On this Mother’s Day….
It feels like it was just two months ago, not 20 years ago, that she left the aching void.
The mother void.
And if Trina Hammack’s theories about 20 year cycles of emotional trauma happening in an individual are true, my story might just back her claims.
How is it that the very same uncommon brain tumor, not only took my mother in 1998, but also took my uncle (her brother) in 2018. Watching his decline and his physical body deteriorate from the same tumor, surgeries, and treatments was like being transported to my mother’s sickbed. Except now I am 35, not 15.
It has been a grace, one full of tears and sorrow and ache, but a grace, nonetheless to have to reopen that mom-wound and the horrors of cancer and treatment and death which so profoundly changed my life those 20 years ago. I don’t think it could have been fully accessed but for having watched my uncle walk the same exact path.
It is a grace, for instead of being in a hormones-changing, world-crumbling, how-do-I-watch-my-mother-die-and-still-show-up-at-school-and-navigate-those-high-school-relationship-and-exams-and-sports-competitions state, I am a bit more removed, and a bit more emotionally stable, and a bit more mature, and a bit less afraid of truly feeling all the emotion that comes along with tragedy and loss. Maybe it’s a grace, this go round, because feelings of sadness and sorrow are not to be feared, avoided, or numbed anymore. Chip Dodd in his book, Voices of the Heart reminds me that feelings are a good and natural tool that God has instilled in his Creation-His creation that he declared was “very good” (Genesis 1:31)
As I have walked “through the valley of the shadow of death” this year, I have been able to “fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4), for I have found, that allowing ourselves to walk through the waves of grief, sorrow and aching void, is far less exhausting than the alternative of trying with all ones might to avoid or numb them. (A busy teen, with a freshly printed driver’s license and a bustling social, academic and sports schedule is quite good at those distracting and numbing activities) The fear of becoming lost in the valley of shadows is lessened, with each moment of acknowledging the sorrow and sadness, feeling it, crying through it, and then allowing it to pass in its own time, whether that be moments, hours or even days. With each episode, one is assured that there is always light, and heights, on the other side of the shadowy valley and the quickest way to the light on the other side is not trying to go around the valley but rather directly through it….
And this brings me to today, the 20th anniversary of my first motherless Mother’s Day.
I should have anticipated it, but it caught me blindsided. Expectations were set when people asked “How are you going to celebrate on your Mother’s Day?”, (the pressure was on to have a good one), but maybe the best question might have been, “How are you going to grieve on your Mother’s Day?”.
The day started with getting to sleep in.
So far, so good.
But as I emerged from my bedroom, with a “perfect mother’s day line-up” already established in my mind (which MIGHT just entail, bulletproof coffee, yoga with one daughter, a long run with another, followed by green smoothie and an escape to a coffee shop to spend time with the Lord and journal, not to mention the honey-to-do list presented to my husband), my expectations and my children’s expectations collided. Katy-Grace was starting to make eggs and wanting me to go back to bed so she could serve breakfast in bed (because that is what is “supposed” to happen on Mother’s Day!! and if it doesn’t happen that way, then I will melt into tears and anger and refuse to do yoga with my mom even though that’s what she wanted for her mother’s day), Judah missed the mother’s day memo to not spill expensive organic raisins all over his bedroom, Gwennalyn was sick with a cold, uncharacteristically sad and clingy, Benjamin and Malachi forgot that on Mother’s Day there is no bickering or disagreeing allowed, and the whole lot of them forgot that there is actually a place for all of their belongings in our home and the floor and stairwell is not it.
Many of us ended in sharp tongues and tears.
It was only 8:30 am.
I wrote a note to my family communicating to them how Mother’s days are hard, and bickering is harder, and I am grieving my own mother as well as the image of the mother I wish I was (and the image of the family life that I thought that that imaginary perfect-mom could produce). They read it while I retreated to my bathroom.
As I brushed my teeth, I thought of my daughter, Katy-Grace (who had locked herself in her room in tears and frustration despite my coaxing to come out and do our yoga routine together), and her namesake, Grandma Katy, so full of grace. The concept of naming, and meanings and life and cycles swirled in my brain in rhythm with swirling toothbrush. Katy-Grace, my daughter, so much like her grandmother, in looks, in energy, in hospitality, in love for all things beautiful and in her compassion for others.
It is uncanny how much she has lived into her name.
I have often wondered about the second part, though.
The prayer behind the name was that she would know the grace of God and be able to share His grace with others.
Grace is unmerited favor.
And oh, this daughter of mine needs unmerited favor. And with that torrent of need, her mother is shown how deeply she herself needs unmerited favor, to simply raise her. or even understand her. and especially to love her. In the naming, I must have forgotten that the Grace of God often comes through someone, and I, being her mother, would probably be first in line.
The “Grace” in her name must be for the both of us.
We need the grace of the Father, the God who is love, (1 John 4:16) to cover us and be granted to us. But there is another grace there.
Maybe her name also means,
My mother’s grace to me.
To me, who as a 13 year old watched my nurturer, friend and heart of our home deteriorate into a person I could hardly recognize.
To me, who quickly learned I needed to be the strong one for my younger siblings.
To me, who quickly learned to stuff, numb and avoid negative motions by just focusing on the next thing that needed to be done to keep our household running.
To me, whose emotional maturity was stunted at age 13, despite having an accelerated lesson in life and spiritual maturity.
Mama’s grace to a mama who needs grace.
Which is why the Lord gave me Katy-Grace, or rather, Katy’s grace.
For all the charged and intense emotions that emerge from her, often at horribly inopportune times, are beyond my best efforts to control, stuff, or push to the side.
The coping mechanism for dealing with negative-volatile emotions that worked at a 13 years old, just won’t cut it at age 35 parenting a daughter through similar feelings.
Katy’s grace is saying its time. This mother’s day is time.
Time to learn how to feel and process emotions, rather than control, stuff or avoid them.
Time to stop dealing with things like a young teen whose mother is slowly dying before her eyes.
Time to heal.
Its time for both of the daughter and granddaughter of Katy to lean into the Lord’s Grace, grace to walk through the valley of the shadows of death and all the seemingly negative emotions that lurk there,
It is time for us to truly experience the griefs, disappointments, and sorrows of life and death, but also to experience the promises of Psalm 23. And I am confident that mother, and mother and daughter, and mother and 7-different-children-with-7-different-sets-of-emotional-needs, will be able to test and prove that….
The Lord is our Shepherd.
We will not be in want.
He will make us lie down in green pastures.
He will lead us beside still waters.
He will restore our souls,
even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
He will be with us,
so there is no need to fear evil.
His rod and staff (His Word and His Spirit)
they will comfort us.
This Mother’s Day I, and my family, will experience the Nurture of the One who created Mothers.
And who comforts even us motherless mothers.
Even in the valley of the shadow of death, we shall not be in want.