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The Glorious Sadness of Mother’s Day

Posted on Sunday, May 12, 2024
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by David P. Deavel
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AMAC EXCLUSIVE

Happy-Mothers-Day

Holidays have the potential to be sad affairs. None more so than the days dedicated to loved ones. Memory is a gift but can be an emotional peril. St. Augustine said it can be a tomb in which we are buried. He was mostly talking about our memories of sin, but even our memories of goodness can overwhelm us with a sense of loss. Mother’s Day is such a day. Yet even the sadness brought about by our memories is a gift, for it testifies to the glorious reality of love that was and is real. 

Since the loss of my own mother to cancer at the too-young age of 63 twenty-one years ago, Mother’s Day has always been emotionally difficult. I’m writing this column before the day arrives, but I know it will be so again. On Friday morning, Houston-area talk radio host Michael Berry did his special Mother’s Day show. He read messages, played short recordings, and took calls from listeners about their own mothers. He encouraged his audience, rightly, to call their mothers that day—“Don’t wait for Mother’s Day!” As I often do, I wanted to take Berry’s advice, for it is sound. But the realization hit me yet again: I can’t do so.   

You’d think I would have adjusted after all these years. When Mom died, my cousin Jennifer—having lost her mother, my aunt, nine years before—said that I would always want to call my mom up. She was exactly right. And yet it strikes me every time I realize it.

What is it that strikes me? Many people talk about a mother’s love in terms of “comfort,” but they forget the older meaning of comfort: “with strength.” C. S. Lewis experienced that loss very early, when he lost his mother at the age of nine. He wrote in his memoir, Surprised by Joy: “With my mother’s death, all settled happiness disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security.” “Her absence,” he said, “is like the sky, spread over everything.”

Indeed, mothers, it is said, are “Mama Bears” who will defend, rightly or wrongly, their brood and fight for and with them. Writing about his mother’s death, the journalist Mitch Albom observed that the true effect of the death of one’s parents is a feeling of being truly “alone” and “without backup” in one’s “battles.”

Mom’s “backup” was perhaps most obvious in my brother’s and my sports events, of which she missed precious few that I can never remember. She was always rooting for me. My own kids get embarrassed when I shout too loudly at sporting events; but I don’t think I hold a candle to my own mom. She was a much gentler soul than I. Nevertheless, I also think I yell at umpires and referees less than she did.

And when it came to school itself, she was similarly always there—literally. Once both my brother and I were in school, she got jobs there, first in the cafeteria and then doing secretarial and accounting jobs in order to be near us and keep the same hours. If I forgot something, she would be willing to drive home and get it. And she would also be there to talk to if things went completely awry. She did the same for other kids, too. She would keep a tin of candies on her desk to give to those for whom a hug was just not enough. She was the back-up in battle, the provider of security for a lot of kids and even some of the adults there.

Of course, my mother would not defend me if I were being punished with just cause. I spent my share of time in the principal’s office, sometimes getting paddled, when I was younger. But she would move heaven and earth if I were being treated unfairly.

The main way, however, that my mother gave me strength was in her talking to me. Perhaps I was weird, but as I got older, I would often come in and sit on the floor by her bed after being out late with friends. This was ostensibly to let her know I made it home alive, but the real reason was that I could share what was happening with her and get her take on things and how I’d reacted to them. And she just loved being part of my brother’s and my lives.

When I left home for college, I would talk to her at least several times a week for the same reason. When I was sick, just as when I was a small child, I always felt better when her voice was in my ears. Oddly enough, she would often call me, having intuited from one-hundred-plus miles away that I was sick. But she could also tell when I was down and just needed cheering up.

After I was married, and especially after our first son was born, Mom and I talked on the phone even more. You don’t realize how wise and wonderful your parents are until you’re married with children. At that point, she was several years into her battle with the ovarian cancer that would kill her. I wanted to take in as much of her wisdom as possible as well as keep talking to her forever. That she would die only a little more than a year after her first grandchild was born seemed profoundly unfair to her—but also to me.

That sensation of aloneness, that awful absence, was indeed everywhere. As the years have passed, I have often asked God why he took her so early, when she could have both enjoyed the grandchildren she never met and also helped us with them. There are answers I could probably hazard, but they never seem quite right. God’s ways are indeed unsearchable.

And yet, for those who, like this writer, find Mother’s Day difficult, there is still a great deal to be said. The grief we feel for our lost mothers has a cause. The love of a mother is itself something truly great for which we can be thankful. God explains his own love to the prophet Isaiah by analogy to the secure love of a mother. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” The sadness of all those who have lost their mother is a glorious one. Its shadows are so deep because the light that was covered is so very strong. To have experienced that love at all is a great, great gift.

 But, as a Christian, there is more. I do believe that that love was indeed covered up but not snuffed out. I may not perceive it, but it is still there. Those who are “away from the body,” as St. Paul put it, are “at home with the Lord.” I trust that my mother, whose faith, hope, and love were shining beacons for me, dwells with Christ where her love has been brought to fulfillment. As I thank God for her today with teary eyes, I hope that I may see her again one day in the city in which every tear has been wiped away.

David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X (Twitter) @davidpdeavel.

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Elisabeth (Liz)
Elisabeth (Liz)
17 days ago

Very nicely put. My children and I have a similar growing up time. My son calls me often to talk about daily situations and takes my advice when needed. Your article warmed my heart. It will be nice to see my Mom and also my Grandmother in heaven again.

Pamela
Pamela
17 days ago

Great tribute to your mom. I lost my mama in 2022. She was a grand, wise old age of 89, very close to 90. We were very blessed to have her all these years. I still want to call her and tell her “things” that happened that day. No matter what age, it is a tremendous loss to lose your mother.

Gary Foster
Gary Foster
18 days ago

A mother’s love is the next best thing to God’s love. When we think of all we do, even though we Christians strive to be righteous, that is a sin against God, he is steadfast in His unconditional love for us. The same holds true for a good mother.

Lynne
Lynne
18 days ago

Beautiful tribute.

It doesn’t matter what age you are, when u lose your mother you become an orphan.

Barbara
Barbara
13 days ago

I was deeply touched by this article. I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer in 2009. At the age of 77, having 4 children, 7 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren, my mother was still an involved fan of school sports.She was known as Grandma by school sports teams.Now, after 15 years, I still want to call her. She was my best friend.

Wilkeiii
Wilkeiii
18 days ago

Mothers and Fathers pass. Even if it is too young, that is the natural order. You have absolutely no concept of the sadness of Mother’s or Father’s Day until you have lost a child.

Sounds like it
Sounds like it
17 days ago

Are you sure you aren’t gay? Lol

An older blonde women laughing in the kitchen with a grey haired man.
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