There’s only one day a year that a small part of me wishes I weren’t married—Mother’s Day. You see, my mother has been dead for longer than I’ve been friends with, dating, engaged to, or married to my husband. She’s never met him. And it’s an ache I’ll carry until death parts us that two people I love so much must occupy such separate sections of my life.
My husband is a regular source of joy, and while I have years of priceless memories of my mother, I don’t have a physical mother to celebrate. I do, however, have a mother-in-law. Now she’s lovely and loving, but having a mother-in-law when you no longer have a mother is complicated emotionally. You’re sad. You feel a bit cheated—especially on Mother’s Day. But you also don’t want to be the Eeyore at your in-laws’ celebration. So whatever feelings you’re experiencing (and they may be many and varied), you can’t just go off and unpack them. If you love your in-laws (and I do), you want to make your emotions presentable for them. Perhaps dress your feelings up a bit. Slip into a smile and try to wear it with conviction.
That’s the thing with a loss like the loss of a family member. Though it gets easier with time in the sense that you rediscover how to look and act and mostly feel normal, in other ways it gets deeper. In fact, in many ways the loss is bottomless. Every year, every milestone, every joyful occasion adds to the depth. Time is ever increasing the separation—since the last time you hugged, shared a laugh, or just knew that was her key in the door. Every celebration is tinted with sadness because a primary member is missing. Every momentous event is a bit smaller in size because a loved one is absent. Every good thing is a little less sweet because you can’t share it with someone specific.
So when we celebrated my brother’s recent engagement, my mother’s absence was present. And every commercial for Mother’s Day is a reminder that her flowers will rest in a cemetery instead of on a mantel where she can smell them. And although my wedding day was blissful, without my mother to join in the joy it was also a bit wistful. Loss will levy its tribute, so the totality of anything good is always somewhat reduced in the wake of bereavement.
In the years subsequent to my mother’s death, my home was comfortable but my family was not. She had been the glue, the keystone, the magnetic force that kept us together, and without her we separated emotionally and physically—perhaps psychologically too. My family was broken. We ceased to be a unit. Instead we were related but discrete—each finding our own unique way to manage our mourning.
More recently, we’ve found our way back to each other. We each live in our own parts of the city, but we come together. Yet just as the house was once comfortable and the family was no longer in tact, now that the family has reunited, the house is falling apart. And I know that this is just another level to the depth of our loss. The house would still be a vibrant home if she were alive. But with my mother dead, my family home is dying.