Mother's Day When You're Unmothered

Illustration for article titled Mothers Day When Youre Unmothered

If you get a chance, read Meghan O'Rourke's tribute to her mother on Slate: it's beautiful, and an interesting counterpoint for those people who don't have mothers but still, like the rest of us, are unavoidably inundated with Mother's Day.


In the past few weeks, we — like, I'm sure, most of the wired world — have been inundated with Mother's Day-related emails: cocktails and lubes and waxes and burlesque brunches (yes, really) as well as the more traditional flowers or less thematically-tenuous spa treatments. Mom, TV and radio tells us, craves all-she-can-scarf shrimp and trips to the casino and and free movie tickets and shots at the lottery and jewelry made of old dominoes. For most of us, these are a passing irritation, or at best a laugh or a fleeting reminder to make that call come Sunday or get in a brunch reservation if there's still time. For those who've lost a mother, as O'Rourke points out, it's a hundred reminders a day of an absence. Even when, like her mother, the absent mother disdained the holiday itself.

We got a moving email from a reader yesterday who was struck by how difficult he found the first Mother's Day after his mother's death - despite the fact that, intellectually, he dismissed it as a Hallmark holiday. "I spent the day alone but did go for an awesome steak dinner with a picture of Mom at the table, tears streaming down my face throughout the meal," he wrote. Ironically, when the holiday loses its ability to generate revenue from Mom, it achieves its stated purpose of making us appreciate and celebrate her.


For those of us with the luxury of taking our mothers for granted and pushing away the inevitability of that loss, these stories are an important reminder. Whether this equates to more steaks and flowers sold is an open question, but I'm guessing it will result in a few phone-calls. This same reader told us that he'd like to hear how others celebrate a motherless mother's day. He'll doubtless gain comfort from O'Rourke's meditation and the heartfelt discussion it prompted, but I hope we can do our part to help expand the phenomenon. For all our sakes.

Unmothered, On Mother's Day [Slate]

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My father passed away soon after receiving a diagnosis of terminal stomach cancer couple of weeks before Father's Day, and it took me a while before I was able to stop taking all the marketing hype for Father's Day personally.

A couple of years ago, I was at Borders during the week before Father's Day, buying a Jeremy Clarkson (you know, one of the guys on Top Gear) anthology for my mother, who has something of an inexplicable crush on him. The girl in front of me had the same book. As the check-out girl was scanning it, she chirped "Your dad's gonna love that!" to which the girl buying the book replied, quite calmly, "Oh no, it's not for my dad. I haven't seen my dad since I was five. He used to beat my mother and so we left, so Father's Day isn't a big thing for us."

The poor check-out girl wasn't even able to gather enough words to say how sorry and embarrassed she was. Then it was my turn with the same book. She gave me this heart-breaking sideways look of humiliation, and all I could say was "And mine died four years ago."