Has any punctuation ever been debated as often as the apostrophe in Mother’s Day? That small mark indicates that the day is for one mother, not all mothers. As a devout grammarian I would move that apostrophe. Mothers’ Day. Yet it points to an inescapable truth: the holiday doesn’t have the same resonance for everyone.
On one side there are women who have a joyous celebration, complete with corsage, candy, card and/or dining out. The popular image is of a beaming woman surrounded by her loving children. (How the offspring feel about the compulsory show of affection is another story!)
The reality is that many women would like to tear the annual date off the calendar. For this “Hallmark Holiday,” as the cynical among us call it, can have painful weight. There are women missing a parent, or mourning the loss of a child through death or estrangement (which is another kind of death). Women mourning a child who never made it to birth, and women unable to conceive.
So it’s fitting that Mother’s Day began as a tribute from a daughter. A West Virginia woman, Anna Reeves Jarvis, was mourning her mother, Anne Jarvis, a well-known activist in women’s causes, who died in May 1905. Beyond her personal sorrow, Anna wanted a day that would be everyone’s private tribute to their mother. In 1908, she led the first Mother’s Day observance in a local church. Alas for her naive hope, the simple memorial idea took fire and spread rapidly and loudly across the nation. In 1914 President Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day a national holiday. To the delight of merchants it exploded into the gifts and hoopla so familiar today. Ironically, Anna Jarvis was horrified at what her idea had turned into and fought it – in vain. The genie wasn’t going back into the bottle.
We can add meaning to our own celebrating by reaching out to someone who is suffering some form of loss, and visit (if visits are welcome) or by a phone call. Just four simple words – “I’m thinking of you” – can help bridge the chasm of loneliness.
We should also be careful what we say to anyone we might not know well. A friend told me she’d bought a box of cookies from a new neighbor as a donation to a charity. But she confesses she threw the cookies into the garbage when the woman chirped ,”Your little ones will enjoy these.” The brutal truth was that my friend was coping with the failure of her final fertility effort. “Some people are so insensitive they don’t try to recognize how someone else might be feeling,” she said.
Those of us who are on the deprived side of the holiday don’t have to settle for a solo pity party. We can plan ahead of time to see a play or movie, or attend a concert , either alone or with a friend who’s in the same rocky boat.. My sister used to have an annual date with a childless friend. They’d meet in an elegant restaurant for what they jauntily called their “unMother’s Day lunch.”
The best possible day to all!