foreign soil. Yes, memories do dim, but you still remember your Mother, at least once a day. I still use “her best” dinner service, now sadly depleated, her crochet cloth is on the table. And these items bring her memory alive.

    It is aroha, as we say in New Zealand – love.

    Stay safe in the UK

  2. Suresh Singh permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Dear Gentle Author Ji. This is so beautifully written it passes all religions, race and cultures. We bow down we bow down humbly. Deep from the Kaur’s of the Sikhs.

  3. Nina Archer permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Lovely, perfect article for this day – Thankyou. X

  4. March 14, 2021

    I grew up with an older dad who didn’t approve of the commercial side of these occasions, meaning that, each year, while everyone around me at work is rushing to buy cards and gifts, I do nothing, with an underlying feeling of guilt which makes my mother laugh when I sheepishly wish her a happy Mothering Sunday. Thinking of everyone who cannot be with their loved ones at this difficult time and warmest good wishes to you; Gentle Author, as you mark Mothering Sunday in your own way.

  5. Paddy Kerr permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Your mum was clearly beautiful, intelligent, loving, resilient and kind. She gave you your life and nurtured you into manhood. Missing her is what keeps her present and her nurturing active in your life now.

    Mother’s Day is not just for those whose mums are still alive. It is for all of us to remember, and pay tribute, to the deepest love of all. There are many who did not experience that nurturing love for one reason or another. They don’t have the built in resilience your mothers love gave to you. Maybe you could honour them today. Seek out someone who is struggling and offer a kind word, a cup of tea, a bunch of flowers – whatever you feel will help lift their spirits. Your column lifts mine.


  6. March 14, 2021

    Thank you for sharing

  7. March 14, 2021

    Wonderful. — My mom died at home in 2015. And the same thoughts are going around in me that have been described here. And I could not have expressed them better. Thanks a million!

    Love & Peace

  8. Joan Isaac permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Superb heartfelt piece Gentle Author. I am in tears.

  9. Karin Sussmann permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Dear Gentle Author,
    I do feel exactly the same way, you do.
    And it is part of my treasurebox in my heart, that in times of need I can open the box and recall
    moments of love and delight, with a tinge of sadness. and grieve. But that will stay in my heart and mind for as long as I live.And isn’t it woderful to have such precious moments and pictures.
    Stay Safe

  10. Valerie permalink
    March 14, 2021

    The cruelties of becoming one of the elders…

    I remember a graveyard visit with my mother, sisters, Great Aunt & Uncle who was giving Mum a driving lesson in that area.

    Visiting relatives to tend graves, lay flowers, prune a shrub or rose planted on the little plot of graveland is a high days & holidays ritual for some. They remain close by if there is a grave. Sort of.

    Tempus fugit…and nothing drives that home more ruthlessly than family occasions like Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day and all their lost birthdays….and death is somehow never ‘normal’ or entirely acceptable.

  11. Vera White permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Dear Gentle Author,
    On waking up on this Mothering Sunday, I thought of my dear mum so recently passed. No card bought, no flowers.
    I have just read, re read and been very moved and inspired by, the tribute to your mum -‘Mothering Sunday’.
    Everything you have written resonates with me and I imagine, many of your readers.
    ‘Not too bad, thank you!’ has made me smile this morning as it’s brought my mum to me instantly. Face, voice, character.
    You write so wonderfully, Gentle Author- thanks to your lovely mum of course!
    Thank you.

  12. HIlda Kean permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Another engaging account of your earlier life. Are you thinking of writing an autobiography particularly around days gone by? Perhaps it’s the time in life to seriously consider?

  13. Patsy permalink
    March 14, 2021

    What a beautiful photograph of your mother. I hope you manage to enjoy some lovely connections with her today. I have the gift of looking out of my window onto Stepney Green where the daffodils are in full bloom. I always gave my mum, Mary, daffodils on this day each year and the view from my home keeps that connection with her, despite the 32 years in between. I really enjoy your daily blogs and today’s was so touching that’s I’m going to share it with 20 year old and a 63 year old who will have woken up today just we have, thinking of their mums.

