(A photo of my Mom and me in 1981)
For as long as I can remember, Mother’s Day has always freaked me out. This is not because I had a traumatic childhood, have a bad relationship with my mother, or from any horrible life events that happened to occur on Mother’s Day. I currently have and always have had a mother who was very much involved in my life, very much a positive role model, and who made sure I always knew that I am loved unconditionally.
What freaks me out, and honestly what I can’t stand about Mother’s Day, is that I’m filled with dread and guilt every Mother’s Day weekend.
The family member who is the source of my Mother’s Day issues is the member we call The Beast. The Beast has been a member of our family for nearly thirty years. And while we did not intentionally or lovingly adopt The Beast, I do not have an understanding of our family without it.
The Beast is metastatic breast cancer, and it joined our family via its invasion into my Mom’s body in November 1982.
Since then, there have been too many treatments, tests, surgeries, doctors, etc to ramble on about here, so use your imagination. Some years were better than others, just as some surgeries or chemotherapies weren’t as brutal as others.
We learned years ago that there would be no estimated departure time for the stage 4 Beast, as The Beast had no plans of ever taking the indefinitely long vacation known as remission. For this reason, Mom’s doctors refer to The Beast as “chronic cancer” and treat it as such.
Thanks to The Beast, Mother’s Day weekend is an emotional hot mess of a weekend for me. I am filled with dread that it will be the last Mother’s Day I will get to call my Mom and hear her voice on the other end of the phone. And, I am filled with guilt for not loving this holiday when I have friends who deeply grieve the loss of their mothers on various levels for various reasons. I am filled with dread that yet another Mother’s Day is coming and there are no grandchildren to call my Mom whatever their name for her would be. And, I feel guilty that I don’t always enjoy this day on the flowers, cards, and brunch level.
Mother’s Day weekend is a reminder that The Beast is constantly trying to teach me life lessons that are the exact opposite of what my mother taught and continues to teach me.
My Mom teaches, “Do not be afraid.”
The Beast teaches, “You could get cancer in your early 30’s, too, you know.”
My Mom teaches, “Carpe Diem, because life is good and life is short!”
The Beast teaches, “You’re damn right life is short.”
My Mom teaches, “I’ll love you forever and I’ll like you for always.”
The Beast teaches, “I’m not going anywhere either.”
While I don’t try to give The Beast the power to be a teacher in my life, on weekends like this I’m more vulnerable to listen to it. The Beast scares me, and it takes great energy to hear my Mom’s words louder than The Beast’s sometimes.
But hers are louder and hers are true.
So, on this declared Mother’s Day, I’m grateful for a mother and a relationship with a mother that I know some would give anything to have. I’m grateful the medical data has been wrong multiple times, and I’ve got another year with her tangibly in my life. I’m grateful that my Mom is a survivor on levels much deeper than Susan G. Komen Foundation can define. And, I’m grateful today, as I am everyday, for the milestones we didn’t expect to get to celebrate as a family.
I’ll call my Mom later today, and my heart will be heavy for my friends who cannot do the same.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to spend Mother’s Day working as a chaplain at a pediatric hospital, where my day began with a young mother sobbing on my shoulder because her toddler is sick and she can’t stand to see her child like that. As I held her, I looked her square in the eyes and promised her that she’s not alone and told her not to be afraid.
I learned that from my Mom.