12 May 2013

Mother’s Day sucks when your mom is dead. The only good thing about the day is it marks the end of the ceaseless parade of commercials and emails about how to celebrate your mother on her very special day. 

My mom died on Christmas Eve, 2007. In a cruel twist, the next year, my sister and I suffered through two Mother’s Days. In February, 2008, we went to London to scatter mom’s ashes in the Thames River because she had loved London. She didn’t go abroad until she was 48 and her first time out of the U.S., other than a cruise to the Bahamas or something like that, was to London. She made several trips to London after that with my father and she was inordinately proud— in that way that someone who doesn’t grow up traveling is—of the fact that she quickly learned to navigate the Tube system and to remember to look the other way when she crossed the street.  She cherished the Harrod’s keychain that my sister gave her as if it were a talisman of her late-blooming adventurous spirit. 

So my sister and I found ourselves in London in 2008 just in time for  Mothering Sunday, the British equivalent of Mother’s Day. It always occurs on the fourth Sunday of Lent (as if that helps any of us figure it out)...How great for us. Mom’s death was still a very fresh wound (one that I’ve learned in the subsequent years scabs over but never heals) and here we were with fate bitch-slapping us in the face with not one, but two Mother’s Days for the first year that we wouldn’t have a mother alive to celebrate. 

Everywhere we went, there were signs up as reminders to remember “Mum” on Mothering Sunday.  We returned to the States and a few weeks later, it was time for Mother’s Day, American Style.

I remember that first year feeling a sharp pang every time I walked down the greeting card aisle in the grocery store or Target or anywhere. It was like the cards were calling out to me and mocking me. I no longer had a mother to send a card to, much less to order flowers for or call on the phone or take out for the mandatory Mother’s Day brunch. I have a vivid memory of looking at cards and picking out which one I would have sent mom in some kind of masochistic exercise. 

In the five years since that first Mother’s Day without a Mother, I haven’t felt the urge to pick out a card, but the lead-up to Mother’s Day still feels absolutely horrible... a little less horrible than that first year, but horrible nonetheless. And I guess it always will. Sometimes, I have to stop myself from emailing back some flower delivery company or Amazon or someone else shilling a Mom's Day special and writing "My mom is dead! Take me off your list!!"

My mom placed a tremendous value on education. She was one of the first two women ever accepted to Emory Medical School. She dropped out after the first year to marry my father, a choice I still find mind-boggling (thank goodness the marriage stuck).[UPDATE: My father called me after seeing this blog and wanted to make sure I understood--as I always have--that he was fully supportive of her decision to stay in med school. It was her decision to drop out. He had moved from Atlanta to Raleigh for work  and they were  commuting, but it was exhausting them both, and it was a different time back then. Duke said they would take her, but she would have to repeat her first year or wait until she had finished her second year at Emory, so she dropped out].  She and my father always encouraged my sister and me to do well in school and to follow any dreams we had: that we were smart enough to do anything we wanted. I took it for granted that all parents similarly encouraged their children, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that wasn’t always the case.

As I tried to figure out whom to donate to today, I found an organization called Students Without Mothers, an Atlanta-based non-profit that provides scholarships for high school students who have lost their moms and encourages them to continue on to college. How perfect is that? My mom grew up in Atlanta and valued education. She would have loved this charity. 

I am the proud daughter of Charlotte N. Newman. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you. I miss you.

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