  14. Ann V permalink
    March 14, 2021

    My lovely mum Mary passed away in 2012. She was only 5 when her own mother died and I sometimes wonder whether that made her an extra special Mum, not having one of her own. Family meant everything to her and Dad and I am thinking about them both today. I hope that I have inherited the best of both of them.

  15. Anne Stark permalink
    March 14, 2021

    This is a lovely post today and this celebrates your mother in itself. I am in the same position, my mother died 7 years ago. You have given me an idea. Each Mother’s Day I shall celebrate it by writing down a memory of her in a notebook. I could also do the same for my Father. I will eventually have a collection of my memories of both of them. Thank you.

  16. Herry Lawford permalink
    March 14, 2021

    So beautiful and moving.

  17. John C. Miles permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Thank you, Gentle Author, for a profound and thought-provoking piece of writing. My own mother, an artist, taught me that if you have touched even one person with your words, your art or your music, then you have done a truly worthwhile thing in a world filled with hate and ugliness. She was an inspiration and a touchstone to me, and always knew the right thing to say or do. On this day the sense of loss I still feel is ameliorated by the contentment I retain on quietly reflecting how lucky I was to know her and to experience her love.

  18. March 14, 2021

    GA you write from the heart from your cherished memories of your dear late Mother. She made you she shaped you and she showed you how to live. It shines through in every word you say. Savour and embrace those memories b/c they soon fade all to soon. While you’re thinking writing and sharing those special times She’s alive for a moment or two. By doing this we all get a reminder about our own dear Mothers no longer around and how they raised us to be the people we are. Thank you ⭐️

  19. Krissy Underdown permalink
    March 14, 2021

    What wonderfully evocative writing – truly she passed on a gift. Thank you for this Gentle Author, and for the photograph of your beautiful mother with such a kind and gentle face.

  20. March 14, 2021

    So true, Gentle Author. I lost my mother in 2018, and my father last year. The memories fade, but I found that when I am unwell I miss my Mum the most – I remember her gentle patience, the way she would sit by the bedside and sing me to sleep. But I will always carry her, and my father, in my heart, in my gestures, and sometimes in a particular turn of phrase. Thank you for this.

  21. March 14, 2021

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thank you for that lovely memory of your dear mother Valerie. I am sure that she would be proud of your work on this site, bringing thoughtful, interesting observations to a wide audience every day around the globe.

  22. Kate Bacon permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Thank you for your beautiful article. This is the second mother’s day without my mum and I sent flowers to my godmother which felt lovely. xx

  23. March 14, 2021

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  24. paul loften permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Your moving tribute to your mother has inspired me . I am also not religious so the best way to recall the life of my mother is to remember the achievement in her life that she was most proud of.
    She was born in Nathanael dwellings in Flower and Dean street . “The Flary ” as it was known locally was the roughest place in the East End but also the birthplace of some great achievers . At the age of 11 she won a scholarship for a place at the Royal College of Music in a competition that hundreds of children took part . Her teacher was the concert pianist Meyer Rosenstein . Her father who was a merchant seaman, a stoker at sea and could not see the value of a girl taking up the awarded place despite Mr Rosenstein coming along and arguing with him. Instead, she became a court dressmaker for “Madam Hetties” in the West End With her delicate hands she could do the tiniest of stitches, also no mean achievement, In her old age she went back to playing the piano for her own enjoyment

  25. Esther Rinkoff permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Your words really resonated today. I lost my mum when I was 9,I’m now 65 and I always feel so unduly miserable on Mother’s Day even though so many years have passed without her. Even tho I myself am a mother to 3 great kids it’s a yearly reminder of a huge loss and weirdly doesn’t get better
    It was lovely to read about your lovely mum just getting on with it and her photo was gorgeous too…

  26. Rebekah C Bristow permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Your gentle tenderness and kind words about your Mum are very touching.
    My 98 year old Mother is living with Alzheimer’s, she’s living very well all things considered,
    But she’s not quite the same Mum nowadays days. I’m reassured by your words that at some point I will be able to think of her as the Mother I knew before Alzheimer’s took over. Thank you for that.

