Mother’s Day In An Empty Nest

My mother, Carole, and grandmother, Edith, circa 1975.

Mother’s Day has carried a bit of a sad charge for me for almost 30 years.

The first one after my mom died was the worst. Surrounded by media injunctions to “Make It Great for Mom” – but no mom to call, no flowers to feel guilty about not sending, no card mailed out just a few days too late.

In fact, nothing really to celebrate.

The next year was better. Holding my 5-month daughter in my arms I basked in the good wishes showered on me by my partner, my sisters, my friends. Spring flowers bloomed in the first garden I’d ever helped plant, and fragrant masses of stock and snapdragons spilled out of mason jars in the kitchen.

So it went, year after year…celebrating my own motherhood. Making sure this was a day that I didn’t touch a broom, scrub a diaper, or swab out a sink. Sipping mimosas during brunch. Enjoying the guilt-free opportunity to actually stretch out on a Sunday afternoon in a lounge chair and soak up some rare Humboldt sun.

Holding baby Ciel sometime around her first Mother’s Day

And, as the years passed many other mothers to celebrate with, to call, to send cards to.

But, always underneath it, that sadness.

This year, in our clean kitchen, while the soaring notes of a daughter practicing her singing noticeably did not reverberate from rear of the house, the sadness ballooned out a little larger than before. There were no miscellaneous school forms strewn about to distract me. No coupon books and handmade cards presented  sheepishly as morning slid into afternoon. No reason to sigh at  jackets once again carelessly draped over the dining room chairs.

It was my first Mother’s Day in an empty nest.

They both called me – and fairly early in the day too. I tried to sound bubbly and upbeat. I tried to BE bubbly and upbeat. After all, this was still my day. Once a mom, forever a mom, and I intend to take full advantage of the opportunity for a day of relaxation every single year.

After the phone call I wandered out to the lounge chair. Sleep ever being my favorite soother of depression, I dropped off into a much deeper sleep than the intended snooze. Woke up with an imprint of the moon white on my chest, which burned warm from too much sun.

I’d slept so long the crescent moon pendant I wear had marked off my sunburn. Seems like there must be some kind of symbolism there.

So – entering into a new cycle, I wish all mothers of every age and phase a happy Mother’s Day. But most of all, a salute to my own mom, Mary Carole, who didn’t get enough time here on the planet. Happy Mother’s Day Mommy!

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Showing 7 comments
  • Amy Barnes

    Sarah, this is extraordinary. I love the photos – your mom looks a lot like your sister out in Blue Lake. And the one of you and Ciel is gorgeous, you’re such a baby yourself. Just the other day, in an angry fit Lucy went off about how she’s only got 3 years left to endure life in our house. She can’t wait to get the hell out of Humboldt, and relishes her bony prod to my heart every time she says it. Funny, ’cause right now I’ve got school flyers strewn across the bed here in my office, jackets draped on chairs, and the hand-made cards are propped up on display. But I am painfully aware of how fleeting this time is. I can’t imagine them being gone, but can taste it on my tongue. It makes me sad. Thanks for articulating this so beautifully. xo –a.

  • Anonymous

    Lovely bit or writing there, Sarah. Funny how the busy mama life can wrap a cocoon of protection around our tender hearts. Sometimes it seems like there is no time to feel what hurts the most! But I believe that grief has it’s own time table, and it will be felt, in bits and pieces, changing as we change… healing in it’s own way and time.
    I loved looking at the pictures of your mom and your daughters and you. The features of your mom’s beautiful face are there in you, and in your daughters too. You carry her with you every day, and now your daughters will carry her out into the world too. I guess our mothers never really leave us, when we look at it that way.
    Happy Mother’s Day, Sarah!

  • peri

    Uh, that last comment was from me (peri) by the way. I didn’t mean to be anonymous!

  • Sarah

    Thanks for the great encouragement and sweet comments. Two of my favorite mamas! It’s so nice to know that I’m not just putting these feelings out into some unread blogosphere!
    It felt like a real honoring to Carole and her mom, Edith (she went by Boo, but Gaga to me – remember the cole slaw?)
    Happy Mother’s Day to you both as well!

  • Christina

    What a beautiful post, very well written. My mother always hated Mother’s Day, and once I was older she made it very clear that she did not want any more cards, flowers, or even phone calls. I have a daughter of my own now, and we both love to celebrate Mother’s Day. In a few years, when she moves out and the nest is empty, I might very well feel the same sense of absence as you do.

  • kario

    Ahh, sleep. The great coping mechanism – it’s my soother of choice, too. I hope that next year you’ll find a way to honor yourself as a mother and celebrate all your successes. For now, enjoy that May tan line!

  • ME

    Beautifully written. I can imagine you miss your Mum on a day like this. Happy Mother’s day to you and Mary Carol! ME

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