May 7, 2010

An Open Letter to Motherless Daughters on Mother's Day weekend


(My mother and I in Florida, April 1967)



On a Mother’s Day morning about eight or nine years ago, my daughter Maya, who was then still in preschool, surprised me with breakfast in bed. On the wooden tray she proudly thrust onto my lap was a cup of orange juice, a whole apple still cold from the refrigerator, and her version of a “cheese sandwich”: a slice of cheese between two slices of cheese.

The cheese sandwich has become an annual tradition in our family, sometimes presented to me on the morning of my birthday as well, and there’s a good chance I might see one this Sunday morning, even though Maya is now twelve and her sister Eden nine. They’re quite capable in the kitchen these days, able to make omelets and French toast on their own, but the cheese sandwich is, well, the Cheese Sandwich. Mother’s Day isn’t Mother’s Day in our house without one now.

I’m grateful for this family tradition, however small, because for many years Mother’s Day was such a dark spot on my calendar. Without a mother to honor on that day, I felt there was no place for me to fit. In the seventeen years since Motherless Daughters was first published, I’ve heard from many readers who’ve felt and still feel the same way. Even those with children of their own feel the absence of their mothers more acutely on the day set aside specifically to remember the ones who birthed us. The initiative for a national Mother’s Day was started in 1907 by a motherless daughter who was looking for a public way to honor all mothers, but somehow evolved into a day to honor only those who are living (and able to physically receive bouquets of flowers and Hallmark cards). But where did that leave women whose mothers had died or were otherwise absent?

In 1996, a small group of women set out to answer this question, instituting the first Motherless Daughters Day luncheon in New York City. They chose the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend to give motherless women a special time and place to honor mothers who were no longer alive. Over the years that tradition has expanded to more than a dozen cities nationwide, including Los Angeles; Detroit; Buffalo, NY; and Orange County, CA. (For a listing, see the Support Groups page at www.hopeedelman.com.) At some point during each luncheon, women join hands and participate in the Circle of Remembrance. They go around the circle and in turn each state their names and their mothers’. “Hope, daughter of Marcia,” I say, when my turn comes around.

There is something enormously powerful about standing in a roomful of motherless women simultaneously honoring dozens of lost mothers at the same time, and speaking their names out loud. How many times a year do I actually say my mother’s name out loud? Sadly, not that many. But on this weekend, she has a whole day of honor. Instead of grieving her absence, it encourages me to celebrate her influence.

For me, the Sunday of Mother’s Day has become a day to spend with my two daughters, starting with a Cheese Sandwich in bed. I won’t lie to you: it’s still deeply sad for me to not have my mother to call on that day. But Motherless Daughters Day—tomorrow—has become the day I set aside to remember her. Not in her final, bedridden state, but as the dynamic, healthy presence she was for the majority of my life. The one who gave me, without either of us knowing it, the foundation I would one day need to manage without her for so long.

This is my 29th Mother’s Day without a mother. A part of me can’t believe it’s even possible to write that; I still feel her presence so strongly in much of what I do. Just yesterday morning I was showing Eden how to separate an egg yolk from an egg white, and it was as if my mother’s hands were guiding mine. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that she taught me to do it herself, in the gold and avocado kitchen of my childhood.

I remember the first few Mother’s Days I spent without her, and how devastatingly sad and lonely they were. And then I remember how empowering it felt to attend that first Motherless Daughters Day celebration and speak her name out loud. “I am Hope, daughter of Marcia.” No matter how many motherless Mother’s Days pass, that statement will always be true.

On this Mother’s Day and Motherless Daughters Day weekend, I extend my warmest wishes to those of you who have lost mothers, the sincerest hope that you will have comfort and peace this weekend, and the blessings of a beautiful and bountiful year. Those of you who’ve written to me this past year—hundreds of you!--have warmed my heart with your stories, and inspired me with your generosity of spirit. You are all such strong, resilient, and courageous women. It has been an honor to advocate on your behalf for these past seventeen years.

With all best everything,
Hope

27 comments:

Jen Bilik said...

I am Jen, daughter of Lynn. It's been 18 Mother's Days without a mother, or a daughter. Thank you for this beautiful, tears-to-my-eyes-at-the-office (NSFW?) piece. I love the cheese sandwich.

Karen Funk Blocher said...

