The Flip Side of Mother’s Day

I sit in my car, parked on the gravel road at the Sebastopol Memorial Lawn Cemetery, on Mother’s Day. I have two bouquets of pink and white roses clipped from my yard this morning – one for my Mama and one for my Great-Grandma. I have been here a hundred times but I suddenly struggle to get out of the car. I close my eyes and see myself writing “Mama” on a card and handing her the roses. Eventually I get out to, instead, see her name on a headstone and drop the flowers onto concrete.

This is the first year I have been proud to bring her my roses. Every year I seem to neglect them in the couple weeks before Mother’s Day. All at once they bloom heavily and I assume there will be endless blossoms, but I forget to prune and there is no room for new buds to open. Last year I forgot to spray for bugs and also ended up with aphids and pincher bugs in my car.

This year I got my life together and the roses are perfect. I am a wreck.

I notice the groundskeeper making his rounds with a weed eater. My grandma will be pleased. The conditions here are often shabby in recent years, and I cannot stand the pain it causes her. I think of my mom, her mom, and her mom. We are women to whom things like upkeep of the cemetery grounds matter.

I do not always cry here, and I never talk to her. I appreciate the still, silent air though. I take comfort in the piece of grassy land, tucked away for dedicated remembrance. I respect the solemnity and having a place where the grief is tangible.

Earlier this morning, Addie gave me the box she painted and decorated with sparkly gems at school – my first ever, handmade Mother’s Day gift. She bounced on my lap while I opened it, telling me she’s so happy I’m her mommy. Owen got swept into her enthusiasm and showed off his new skill of complete, heart-melting, sentences: “I love you, mommy”. Kevin made breakfast.  It was mellow and sweet, until the kids started fighting over what to watch and what the other one was or was not doing. Even then it was mellow and sweet and normal.

It throws me, to take a break from them and come here to the flip side of my Mother’s Day. Grief bitters the sweetness of this day. Grief complicates the celebrations, entangling gratitude with emptiness.

I take the back roads home from the cemetery in silence. On the way out I stopped to get a smoothie; sometimes it’s a coffee or a chocolate milkshake. I make the trip alone now, leaving some emotional weight at home. In past years, when the kids did not yet ask millions of questions, I brought them. They’re too big to brush aside now, and too little to process an explanation I have yet to formulate.

At home later, Addie and I curl up on the couch to watch Mary Poppins together, just as I used to with my mom. I picture our old VHS copy – recorded from the Sunday night Wonderful World of Disney airing, complete with a Michael Eisner intro.  Addie’s warm little body next to mine, her millions of questions that could be answered by watching and listening, her “I love you mama”, and her “Happy Mother’s Day”, all bring me back to now. I soak it in to feel at peace again.

I will never take it for granted, this day or any other as a mama, after going years without this relationship.

This is how I get through Mother’s Day now. I fret over flowers, over the condition of the cemetery. I sink into the drive out and back, alone. I check in with my grandma. I honor my mother with a small gesture, wishing it could be more. And I hug my babies. I cannot think of the pain, of the holes in my heart and life, of the unfairness, or of the dizzying finality. Today is already too complicated.

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