You’re Allowed To Feel Joy, Even If Mother’s Day Is Complex

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Mother’s Day has always brought many emotions for me at various times of my life. Speaking with friends, I believe it is a universal feeling. I had what feels like a lifetime of Mother’s Day celebrations focusing on my own amazing mother and have many cherished memories of my mom growing up. She is now celebrating her 14th heavenly Mother’s Day, and that in itself is bittersweet.

Early Motherhood

Fast forward to the birth of my firstborn child, an incredible, beautiful baby boy. As he made his way into my world, I was blessed to experience another side of Mother’s Day, the side that would be carried with me for the rest of my life. I welcomed him in the fall of 1983. That day, October 30, became the first best day of my 23 years. I was beyond blessed to have three more best days, welcoming perfect, healthy, tiny pink bundles into my world.

Always wanting to be a mom since I can remember, I realized after holding my son that motherhood simply may be the one job I was created for. Pregnancy was such a beautiful time for me. I loved it. I’m not saying I didn’t have aches or pains, as I had chronic daily migraines for over half of all four of my pregnancies. However, the miracle of carrying a baby inside my own body, the changes and growth happening each and every day, the dream of what this child would mean to our family and how they would somehow impact this world in their own beautiful way, was the most incredible feeling I ever experienced. I was overjoyed.

I thanked God every single day. I prayed for their present and their future, their health and their choices, their minds and their hearts, their gifts and their challenges. I prayed for their dreams and goals, their faith and protection, and that their childhood would be spared from the horrendous hurts and evildoers that I knew could change their life and mine in one fleeting moment. I can say to this day, no matter what life handed us and even though we were not granted perfection or a pain-free life, I was not disappointed. We became a family unit and handled these joys and challenges together.

Four siblings sit together on a couch
Courtesy of Donna Heck

Juggling Expectations

By 1994, I had four absolutely incredible children and counted my blessings. With those blessings, Mother’s Day would arrive and was often complicated. Do I continue to celebrate my own mother the way I have my entire life, by visiting her and my grandma, who lived over an hour away, not finding time at home for my new mother-in-law or my own littles? Do I feel guilty because I truly just want to stay home and celebrate my own family and begin traditions of pretending I’m asleep so my kids could wake me up and surprise me with a homemade breakfast in bed? A tray consisting sometimes of bread⁠—not toast⁠—and butter lovingly spread, an apple or a grape, a Hostess cupcake or a leftover crumbled cookie, a picked flower or dandelion, and a big glass of half-spilled milk? Coffee in those days was a bit too complicated to make, so you new moms should thank God for the Keurig looming in the future. The menu would change as the kids grew, but certainly, their hearts and love for me would always be evident.

I was grateful for the few years my Dad took Mom away on a trip for Mother’s Day. I was spared my ‘daughter guilt’ those years. We were able to stay home and play tag outside, cook hotdogs on the grill, watch movies, and go for a drive in the country, being sure to end the day with ice cream. Mother’s Day had just become all about me, right?

Times changed and the complexity of life and Mother’s Day grew. Could I please have a half-day alone since I am a mother for 364 days of the year and am so exhausted? Can I sleep in, take a bath with the door closed, do my nails, and read a book for just one morning? A dream was to have a night in a hotel room alone without one responsibility on the day marked Mother’s Day. Just a little bit of me time, please?

Thankfully, reality prevails. Mother’s Day weekends often consisted of soccer or baseball tournaments out of town, McDonald’s drive-thru for dinner, and mothering alone because Dad had other responsibilities. A phone call to my mom was possible if I got home in time because cell phones were not a thing yet. Or, best-case scenario, mom would meet us at a game, and I could enjoy the daughter and mom gig in one place.

I vividly remember how the moment came when I could finally collapse in bed. It was much later than I hoped, but I was able to check homework, bathe the baby, pick out outfits for the littles, and pack all the lunches for tomorrow. Now, lying in bed I could reflect on the day and once again remember today was Mother’s Day! Oops, I nearly forgot.

Eventually, I was lucky enough to gain two more beautiful daughters growing my tribe to six kids overnight, and I have been blessed with 20 plus years of a full house. Through the years, the traditional Mother’s Day scenario has changed, not only for me, but for so many of you as well.

Family sitting together smiling
Courtesy of Donna Heck

Losses on Mother’s Day

As we age, moms are lost, leaving us motherless. Some people never experienced the protection of a mother figure in their life and mourn this day for the emptiness felt within. Dad may be the face we think of and celebrate on Mother’s Day because all the love and responsibilities fell solely on him. We think of our grandmothers who meant so much to us growing up, wishing we could have one more visit with them and wrap our arms around their neck, telling them how loved and important they are to us!

