When You’re a Motherless Mother on Mother’s Day


Mother’s Day can be a source of joy for many, sadness for some, and a melting pot of mixed emotions for others. As a ‘motherless mother,’ I now spend the holiday simultaneously relishing my lovely role as a mama, and contemplating the sorrow that is not sharing this parenting journey with my own wonderful mom.

For nearly thirty years Mother’s Day was mostly a neutral celebration for me, a Hallmark holiday of sorts. Sure, as a school-aged kid I crafted cards and puff-painted sweatshirts for my mom. As a teen, I brought her breakfast in bed, and tried my best to hold my sassy tongue for the entirety of the day. But Mother’s Day wasn’t a holiday I particularly cared about. Even after my mom died from breast cancer the summer I was nineteen-years-old, I was mostly indifferent. That Sunday in May just another reminder among many of my “unmothered” place in the world.

motherlessThen, four years ago, just a couple months after the birth of my daughter, Mother’s Day was elevated to the ranks of my most cherished of holidays. It is now one of the few traditional celebrations I eagerly anticipate. I feel an even more rabid sense of love, adoration, and gratitude for my daughter. I’m overwhelmed with the sense of pride I have in becoming a mother, of being a part of this incredible tribe of women. I am appreciative to my husband for making me a parent, and joining me in the adventure. I admire the remarkable maternal women who paved the way in the lives of myself and my loved ones. But on the heels of the love, adoration, pride, and gratitude is still an acute sense of sorrow and regret. 

She wasn’t there for me so many times I needed her most. She could not, quite obviously, support me in my transition from college freshman to motherless daughter, nor from motherless daughter to motherless mother. By virtue of my loss, my identity and experience is often characterized by her absence during major milestones. 

I should have stayed with her that summer. I couldn’t anticipate that complications from her fifteen year battle with breast cancer would culminate when they did. And only after my own daughter was born did I realize the enormity of my decision to forge my own independent path that summer, rather than staying home and caring for her in what would be her final months.

What would life be like, what would be like, if she were still alive? I can’t help but wonder if so many of my own missteps could have been avoided if my mom were here through it all. If she were never diagnosed with a terminal illness when I was just three years old. If she didn’t have to manage the terror of dying and leaving her children behind. If she wasn’t in treatment, yet again, my senior year in high school. If she didn’t die that warm Portland summer night, just a few hours after my brother and I arrived home from the east coast to say goodbye. 

She never got to see me as a mom. She spoke frequently about her desire to become a grandmother, but she never got to meet my daughter, whom she would adore nearly as fervently as I do. And she won’t be here to hold my new niece this month.  

Once a dispassionate holiday, Mother’s Day now inspires me to reflect on the intersection of joy and sorrow, and to empathize with the maternal-related sadness of others. For those who were abused, neglected or have been hurt by the very person who was supposed to love them most. For those who are struggling to conceive, for those who have experienced the tragic loss of a child, and for those of us motherless mothers who are raising our own babies without our own mamas.


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