Wow. I thought it was probably weird of me to find Mother's Day painful, 7 1/2 years after my mom's death, so it's good to know it's not just me. Actually, it was kind of painful before that. People tend to assume that every adult woman is a mother, and wish them greetings for the day. But first we weren't sure about having kids, and then we weren't able. So Mother's Day has, for all of my adult life, been kind of an "outside looking in" holiday. Thanks for the new perspective!

Kelly said...

I am Kelly, daughter of Mickey. This is my first Mother's Day without my Mama... She died on March 13th of this year of colon cancer, and my heart aches for her. I really enjoyed reading "Motherless Daughters" the book - thank you for writing it!

Meredith said...

The beauty of your book is that there is so much to relate on so many levels. Not to mention the community it has created. Just awesome.

Ilene said...

I am Ilene, daughter of Phyllis. It's hard to imagine that it's been 37 years ago that my mother died. In fact, she was 37 herself.
Hope, we met back in the early years of Motherless Daughters and helping to plan the luncheon and meeting so many women changed my life. Thank you for all that you've done for motherless daughters.

Tanga said...

I am Tangie, daughter of Remy. I lost my mom to pancreatic cancer 8 years ago. Just before my mom's passing, the hospice nurse recommended I read Motherless Daughters. Your book has really helped me get through some of the toughest moments of dealing with my mom's death.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this...

Latino Heritage said...

I am Roberta daughter of Nellie. She died July 1st almost 10 years ago.
I remember her often, especially on Dia de los muertos. We will visit her grave tomorrow - missing her voice and remembering her as a part of our day to day lives.

adventuresofpower said...

I made a movie about my mom's death, which won the student Oscar. Wanted to share it with the other motherless on Mother's Day.

I posted it here:
http://arigoldfilms.com/index.php?page=helicopter

steffsings said...

Thank you, this is a wonderful way to lend support to Motherless Daughter. I wanted to share a little of my journey:
1) I found my mothers gravesite last year-she died when I was 6yrs 2) I'm working to purchase her a headstone *she's in an unmarked grave* I never knew 3)I visited for the 1st time a few months ago 4)I started a memorial site for her today to celebrate tomorrow
5) I'm finally feeling like I'm getting to know her & peace is coming soon & I left a trail and a tale for others to follow.

Thanks for being here... Steffannie


http://hubpages.com/hub/Motherless-to-Mothering

http://hubpages.com/hub/Finding-a-Mom-to-Celebrate-For-Mothers-Day

Carrie Wilson Link said...

I love that picture!

Krista Kennell said...

I am Krista, daughter of Carol. It's my first Mother's Day without her as she passed away September 18th of Non-Hodkins Lymphoma. I am struggling, but thankful for the community you have built.

Anonymous said...

I am Randy, daughter of Shirley. Writing this thru tears, it's been 30 years since I lost my mother at the age of 17. I take comfort in the fact that others are grieving today as I am. Thank you all for sharing your stories.

Anjanette said...

Anjanette, daughter of Marcee. This is my 20th mother's day without a mother. The anniversary of her death is actually May 11th so Mother's Day and her death anniversary are close which makes me really hate mother's day. Even though I have three small children, it is not easy. Thanks for the post. It made me cry but feel better at the same time.

Susan said...

A wonderful piece. I miss my mother so often - after five years, I still raise the telephone at times to call her, always a surge of sadness that I cannot...I am Susan, daughter of Lois.

Hope Edelman said...

Thank you all for these beautiful words of support to each other--and thank you adventuresofpower for the link to your film. Steffsings, that's huge that you're going to mark your mother's grave. What an incredible opportunity to honor her. It can help you greatly on your own personal journey.

Taffy said...

I am Taffy, this was my fourth mother's day without mum, sadly she also passed away in the month of may, when I miss her towards mother's day i just go to the greeting card section to read some mother's day messages..

Kathy said...

My mom has not passed away but has abandoned me from the age of five. I want to pick up the phone and call her but she won't answer.I have tried throughout the years. I have been motherless for thirty years. Its hitting me hard and a friend recommended your books to help with my loss. I never knew this existed. I thought I was alone. Thank you for your post.

melissa said...

