For bereaved parents, Mother’s Day can be a perilous landscape of painful memories and heartache.
Eight years ago, my husband took my daughters, then 11 and 14, to pick out Mother’s Day gifts for me. They came home with two tiny trees, a Cherokee Brave Dogwood and a Star Magnolia. It was a sweet gesture with real meaning behind it.
I’d grown up with a sprawling dogwood tree on the front yard of my suburban Long Island home. I’d wanted to plant a dogwood tree ever since we’d moved a hundred miles north and purchased our house back in 2001. The desire for a magnolia tree came later. My neighbor’s yard boasted a once-expansive magnolia tree whose pink blossoms blanketed her yard (and our driveway) each April. It was an explosion of color that I grew to look forward to every year.
A new neighbor has since moved into that house and, for whatever reason, she cut the magnolia tree in half this past autumn. I’m not sure how long it will survive as a shadow of its former self. It bloomed again this year, but there were far fewer petals. I guess I can add that tree to the long list of things about spring — and Mother’s Day — that make me sad.
Eight Mother’s Days ago, we planted my gifted trees about twenty feet apart. They were fragile and small, not much more than sticks poking out of the ground. But their roots took hold, and they grew. Today, both trees are thriving.
The magnolia bloomed for the first time in March of 2017, not quite two weeks after my older daughter, Ana, died at age 15 from the rare cancer she’d been outrunning for nearly five years. The dogwood tree bloomed for the first time in late April of 2020. It was in its full glory on Mother’s Day of that year.
Both trees remind me, with equal clarity, that I have two daughters. I’ll always have two daughters. But it hurts my heart that Ana didn’t live long enough to see either tree bloom.
There is no occasion that glorifies mothers more effusively than Mother’s Day. It is an in-your-face public display of affection celebrating one of the most aspirational idealizations of women in Western culture. It seems to me that the holiday has no room or patience for sadness.