Motherless Mother’s Days and Other Anti-Ceremonial Spins

April 7th was the forty-first anniversary of my mother’s death. Grief cracked right through me like some sort of trick, soon to arrive Easter egg, I thought was hard-boiled but had eluded the process.  Forty-one years and all that oozing loss still in there.

A very wise therapist who wrote a book about grief, said our problem as adults is we never learn how to grieve, which is a necessary and on-going process (loss being so continual a factor in our lives).  All change, good or not so, involves letting go of something.

Simple math. April 7th is just about a month and change before Mother’s Day and thus, on the list of the ceremonial occasions I truly either dread or loathe; Valentine’s Day, Xmas, New Year’s Eve, weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs, all events that require performance masks (“this is how you are supposed to feel, dress, behave”), Mother’s Day reigns supreme.

So, my first Motherless Mother’s Day, all those years ago.  The mantle, had really passed eight years before when I was twenty and my mother was first operated on for the colon cancer that eventually killed her (or, mercifully removed what little was left of her, effective human disposal machine that it is).

But, now, there was no possible hope of some miraculous return to the Bunny hutch.  My daughter was three. My son was 3 months. My father was crazy, my relatives were, shall we say, not even in the omelet line.  My then marriage was disappearing as fast as the Easter Bunny the day after.  And my mother was dead.  What did that mean, exactly? After all, I was 28 years old. I had a career, a life in the world, friends, why would I still need a mother so much?

Gloria Nagy and her parents

Me and my parents

There is a wonderful book written just about this. It’s called Motherless Daughters and it actually details the emotional and somatic “symptoms” that shadow the lives of women based on the ages they were when their mothers died.  And, the Twenties have a plethora of fears and demons, that I had assumed were just my own neuroses, but seem to be rather universal.  It turns out, losing your mother as an adult (whatever jokesters believe that we are adults in our twenties) has a lot of not so over-easy messes attached to it.  It wasn’t just ME.  Wow.

There is a special unnamed club of sorts, made up of those of us who have lost a parent, especially a same sex parent and most especially a mother, well before we have any reasonable expectation of such a loss (my mother was 59 and I, thus, never felt I would make it to 60). We are different.  We KNOW something (and I’ll just talk about women, here, no offense gentlemen) that women who still have mothers, even women my age whose mothers are 90 or more, do not know.

We are next in line. No one to lean on, turn to for support, wisdom, to share adorable bon mots about their grandchildren or hold our hands in a crisis. Even lousy mothers mostly do some of this stuff.  And so, we tend to be wiser, “older” and angrier than the non-members. That is, if we’re lucky. If not, we just keep searching for Mom in all the wrong places and never grow up and face the Humpty Dumpty reality. They are gone. They are never coming back.  We are alone and we are IT.

Every year I space out the anniversary of her death and start my Mother’s Day Dread of that yolky smear of long repressed sadness and longing for protection, comfort, a bond that is just not replaceable, whether our real mothers created it with us or not.  And the Demon part, my kids will forget all about me or hurt my feelings with some sort of last minute, ‘Oh, shit, it’s Mother’s Day’ token. My grandchildren will do the ceremonial “call” and I will really just want to curl up in the much underrated fetal position and wait until it’s over.

Why does it feel like a test of who loves you?  Here’s a clue; the multi-million dollar flower and card business and all those “Corsage Brunches”.  They should BAN Mother’s and Father’s Day and eliminate the phony performance and guilt-inducing bullshit attached to these events, (all set-ups for internal disaster, disappointment, unmet expectations) and stop the relentless media features and unctuous interviews with beloved Mothers bragging about what their perfect children and grandchildren did to celebrate them.

First, people lie, second, who can live up to that fantasy or should feel that whatever their children do or don’t do is a mark of their love rather than their guilt?  I don’t want to listen to other mothers carry on about surprise visits from long distance offspring, breakfasts in bed, poems in their honor. And I don’t want my kids to feel they have to do any of it.  If they should have a Muppet Moment anytime in any year and just do something swell, isn’t that more authentic?

I was a great celebrator of my mother on Mother’s Day.  It is in my nature.  I am far better at mothering, than being mothered and whether that’s the chicken or the Easter egg, I will probably never know.  So, this year, when all this raw, un-cooked emotion suddenly poured out (go figure), I was finally able to feel what I needed to feel.  I hope this Mother’s Day I will fare better.

Apparently, it was the creation of one zealous woman who then tried to stop it.  Too late.  Commerce had stolen it, just like Christmas and the others. Command Performances are big business and Motherless Mother’s Day ain’t ever going to be a Hallmark card.


  1. Gloria! This is GREAT writing! You are the voice for all women. Ever since we first read you, we have known of your Wisdom…and this triumph brings you back to your hungry fans. Thank you for doing this, for sharing your gorgeous loving heart, and for giving us more of You.
    Hugs, VJ

  2. I know that when my my mom was alive, she was so happy if we brought her a rose from our garden for no special reason, or some sweet bread on a random Sunday morning. Mostly, I believe that she just wanted US to be well and happy, and to come and BE with her, to put aside our busy lives and let her know she was loved and still important. It is hard to compress all of that into one “Mother’s Day” and have it mean as much as if we did it all year long, and now that she is gone…I can’t even do that. The crass commercialism is depressing, not just on mother’s day but all the other holidays you mentioned. It makes it feel like we are honoring our mothers because the calendar says the day has come to go buy some flowers and candy and get over to the her house. It is easy to imagine her feeling hurt, slighted, and just bearing down to get through the day. But my mom was so gracious, so loving, so sweet, that she never let on if it bothered her. Maybe she didn’t really like the shallowness of it all, but there was such joy evident in her eyes when her family gathered that I think the fact that it was mother’s day was less important to her than that we were together. I think that was most important to her, no matter what the calendar said, and now that she is gone that is how I choose to remember it. It helps ME get through mother’s day. J

  3. It’s such a fantastic read! I especially love the part about a “muppet moment”. Look forward to reading more.

  4. Love reading your blog – or is it blogs? You have the unique ability to disect life into proper pieces and make sense of it. Could that stem from your early sentence diagramming training??? Whatever it is, keep it up and help bring some sense of “Im Okay, You’re Okay” to the rest of us.

  5. My dearest Glo, Beautiful….I felt as if I was grieving with you..which of course i have…..Love, Jano


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