I really like your blog! I'm a new author and have enjoyed this new experience. I find that it's the most difficult and most rewarding. I'm also a graphic designer and love having that creative outlet as well.
Thanks for your post! I will be back for more updates. :-)

Melissa Nielsen
frommysomewhatseriousmind.blogspot.com
www.printhis.biz

paula said...

I am Paula, daughter of Jeanette. It has been 32 years since my mohter died of ovarian cancer. Thank you for a poignant article. I always thought I was an anomaly-- sad on Mother's Day, and even sad on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my own birthday (January) since she died when I was 10 exactly a week before Christmas; Thanksgiving was the last time I saw her. I turned 11 a month after her death. Although I'm a mother of two beautiful girls ages 10 and 13, I miss her each and every day. Mothers Day is bittersweet.

carrie said...

I am Carrie, daughter of Debbie. This is my 29th Mother's day without my mother who died of cancer when I was 4 1/2. Hope, your letter was so validating and made me feel connected to many other motherless daughters for the first time in my life. Mother's Day has always been extremely hard, and I thought that after having my son, it would feel 'fixed' somehow...but alas it has continued to be hard in different ways each year. Because of your letter, I did a special ritual for my mom of lighting candles, putting out her pictures, wearing some of her jewelry and singing songs. I also involved my son in some of the ritual so that he can get to know his Grandma Debbie. I introduced them to each other and it was so sweet to hear him say her name while he looked at her picture. I asked him what song he would like to sing and he said "Happy Birthday" so he sang her happy birthday (he is 2:) It was very sweet. I realized I didn't want him going his whole life not knowing who she was. In a way it was strange to introduce her...and try to pass on stories about her...because she died when I was so young, I didn't even get to know her very well. Saying, I am "Carrie, daughter of Debbie" has also been a powerful new thing. Thank you for being such a validating presence in the lives of so many of us motherless daughters. I hope that you had a wonderful cheese sandwich today and that you felt celebrated while also honoring your mom.

Anonymous said...

Motherless children need our care and support and for all children who do not have their biological mothers but mother figures in their lives they should also appreciate these self less women who have devoted their lives to taking care of them.Mothers Day Messages

Anonymous said...

I am Susan, daughter of Lou. I lost my mother almost 22yrs ago. Exactly 3 wks before I gave birth to my only son. I don't like any holidays because both my parents are gone,but I've always made a big effort for my son. I have to say that being motherless is also hard on boys and men. So to all of you boys and men, take part in this celebration cause we know how painfull it is for you also. I have a video of my wedding 4mths before Mom died that I've shown to my son and he knows what my mom sounds like, her laughter. Priceless memento for me.

Anonymous said...

I am Katie daughter of Debbie. I can't remember the last time I stated that; especially now my dad is remarried. How powerful it truly is. This will be my 5th Mother's day without my beautiful mum by my side, who passed of cancer when I was 22. I am lucky I have many beautiful women in my life who l know love me dearly and I appreciate that beyond words, but there's nothing like a mother's love. I miss my mum dearly every day and can empathise with all of us motherless daughters. Thanks for sharing, it helps to know we are not alone.

Terez Mertes said...

I guess it's been three years since this was posted, but oh wow, all these similar responses and reactions to my own feelings. I just posted a blog about "Honoring the Motherless Daughter Today" at my blog, The Classical Girl. What a treat to show up here and find so many reactions similar to mine. Everyone seems to have read my mind. What a comfort! What a great site to discover on the eve of Mother's Day.

Marcia said...

I am Marcia daughter of Alice. After her sudden death in her sleep 23 years ago, Mother's Day became a time of extreme pain for me. I wouldn't go to church on that day because I didn't have a mother and I wasn't a mother. I felt that I was nowhere on the motherhood scale. It was many years before the pain eased. I still miss her like crazy, but I am very grateful that I had her for 43 years. Thank you, Hope, for turning your own pain into help for others.

Anjanette said...

I am Anjanette daughter of Janet. This is my 2nd Mother's Day without my mom and it's NOT easier than the first. I'm planning to spend the day with three wonderful women who are nurturing and loving and also plant some flowers in my father's yard in her memory. I try to be happy for all the people who are honoring their mothers in hopes that gratitude will lift my spirits - it's not working. I just think how unfair that I can't send my mother the tulips that she so adored. I love the ideas some of you have had so I think I may also wear some of her jewelry and then eat Oregon strawberries as well as plant flowers. That's what she would have done.