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When I was 14, the unthinkable happened. I woke up on a sunny Saturday, the first one after school had let out for summer, with no idea of the darkness to come. By the end of the day, everything in my world had changed. My mother, aged 55, died of a sudden heart attack.
I’m Rasha Mourtada, an editor at The Globe and Mail. I was just a kid then, really, and although my immediate grief was crushing, I didn’t have the wisdom to understand how this enormous loss would shape my future.
Today, when I look back on my life, everything is neatly divided by that defining moment: before death and after death. As the years go by, the after-death list of milestones – graduate high school, finish university, get married, buy a house, have a baby – grows ever longer than the before-death list – become a teenager, and, well, that’s pretty much it.
My after-death count of Mother’s Days without a mom is 28 this year. Twice as many as before death. It’s a complicated day for me, marked with a pronounced yearning for her, but also overflowing with the joy of being a mom to my own sweet kids, aged 5 and 2. That intersection – the act of mothering without a mother – is where not having her seems to hurt the most.
My heart practically burst with happiness the first time I held my older son’s tiny, perfect body. But along with feeling wondrous amazement that I had a part in creating this beautiful creature, I felt an acute longing, and loneliness, for her.
Unexpectedly, though, becoming a mother also made me feel closer to my mom. I now understand her – and her love for me – in ways I couldn’t fully grasp before, a sentiment writer Claire Bidwell Smith echoes in this blog post: “When I tuck my girls into bed at night, when I smooth Vera’s hair away from her forehead when she has a fever, or scoop Juliette into my arms after a tumble, my heart spilling over for them, I often find myself breathless with the realization of just how much my mother loved me.”
Even with those earliest days of motherhood behind me, when every aspect of keeping a small human alive felt foreign, I’m still often plagued by self-doubt, and think, if only I could ask my mom what to do. That lack of certainty is universal, I’ve learned, and I don’t think any woman ever feels she’s got this mothering thing completely figured out. I loved this essay from my colleague Sarah Hampson, which I read on my second Mother’s Day as a mom. Four years later, I still wonder if I’m doing any of this right. “There is no perfect way. It’s about listening to them and to your own voice, your own instinct of love,” she writes. Thank you, Sarah.
Then there’s the inevitable reality that our little ones will grow up and their need for mothering will change and diminish, something that can be both welcome and sad for moms. My mother never had the chance to watch me become independent, and I wonder, every day, how our relationship would have evolved as I grew from child to woman. Margaret Renkl astutely explores this idea, from her perspective as a mother to her now-grown sons, in this New York Times essay.
Of course, there’s another kind of loss that makes Mother’s Day painful, and it’s every mom’s worst fear: losing a child. Lesley Buxton writes beautifully about the utter heartbreak of her first Mother’s Day without her daughter, India, in Today’s Parent (PSA: grab the tissues). This moving observation made me nod in emphatic agreement: “India has taught me the unyielding truth about love: that it goes on long after we leave each other. It hides itself deep in the crevices of our guts and bones. Wherever I go, I carry her.”
On an entirely different note, let me leave you with this gem. As Emily Nussbaum writes in the New Yorker, Jane the Virgin (which wrapped up its fourth season last month) may get dismissed as television fluff – as does other “art that makes women’s lives look fun” – but the show is actually a “joyful manifesto against that very putdown.” At the centre of this charming, clever, hilarious and self-mocking telenovela are the interwoven stories of three generations of women: abuela Alba, her daughter, Xiomara, and, of course, Jane, whom Xiomara had as a teenager. You will fall in love with these delightful ladies – and their grandmother-mother-daughter bond is sure to make your heart smile (and miss your own mama).
What else we’re reading:
I loved this satire piece from Kimberly Harrington, titled “I am the one woman who has it all.” It’s wonderfully playful, highly amusing and this zinger is just one of many: “I have the ability to listen to your rah-rah, pro-family work-culture speech as if I’m hearing a fairy tale for the first time and a deep wellspring of cynicism that makes me want to pat you on the head for being so cute with the lying.”
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