Credit: GG Online Editor Becca Luke

To absent mothers

By Emily Menger-Davies

What’s Mother’s Day like for those who no longer have their mum around? Emily Menger-Davies shares her experience.

“What are your plans for Mother’s Day?” The dreaded question inevitably arrives every year from an unassuming, innocent and well-intentioned acquaintance. As supermarket shelves fill to the brim with cards, flowers and chocolates, friends and family make plans for breakfast-in-bed menus and presents, and advertisements and social media posts pile up around you, it can feel suffocating for those of us left motherless on Mother’s Day. With Covid-19 having brought much grief with it in its path of destruction this year, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of the need for sensitivity around this day. 

Being a young person with a parent who has passed away is a very odd thing, it can feel old-fashioned, almost Dickensian at times. The happy, healthy, modern family narrative optimistically and understandably doesn’t leave much space for this particular category, and the assumption that you have a mother in your life is so strong that it can be overwhelming at times. Having lost my mother to illness at a young age, I’ve never known quite how to handle Mother’s Day, and surviving it emotionally intact can be a challenge – a little like being single on Valentine’s Day. In school, when it came to making Mother’s Day cards, having to correct your teacher’s assumptions was painful and it was an eternal frustration to me that equal importance wasn’t also accorded to Father’s Day, for which I was ready and armed with my best colouring pencils and artistic enthusiasm. Instead, I would make something for the patchwork parenting team of my father and grandmother who had joined forces, determined to still give me the best childhood possible. This alternative family was beautiful and worth celebrating in its own way. Instead of experimenting with my Mum’s makeup or tottering around in her heels, I tried on my Dad’s hats and stumbled around the garden in his sandals, and many of my friends were envious of the time I spent with my grandmother whilst they only got to see their grandparents in the holidays. Despite this, there has naturally always been a lingering grief and a notable absence in the conversation when it came to the Mother’s Day Sunday lunch. 

However, what interests me about this holiday is that it was this very absence that Mother’s Day was founded on. Rather than honouring the living, Mother’s Day originally came from a place of commemoration when it was founded by Anna Jarvis in 1908 in West Virginia in honour of her deceased mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, a peace activist during the American Civil War. Jarvis herself was later very critical of the commercialisation of the day by the floral and greetings card industries whom she viewed as having exploited and profited from the sentiment. These days, the profuse commercialisation surrounding Mother’s Day is only amplified by social media and digital advertising, which make it nigh on impossible to avoid something you’re perhaps not wanting to ignore but which you’d rather not be confronted with in a cheery slogan each time you enter into any digital or public space. 

I still don’t quite know what to do on Mother’s Day, and I don’t think there’s ever a simple answer to grief. I know I’ll talk with my family, and maybe I’ll do something my Mum would have enjoyed like buy a bunch of her favourite flowers or listen to some Kate Bush. To all those students celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend in the present tense, whether you can see your mother or not with lockdown restrictions, I am so happy for you and I hope you have a wonderful celebration. However, to those of you having a more commemorative Mother’s Day: whatever you decide to do, I’m sending you love, and I’ll raise a glass to absent mothers.


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Grand mère

This is a very beautiful piece of writing Emily … You will know that it moved me to tears , silly me who still call you too often by your mum’s name …. I send you all my love too .