This is For the Motherless on Mother’s Day

by Liz Petrone April 29, 2024

woman and child touching faces

Just the other day, I was driving along in my car, listening to vintage hip-hop and waving my hands in the air like I just didn't care, and before I knew what was happening, the radio DJ was blabbering in my earhole, saying something totally heartbreaking like: "When we come back from the break I'm going to be giving you some great gift ideas for Mother's Day, and I know everyone is going to want to stick around for that, because who doesn't have a mother?"

My hands dropped and my mood dropped, and I answered him out loud even as I turned the radio off. "Me. Also, my sister. My Dad. Some of my favorite friends. People who have reached out to me. People who haven't." Maybe you, if you are reading now.

First, let's clear the air a little, dear one: I know Mother's Day kind of blows. Maybe, like me, your mother has passed. Or maybe, like me before that, your mother is still here but no longer able to mother you in any real way. And while they are different things, of course, they sure seem to me to be two sides of the same tough coin.

Either way, if you've been where you are long enough, you have likely learned that with the passage of time and a lot of practice, you can usually start to patch together what resembles, on most days, a full and vibrant life, despite having a hole in your heart.

Mother's Day is not most days. There are other hard days, too, of course: birthdays and days that people pass and holidays and random Tuesdays in other months when you wake up from a dream where your mother was sitting next to you as you slept and softly stroking your hair.

But Mother's Day is especially hard.

It's like the whole world has turned pastel and covered itself in carnations and assorted platitudes of perfection and wholeness and you are watching from the sidelines, incomplete.

That's frustrating because you know you have done this work already. You have been wearing your grief for some time now. Maybe it's weeks or months or maybe years, adjusting yourself under its weight and growing under it and around it and eventually, through it.

In fact, let's be honest here: You are an amazing beast-mode goddamn grief superhero, really, because despite having been dealt a decently shitty hand, you are still out there every day getting up and facing the world and being a person. And you get a little comfortable in it, even, and start to think, "I can do this, maybe. I can keep going."

Then along comes Mother's Day. You wake up and all of a sudden it's like day one again and all that work hasn't happened yet and wounds that you know you worked to heal are fresh and raw again and you're all "Seriously, universe? What did I do wrong? What did I miss?"

I'm here to tell you, lovies, that I think it's time to lower the bar.

A quick story: When my sister called me to tell me that our mother had died, I was sitting in my car in the parking garage, getting ready to leave work. "It's Mom," she said, "she's gone." Ever classy, I said the only words I could spit out: "Shut the fuck up." Three times. I know this because I counted. And then I forgot how to breathe.

The car was warm. It was September, but the weather was like summer still, and the steering wheel was hot enough from the afternoon sun to leave a mark on my pregnant belly where I pressed up against it. Everything turned red. Sweat started to run in rivulets down my back. I heard my heart drumming in my ears. But for the life of me, I couldn't remember how to exhale. It was terrifying. And then there was a woman, hands pressed to the window of my car, mouthing "Are you okay?" at me when I met her kind eyes.

Her breath on the window left a small oval of condensation, and I studied it as it grew smaller and smaller, fading. I watched her breath. BREATH. And just like that, I remembered, exhaled hot stale air all at once, and with enough force to lift a sweaty curl from the middle of my forehead.

This, my sweet friends, was a victory. It doesn't sound like much, I know. After all, I had 33 years of experience with breathing, and for all of that time before, it had come easily and without a second thought. But this was a new time. After breath – and with the passage of more time and a lot of practice – came a whole series of many more grief-victories (and also some terrible grief-defeats), none of which I really have to tell you about today, because you are living through your own and already know that story all too well.

My one and only point is simply this: Lower the bar. Go easy. After all, sometimes just breathing is a victory.

This post originally appeared on the author's website.

Liz Petrone


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