This is one of those days that we celebrate. On Mother’s Day, we celebrate our mothers and our children celebrate us. That’s the way it is supposed to be. I want to dedicate this post to all of you who have lost your mothers, either because of death, illness, distance or some disagreement.
And I also want to dedicate this post to all the women who can’t be mothers the way they want to be. Perhaps a child has died, or their children live far away or don’t understand
how much it means to a mother to get a phone call. Some women wanted children but couldn’t have them. Some stepped to be like a mother to someone who needed a mother. Some are stepmothers who try really hard to be a friend to children who resent her.
This is meant to be a day that we honor mothers, but for many people, this day is a sad reminder that life didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. This day can be very hard for many, many people.
I am divorced and remarried. I have two beautiful daughters and two wonderful step-daughters. In a way, I am very lucky. But my life has not been full of “Hallmark” memories on this day, that’s for sure. And for those of you who still have your moms and maybe grandmothers and have children who surprise you with clumsy attempts at breakfast in bed, soak up those moments. I imagine that everyone cries on Mother’s Day sometime in their lives.
My mother died of cancer when she was 50 years old and I was 18. She died on New Year’s Day. She was estranged from her family and I didn’t know them or where they were, so I was by myself. I didn’t know my father because my mother left him and hid because he was abusive. I put myself through college. My college graduation landed on Mother’s day. There was no one in the audience for me. I put my best face on, but it was a harsh reminder. It’s been many years now since she’s been gone. She wasn’t there to see how my life unfolded.
My mother was a waitress with a 10th grade education. She was thrilled when I got into a 2 year nursing program to be an RN. My husband tells me she would be so proud to know that I got a degree in political science, a J.D., and am getting a Master’s degree at the moment.
After my mother died, and I had to apply for her social security benefits, I needed a copy of my birth certificate. When I looked at it, there was a little box that asked for the number of other live children had by the mother. It said 2. She had 2 other children? She never told me, but then again, she was very secretive about her life and I was a teenager and didn’t ask many questions. It never would’ve entered my mind that she had other children. I wondered why she never spoke of her parents and brother, but she said that they didn’t like my father and that she married him and there was a falling out. I accepted that.
My then-husband used to suggest that I try to find out who they were, or who my father was. I said no. Whatever my mother’s reasons were for her secrecy, they were hers and I didn’t feel right diving into her past. So I never went looking. But it was always in the back of my mind.
I didn’t get married until I was 31. I eventually had my children. We left the midwest and moved east. One day, I played back messages on the phone and a woman said that she had something that she thought I might want to know and to please call her back. I knew that was it. Before I even called her back, I knew that she would tell me about these unknown siblings. I didn’t hesitate too long, but I was very aware that once I opened that door, there was no going back. I might find out good things or terrible things, but in the end, I had to know.
The woman who had called was the adoptive sister of my half-brother who had been given up for adoption. I’ll call him Jack. He was 5 years older than me and my mother had him out of wedlock. Her father was a strict German who basically gave my mother little choice since she was living with him (her mother had died). But that wasn’t all. I also found out that I had a half sister, who is 15 years older than me. I’ll call her Jill. My mother had her when she was 16. She married the father of the baby but it didn’t last.
None of us knew about the other and we all had different fathers. My brother was the one who wanted to find his birth mother and his sister helped him by going through records at the adoption agency and the courthouse. They found my sister first. Jack and Jill spoke on the phone and made plans to meet out west where my sister had retired. Jack’s adoptive sister kept looking and found our mother’s death announcement in the paper. It said that she was survived by a daughter. Sandy said to Jack, “you’ve got a little sister.”
It wasn’t until we all got together that we pieced this puzzle together. Jill was about 12 years old when our mother started dating my father. He got a job in another city about an hour away and our mother went to join him. She wanted to Jill to come too but Jill said she didn’t like my father. She thought he was mean so she said no, she didn’t want to leave her friends. Jill stayed with her grandfather (I never met him, so I don’t really consider him mine.) After our mother moved, Jill told me she never heard from Mom again.
Jill also didn’t know about Jack, which seemed odd. But at that time, mom was in a home for unwed mothers. We saw records that showed that our mother did not want to give Jack up for adoption but was pressured by her parents because she already had one child, no husband and was living at home. She finally relented.
As we spent this incredible weekend together, Jill had photographs of our mom when she was young. Pictures of mom with her own mother and grandmother and her father too. There were several photos of our mom holding Jill as a baby, still just a child herself. I brought photographs of the rest of her life, what she looked like when I was a child and a teenager. Jill said that since mom never tried to contact her, she assumed she must be dead, but never knew. She asked me if our mom ever said anything about her. I had to tell her no, not that I remembered. She cried a lot that weekend, we both did.
But my birthday and Jill’s are just a few days apart on the calendar. Who knows what our mother thought or felt? After Jill told me about her grandfather and how he treated our mom after Jack and then hooking up with my father, it must have been very bad. I told her that for all we know, our mother did try to reach her, call her or write but the messages were intercepted by her grandfather, who called our mother a tramp and worse. I told Jill that maybe, once I was born and she was hiding from my dad, she decided that no one was going to take me away from her. Jill said if she had known that mom wouldn’t come back, she never would have refused to go with her.
It’s been 13 years since I found my siblings. We had all been living fairly close to each other all this time, before I moved east with my family and Jill moved west for her retirement. Jack stayed in touch for a bit then sort of disappeared. We never hear from him nor does he call us back. Jill and I do stay in touch and have gotten to be close although we are many miles apart. I got to meet her children and she met mine.
When we 3 got together that first time, the very first thing we did was to look in the mirror together to see if we looked alike. We did really. We all agreed that if mom was watching us from the next world, she would be glad that we untangled the puzzle and found each other.
I have learned over the years, from personal experience, that holidays are very hard on many people. Pay attention to the people you know and remember that some holidays bring back good and bad memories. Don’t just toss out “happy mother’s day” or “Merry Christmas” without taking into account that holidays are reminders of both happy times and maybe great loss for that person.
I guess that’s all I want to say. Blessings to those who have good memories and especially to those for whom this and other holidays are a struggle or a day of feeling sad or left out. Holidays are markers of time, especially after a loss of a loved one. I am not trying to dampen anyone’s joy on Mother’s Day but be sensitive and kind. Remember people’s losses over the past year and the fact that this is perhaps the first holiday without a loved one. Our mothers would want us to do that I think, to be kind to others, so let us do this in honor of them.