Sadly, some of us mourn the tiny babies we lost while carrying them inside us. Perhaps it was a mere 5 weeks or the milestone of 20 weeks. Either way, this pain is so raw and horrible, it never truly dissipates because that child would have told the world we really are a mom. World, please, please, don’t forget about me!

There is the tremendous and oftentimes unappreciated horrific heartbreak of the baby some of us never could conceive. Couples try absolutely everything humanly possible, and each month the longing continues and the emptiness grows. Facing possible bankruptcy from their long journey and the hopelessness of years of disappointment, hearts and souls are shattered, relationships broken, and the deep longing for their baby is only a dream. Every year, Mother’s Day opens this wound once again, with the reminder of a huge loss perhaps noticed only by them.

Finally is the unimaginable loss of a beautiful child given to us to love, care for, and nurture, yet who grew up in this world for only a brief moment in time. The child in our arms and in our life whom we had no choice but to give back. Whatever age this precious child gained their wings, is always too early to accept. Are three months enough? Are three years or even 33 years, as is the case with my daughter, enough? Never.

There are so many dreams you have yet for your child and so many experiences they have yet to enjoy. Playdates to bike riding and driver’s license to graduation are all memories etched in pencil. They can be erased at any moment or, tragically, may never happen. From kindergarten to college, weddings to grandchildren, and careers to traveling the world, somehow these milestones will never be reached. You wanted only the very best for your child, and now you somehow feel you have failed them. You promised them a life filled with joy and adventure. Laughter and safety. That child is now gone and all you have left are the oftentimes painful memories of days gone by and photographs to treasure those moments.

You may be blessed, as I am, to have other children and a baseball team of grandchildren to celebrate. You may be fortunate enough that your own mom and grandma are still nearby, holding your hand as you are walking this blind journey of grief and child loss. Or, you may feel all alone, drowning in your own tears and pain. Whatever the situation, it is unfair. It is excruciating and heart-wrenching. It is so devastating and you feel it may possibly destroy you from the inside out. This is not the life you planned or dreamed of. Yes, you can count the amazing gifts in your life, but this loss is overwhelming at times.

Grandparents with their grandchildren
Courtesy of Donna Heck

Living with the Pain

It is not wrong to sit in the pain and feel it. It is what must be done in order to move through it. I have learned that grief is a process filled with baby steps. Some are forward and others are backward. At the end of the day, you may have moved inches…backwards. You feel defeated and the grief consumes you once again. But then, somehow, by the end of the next month, you find yourself two steps ahead. Rejoice in that!! You survived. Is it a month or a year? Three or thirteen? It does not matter, you are living with this grief and at times, finding the joy you once felt. You have somehow made it through anniversaries and firsts, and you are miraculously still breathing. You are the poster child for believing there comes a moment where grief and joy can co-exist in the same lifetime.

As you reflect on whatever Mother’s Day has bestowed upon you, give yourself grace through your journey. You can experience the joy that this day was created for, to honor and thank all the mother figures in your life. Those who have loved you unconditionally and without reservation. Those who support you and sacrifice their own wants for yours, to help you experience your personal dreams and goals and celebrate your success. In that same moment, you can be encompassed in grief over the pain this day triggers. Loss of moms and grandmas. Special aunts and others that you miss so dearly. Foods and flowers that immediately draw your mind back to the moments in time you spent with your loved ones. Memories that still may be too painful to recall.

And, for moms like me, this day reminds me of past Mother’s Days when my oldest daughter showered me with her love. She would send gifts and text messages with hearts and memes. ‘I love you mommy’ would be in every card and note. It did not matter to her that she was in her thirties, I would always and forever be her mommy. I search for saved voicemails and cards. Why didn’t I keep them all? I ask myself that question so often, knowing there is no answer.

I look at the phone knowing it is silent. Her smile from the picture on the mantle radiates her happiness from another time. My grief is heavy. My heart breaks. And then, without notice or even a breeze, the chimes outside sing me a song. A monarch butterfly lands on my flowers. A colorful bird makes certain I know it is there. Dani makes herself known. I smile. I hug myself as I feel her ‘Dani bumps.’ I make peace with my life because she is still with me. And, on cue, the phone rings, and I see little faces at my front door. My children and grandchildren are right here to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. My heart explodes with joy. I recall that moment over 38 years ago when I knew I was created for this moment. I am truly blessed to be a mother.”

Daughter and mom standing together smiling
Courtesy of Donna Heck

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Donna Mencini Heck from Mansfield, Ohio. You can follow her journey on InstagramBlogFacebook, and WebsiteSubmit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from Donna here:

‘Your child’s graduation or wedding day is a painful reminder our child’s day will never happen.’: Grieving mother pens letter to friends of bereaved parents

‘Attending the funeral of a 24-year-old was so scary. Little did I know, 9 years later, it would be my turn.’: Mom of daughter lost to suicide shares advice for others grieving

I Wondered How I Could Do Forever When I Couldn’t Make It Through Today

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