  27. Adriaane Pielou permalink
    March 14, 2021

    There’s so much beauty and sensitivity in your writing, and
    your readers’ comments are always a delight to read too. Your
    lovely mother lives on. Thank you!

  28. Emma Hardy permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Thank for today’s writings. I too seek to live in peace with my sadness.

  29. March 14, 2021

    Your posting today is so personal, and so heartfelt, I almost feel like an intruder. However, I am thinking of the various posts you have written about the beautiful bulbs you display in the fascinating china bowls/planters. And the way your photos capture the flowers, emerging in the undergrowth at the cemeteries. And your advocacy of the singular endangered tree, etc.

    All of these are tangible tributes to your mother. You are continuing some of her lifelong interests — and sharing them with others. One of my favorite quotes: “May the beauty we love be what we do.” By your words, actions, interests, and pursuits, you honor your mother.
    And inspire all of us to do the same.

  30. Linda Granfield permalink
    March 14, 2021

    A lovely photograph of your mother–a wonderful portrait of her child in today’s blog.

    I’m sure your mother would be smiling had she been here to see all you’ve accomplished via Spitalfields Life, your book publishing, your garden, your support of community efforts, and so on.

    Please, please, consider asking one of your illustrator/artist friends to put pictures to your “The Gentle Author’s Childhood Christmas”! Our family reads aloud the illustrated Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” every Christmas–I’d like to add a reading of your story to our tradition.

    Did I say ‘please’ enough? (I’m sure you will have enough reader pre-orders to enable printing!)
    Take care.

  31. Pauline Rogerson permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Lovely photo. Thank you for sharing your article.

    I lost my mam in 1998 and mum (mother in law) 5 years later. Mothering Sunday is always ‘a killer’ even after all these years. Birthdays and other celebrations for some reason do not affect me quite as much.

  32. Cherub permalink
    March 14, 2021

    Thank you for sharing this.

    I will be 60 this year. My mother died suddenly when I was a teenager so I missed out on all the adult “woman to woman” conversations mothers and daughters have. It was a little easier for my sister as she was in her late 20s at the time.

    I met my husband when I moved to London. Unfortunately his mother was a difficult woman who took an immediate dislike to me and for 34 years until her death in 2019 she didn’t speak to me. I had hoped I’d find a kind mother in law, but some things are just not meant to be and you have to get on with life as best as you can.

  33. Jenny Newall permalink
    March 14, 2021

    I found this article very moving and beautifully expressed. what a wonderful mother she must have been.
    I have two sons and I just heard from my younger one who lives in New York. being apart is hard.

  34. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 15, 2021

    I have delayed commenting on this blog so I could read lots of other comments as I knew the loving portrait of your Mum would resonate with so many readers, especially those who have lost their own mothers.

    I am lucky to still have my mother who is going strong at 91, and I have spent a lot of time with her during lockdown (most playing cards and talking about the new cat!) We also had a big family quiz based around her via Zoom last night which was great fun.

    However today the family will be remembering what should have been the 41st birthday of her beloved granddaughter Lucy who tragically died of cancer four years ago, leaving behind a husband and two very young children and a big hole in the family.

    So we will be sharing your sense of loss – and thankfulness for having known such a special person.

  35. Ruth Fleming permalink
    March 15, 2021

    Dear Gentle Author,
    I can tell from your description that your mother was a lovely lady, who was beautiful inside and out. I am sorry that she is no longer physically in your life, but she still remains in your memories of her, and her love for you. I am quite sure that whatever else happens love we have been given by our mothers does not end when our mothers die, but is always there for us.
    I am lucky to still have my mother, but I mourn the loss of both my sets of grandparents. However if I can get past the loss I can still feel the love they gave me and their legacy to me. I am profoundly grateful to them in so many ways. They all came from the east end of London and had difficult lives. I am sure your lovely mother is aware of your life and still feels great love for you and pride in the things you have accomplished. She was and is a very special lady.

  36. denise berry permalink
    March 16, 2021

    What a deep and honoring reflection, Gentle Author. Comforting to drink deeply from it, as I miss and commune with the memory of my own Mother today.
    Thank- You for this.

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