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On Mothering Sunday

March 27, 2022
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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23 Responses leave one →
  1. nightsmusic permalink
    March 27, 2022

    My mother passed in 1987, when my oldest was just a year old. I buried her on a beautiful, sunny, unseasonably warm for Michigan, Christmas Eve morning. I still miss her and there are few days that go by that I don’t think about her or talk to her or ask her advice about something.

    Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday, whichever it’s called wherever you live should be a time to honor your mom, or her memory. Be thankful for what she was able to give you. A huge part of who you are today is what she instilled in you when you were young. I know it’s bittersweet, but remember too, you’re reading my comment because of her.

  2. Jane permalink
    March 27, 2022

    This is beautiful – tender, loving, wise.
    Your mother sounds a really fine person.
    What an uplifting antidote to the world’s present insanity.
    Thank you, and for the many wonderful articles.

  3. Josette permalink
    March 27, 2022

    Me, my sisters and brothers are motherless too – but until your blog today I have never had any idea how to ‘do’ today with such specialness. My mum died far too young and I struggle to remember any of her words. But I do know she is part of me and today I will honour her differently. Thank you.

  4. Marnie permalink
    March 27, 2022

    I look forward each year to seeing the photo of your lovely, smiling Mother, and reading an update on how you are dealing–as time passes–with your grief. Quite well, thankfully.

    Of course, I jumped to the quilt again, to enjoy photos of your small shining panther, sweet Mr. Pussy. RIP, dear cat.

  5. Joan Isaac permalink
    March 27, 2022

    In tears. So so moving Gentle Author. Thank you

  6. March 27, 2022

    A beautifully written piece and a touching tribute to your Mum and my feelings are very similar. My dear Mum died in 2017, after a ten year struggle with dementia. I think of her every day, but especially today, it brings her into sharp focus and heightens all those happy and joyful memories I have of her. Thank you GE.

  7. Colin King permalink
    March 27, 2022

    What a touching homage to your Mother, on a difficult day for many people, me included. It reduced a grown man not used to crying, to unashamedly shed some tears, it resonated so.
    There’s is no need to light a candle, or lay some flowers, the words say it all. Thank you.

  8. Penelope Gardner permalink
    March 27, 2022

    Happy, happy Mothers Day . Sun is shining .

  9. March 27, 2022

    Very nice text. I was at my mother’s grave on March 16. She would have turned 91. She passed away in 2015.

    Something beautiful I experienced a few days ago: I found a card with a poem by Theodor Fontane (“Stay calm!”), which she had once given me in 2001 to contemplate.  Today, 21 years later, this comment from my mother helps me just at the right time.

    Love & Peace

  10. Herry Lawford permalink
    March 27, 2022

    So beautiful, true and universal

  11. Marcia Howard permalink
    March 27, 2022

    A sentiment many of us share in our own different ways

  12. March 27, 2022

    I must send you something following: my parents had to endure the 2nd World War by themselves and were able to live in peace afterwards. — I am so glad that they were not threatened by another war at the end of their lives …

    Love & Peace

  13. Mark permalink
    March 27, 2022

    A lovely tribute to a fine looking woman with great bone structure!
    My mum is still with us but lives many miles away. Due to family differences, she spends the day with my older, unapproachable brother.
    Happy mother’s day mum!

  14. Amanda permalink
    March 27, 2022

    On Mothering Sunday

    Your melancholy resonates with many of us with departed or separated mothers. The hardest grief for me is the inabilty to readily recall the many happy times after so many years with her dementia indelibly changing her personality and making us estranged. The person l visited for 4 years was not her and she had no idea who l was.

    Your greatest comforting blessings GA are that you took such devoted care of her at home, you could not have done more.
    And especially how much you resemble your lovely mother.
    How proud that must have made her.

  15. Diana Cooper permalink
    March 27, 2022

    Sharing your situation of no longer having a mother, your beautiful words have encapsulated perfectly the feelings many of us have on this special day for her.

  16. Cherub permalink
    March 27, 2022

    My mother passed away suddenly when I was 19, she was only months into retirement and the age I am now, 60.

    I sometimes think of all the conversations we never had, how she never met my husband, never saw her daughters make their way in life, see her grandchildren growing up or her great grandson come into the world 24 years ago, plus many other things. I met my husband 4 years later shortly after I moved to London and hoped having a mother in law would fill the void – sadly this was not to be as she was a very difficult woman and she cut off all contact with me prior to getting married. She went on to make life very difficult for my husband, but he did travel to London regularly from our current home in Switzerland when she was dying and he did subsequently attend the funeral. Unfortunately she could never atone for the hurt and damage she had caused before she died.

    This morning was joyous – the church bells were ringing out over Basel and I am seeing people carrying flowers and gifts. Friends of ours have just become grandparents so now there is a new mother in our midst to celebrate ?

  17. March 27, 2022

    My dear mother, Marion, died in 2000. At first, I had a notion that eventually I would “get over” her death. But now I realize that I am meant to incorporate all the joys and sorrows of my mother into my life, for as long as I live. I’ve even started to resemble my mother. Sometimes, when I pass a mirror, unexpectedly, I look up and smile and say “oh, hello, Marion!”. A tune on the radio will remind me of her — and depending on the day, I will either weep or grin. She is never forgotten. In a month or two, I’ll start planting my outdoor containers and primping our deck; and I will spend every moment of those activities thinking of my mother. She was a gifted gardener, among a zillion other talents. Thank you, Mom. For everything.

  18. Carole Jones permalink
    March 27, 2022

    Thanks for the Mother’s day reminder – I had forgotten about Mothering Sunday (distracted by pain and newly bunion-less foot) – but thoughts of my wonderful Mum are never far away.

  19. March 27, 2022

    This is my first motherless Mothers’ Day. Reading your reflections and those of your commenters has been comforting. Thank you.

  20. Andy permalink
    March 27, 2022

    A beautifully written piece full of opaque language.
    My Mother shined in the face of adversity and like that famous footballer Stanley Matthews, fought many battles and won.

  21. Lorraine permalink
    March 28, 2022

    I have just lost my mum and we scattered her ashes on Saturday, the day before this year’s Mothering Sunday, so Mothers’ Day, for us, is this year particularly emotional. My sister & I are now orphans, as we lost our dad in 2015. Reading your beautifully and sensitively written piece, GA, I realised the parallels between our mothers and our relationships with them: My dear mother, too, suffered with dementia but she battled with it until she had no more to give; she, also, was responsible for teaching me to read – one of my favourite memories of her being sat on her lap in front of the fire, us looking together at my ‘Janet & John’ books, and which led to my lifelong love of books, reading & writing; I, too – during the years she has been, in her mind, in some other place – desperately missed being able to tell her about my experiences in daily life. Yes, your piece has brought me to tears, but I also found it joyful to read and full of love. Thank you GA, as always.

  22. Jonathan Guy Hart permalink
    March 28, 2022

    Thank you for these eloquent and moving thoughts.
    At church we sang an anthem about memories fading and fleeting.
    May yours never fade.

  23. David Hall permalink
    May 1, 2022

    Thats a beautiful piece, it also kind of sums up how I feel about my Mum who died in 2012 .The last few years were bleak,sitting smoking watching Bargain Hunt ….but I remember dog walks on bright frosty mornings, gardening until both our backs gave in and visiting all those lovely plant nurseries …

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