By Paulina Grace Hay
Mother’s Day is looming and, once again, I find myself waiting for it to be over. It feels like I’m holding my breath underwater, hoping that no one sees me, the water creating a lovely muffle to drown out all the celebrations around me. When it’s over, I come up and gasp for air, crawling back to the shore.
Last year, even though I did my best to become a record setter in holding my breath, I had to come for air a lot. Some breaths were easy and others were labored. Before I went under, I filled up my oxygen tank with some good feelings. I started my day by reaching out to my fellow childless friends and my friends who have lost their mother or aren’t close with their mothers. It makes so happy when they seem genuinely surprised and touched that someone thought of them on Mother’s Day. Sure enough, I had a friend unload how she was having a triple whammy of a day – it was her birthday, the anniversary of her mother’s death and she’s childless. I didn’t know what to say, but offered an ear if she needed it and to share my plate of brownies with her.
Then I received a text from my brother wishing me a “Happy Mother’s Day – hope it’s a great one!” I just wanted to say, “Are you serious? You know what I’ve been through. How can you say that to me?” Instead I wrote an email both my brothers, with an honest account of how I spend my day. I finished with how on days like this it would be nice to hear from them that they appreciate how I try to make their kids feel special and that I watch over our parents so they don’t have to. I was proud of myself for being vulnerable and stating what I needed.
Until they responded.
One wrote back quickly stating yet again that he cannot be expected to understand how difficult it is to have gone through a miscarriage. He always tells his girls, he said, how lucky they are to have me (even though I rarely get to see them.) I was hurt but not overly surprised by his response. Learning through Brené Brown why such comments are painful has been so helpful. His comments create distance not connection. That happened to you, not me – thank god. “I can’t understand” means “I really don’t want to try to understand.” Telling his girls to appreciate me is not telling me he appreciates me.
The other responded a bit later with a more seemingly thoughtful response. He was kind in saying that he does appreciate me every day. Then he went on to share a few stories to “one up” my sadness. Essentially the message was, “Stop whining. There are people that have it a lot worse than you.” He closed with how he would pray for me. It is devastating when someone belittles your pain, but Brené helped me reclaim it. My pain is my pain and it hurts like hell, even if he can’t see it. Also, his comment to pray for me felt like, “I can’t handle this but this makes me feel good about myself.”
My siblings aren’t bad people and if nothing else I hope that sharing my story helps them find a path to empathy, even if that’s a road we never travel together. I am proud of myself for standing in my truth regardless of the outcome. Going forward I likely won’t share another vulnerable moment like that with them. It’s time for me to move on.
I reached out an old male friend and asked if he had time to talk. I knew he wouldn’t be celebrating Mother’s Day because he was estranged from his mom. Over our decade of friendship, he’s occasionally given me a glimpse inside his fractured family. We talked for a long time about life and work. I never mentioned my pain. I was just content to remind myself that I had a good male connection in my life that cared for me just as I am. I later texted him and told him briefly what our conversation had meant to me, even if it seemed rather ordinary. He gave me a gift without even knowing it so I wanted him to know.
Later I received an e-mail from a family friend’s daughter who said that it had meant so much to her over the years that I always reached out to her on Mother’s Day since her mom had passed. She was now sitting down to do the same for another family friend. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air to know my small gestures did change her outlook on this day.
As I prepare for Mother’s Day this year, it helps to know I am not alone. That there are people who love me for who I am, and that I can make a difference to others helps me to take a deep breath and keep living.