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first person

Illustration by Rachel Wada

This week, First Person features the joys and the sorrows of mothering.

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Mother’s Day is a tough one. Dread begins seeping in to me weeks beforehand, building steadily. The thought of it drains my energy and knots my body with anxiety.

Last year, I spent the entire day before Mother’s Day in bed, sleeping, eating potato chips and playing Candy Crush to still my heart and numb my mind. I wanted to go to bed and wake up to Monday morning, ready for work. A Monday work day was infinitely preferable to the terrible tomorrow ahead of me: my first Mother’s Day without my son, Tristan.

What was I to do with Mother’s Day now?

I thought I would just skip over it. Not show up. Not answer my phone. It would be easy to disappear for a day. I could book into a hotel where nobody would find me. I could leave my phone at home so I wouldn’t hear any calls. Every part of me screamed to escape, to run away. Now.

I investigated hotel costs.

In the end, on Sunday morning, I dragged my heavy carcass out the door, pasted a slapdash smile on my face, and showed up at my mother’s house for Mother’s Day lunch. It was a quiet get-together, just my mom and my two daughters, all of us mourning, all unmoored. And my granddaughter, Ava, who mourned her uncle as four-year-olds will – with questions and confidence on her way to the playground, with no emotional burden at all.

I showed up for my family.

Ava greeted me with her warm pudgy hug and bouncing golden curls; a whirlwind of words and energy bounding in different directions. She demanded my attention and I gratefully gave it to her. Wrapped in her joy, I was distracted from my pain.

Together, we remembered Tristan in heartfelt moments between Ava’s busyness. We thought about what he’d be doing or cooking or saying if he were with us. I imagined the tight hug he’d give me, with a quick kiss on my head before he went to see what was happening in the kitchen.

So different from the year before. The year before, Tristan helped to arrange a special day for me, his sisters, his grandma and niece. We decided to try an escape-room adventure. It was a cowboy scene and we failed miserably, happily, together. We went for a Korean barbecue dinner, and cooked and ate and laughed until we couldn’t eat another bite. All my children together, with my mom and my granddaughter, everyone healthy and happy and well. I remember my heart being so full of love and gratitude it was fit to burst. I had everything I wanted in that moment and was blessedly aware of it.

But that was two years ago. That was when I knew exactly what to do with Mother’s Day.

Last year, we were grateful for each other; the mothers and daughters and granddaughter still here. We leaned on each other. We made it through the day, together. Ava’s laughter and bubbly chatter helped, and I was glad to have showed up and shared my joy and grief with all my people, minus one.

But now, a year later, Tristan is still gone. Will always be gone.

So, what am I to do with Mother’s Day now?

This year, I recognize the familiar dread and anxiety as they set up camp in my body. It’s just like last year, only less surprising, less intense.

I know I’ll show up on the day, though, as much as possible given these crazy times. I don’t even consider escape. In fact, I consider what I may want to do this Mother’s Day.

It won’t be afternoon tea, but possibly a physically distanced picnic in a park. We can’t wade through the crowds of VanDusen Gardens, but we could walk in the sunshine along the Quay. We can’t meet at my mother’s but, at the very least, we could get together by Zoom. There’s a beautiful dreaminess to thinking about Mother’s Day possibilities, a feeling of being right, and whole, and okay.

This year, I consider these ideas but can’t seem to act on them. Musing through possibilities is fine, but making a specific plan terrifies me. That’s when the anxiety leaps to the foreground, blotting out reason. It’s as if planning something would make Mother’s Day real and part of me doesn’t want it to be real without Tristan.

A huge part of me still really, really likes the sound of a day in bed with potato chips and Candy Crush.

But I can imagine spending time with my family on Mother’s Day, I want to have fun with them, and I know that, this year, I’m truly capable of finding joy with my loved ones still here. Even if I don’t seem able to plan anything. I suppose that’s progress. I’m calling it progress.

The fact is, Mother’s Day is now a day of mourning for me. It always will be.

It’s right up there with Tristan’s birthday and Christmas and the date of his death. Even with all the joy and happiness I have in my life, it’s not easy. The love and gratitude I have for my daughters and mother and granddaughter doesn’t make things right or lessen my grief.

But now I know that my grief and sadness won’t stop me from finding joy with my girls and my mom and Ava. It won’t make happiness impossible or wrong. We’ll enjoy our time together and be grateful for each other – all our lives so precious and short.

This Mother’s Day, my grief and happiness will intertwine; two halves of a whole.

I just hope that somebody else does the planning, so I don’t end up spending all day in bed, eating potato chips and playing Candy Crush.

Kathy Wagner lives in New Westminster, B.C.