My mom, my sister and I lost my father to Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1991, when I was 14-years old.
Upon reflection on that time in my life, what stands out the most is how vulnerable yet strong my mother appeared, all at the same time. I had no idea the degree of courage it would have taken to pretend to be happy and “on top of things” when her whole world was falling apart and when others’ very existence and future depended on her ability to keep it together.
The first time I felt truly helpless after my dad’s April 22 death was on the Saturday before Mother’s Day that year, when the customary trip to the store that I was accustomed to taking with my dad to buy cards and a small Mother’s Day present was replaced with a deep, dark void.
We were all still grieving but I wanted to let my mom know that she was appreciated– but I had no ride and no money.
Mother’s Day became a glaring reminder for me that my father was no longer around.
As we spend Mother’s Day celebrating our mothers, let us not forget to reach out to and acknowledge those in the community who are grieving, or those whose experience as mothers or as children requires that they dig that much deeper for an extra dose of daily strength and courage.
Let’s celebrate the strength of women like Erin Bodden, who lives in Grand Cayman with her children Kai, 14, Savannah, 10, and Tristan, 7.
Erin lost Devin, her husband of 13 years, to cancer in 2019, when he was only 39. Tragically, Erin also experienced the loss of a child. Little Trinity was stillborn in 2013, at 40 weeks gestation.
“She looked just like my Savannah when she was born,” Erin remembers.
Erin’s experience on Mother’s Day is a multifaceted one
“It depends on which lens I am looking through,” she explains. “As a child, I reflect on all that my own mother and grandmothers have done for me and the motherly figures in my life. I would not be the woman I am today without their great love, patience, encouragement, wisdom and guidance.”
Erin also reflects on motherhood from the perspective of her own experience as a mother.
“As I am now a mother, I also see Mothers Day as a time to reflect on my own motherhood journey. The endless joy my children bring me and the challenges too. My children have given my life deeper meaning and I can honestly say I have grown along with them.”
But sadly, Erin must also look at her experience through the window of loss.
Gazing through the lens as a wife and widow, my children are an extension of the love I had with my husband and it brings me so much peace to see him living on through each of them. Without him I would not have them. Through the lens of a mother who lost a child, I still think of my baby girl on this day and every day and reflect on my love for her and all of the hopes I had for her and the sorrow that comes with knowing they will never come to be.
With each experience in life, it had added another lens which I look through and another layer of reflection on Mothers Day. I can say without hesitation I’ve been abundantly blessed to have experienced it all.
For mothers who have experienced the loss of a child or children, but have then gone on to have children, the experience of motherhood and Mother’s Day in particular can be both somber and celebratory.
Aniya Emtage Legnaro, a Barbados-based photographer, and her husband Matteo, tried for nearly two years to conceive Otis, age 3.
“After multiple miscarriages, he came,” she says. “One day I will tell him how many little souls cleared the path for him to be here.”
Despite all of the pain, Aniya’s family celebrates their blessings.
Ella, Aniya’s eldest daughter, 18, was recently accepted to University of Pennsylvania where she will begin as a freshman in September. She also has Adi, 16, and Atlas, 2, who are happy and thriving. This is the last Mother’s Day that the family will spend under the same roof before Ella goes off to university and Adi heads to boarding school.
Aniya refers to the celebration as “bitter-sweet” and has shared her special story in National Geographic as part of the Eye Mama project, launched to bring mothers together during the isolation of COVID-19 and beyond.
Aniya’s four children (L-R): Ella with Atlas on her lap, Adi and Otis. Image credit: Aniya Legnaro
Paula Blane, one of the heads of charity, One Dog at a Time in the Cayman Islands lost her mother, Lily, three years ago and to her, there is little celebration attached to the occasion of Mother’s Day.
“Mother’s Day sucks. It is horrid and we tend to go out and eat mum’s favorite foods and have a glass of wine and toast her and have a little walk on the beach. I try to keep busy as there are always tears,” she admits.
Paula’s friend of 30 years, Marie, gifted her a blue bead made of Lily’s ashes which she wears on a Pandora bangle. Each year, Paula gets a new charm to put on the bangle to commemorate her beloved mother.
“Jane”, who asked to remain anonymous, is a domestic worker from the Philippines, who lives in Grand Cayman and tragically lost her mother when she was just twelve years old.
Jane often spends Mother’s Day and other days reflecting on her childhood growing up motherless, particularly as she was the only girl in her family and was forced to take over stereotypical “mothering activities.”
Both of Jane’s grandmothers have also passed on.
Working in households in Grand Cayman, where she frequently sees mothers with their children, makes Jane feel very sad, especially in circumstances in which children take their mothers for granted or are disrespectful.
“It breaks my heart when I remember my lost mom,” she says amid tears. “I wish I could still have my mother now. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be here in this world. I wouldn’t be here living in Cayman. If I could turn back time, I would. I would make her so proud of me, of where I am now, but I always think to myself that she is my guardian angel and I am here because of her.
If you have a mother, treasure her while she is alive,” she says.
If there is any message in these stories, it is that Mother’s Day is not always a celebration. And sometimes, it’s just complicated.
Says Deborah Spungen, who lost her daughter Nancy to murder in 1978:
Jews had the custom of rending their garments – literally tearing their clothes –to symbolize the ripping apart that death brings. But the question was raised, after the period of mourning, could you sew the garment up and use it again? The teachers answered yes, but when you mended it, you should not tuck the edges under so it would look as if it had never been torn. This symbolized the fact that life after grief is not the same as before. The rent will show.
That “rent” can take on a variety of forms and experiences.
This Mother’s Day, let’s remember to be empathic and conscious of the many stories that make up this thing called life.