Sure, I’m a sucker for Mother’s Day. What’s not to like—the pampering, the unaccustomed leisure, the meals I don’t prepare, the kids trying to cook, gift, charm and repair the brain damage caused the previous year? The media sing mom’s praises and the advertisers woo us with perfume, jewelry and lingerie. It’s a lovely custom, well timed in spring as lilacs bud, grass greens and warmth returns.
But lately I’ve been thinking about the other side of Mother’s Day: the heartbreak. For too many people, this day doesn’t mean corsages, brunches and presents. Within my immediate circle are seven teenagers whose moms have died and two moms whose sons have died, tragically young. Broaden this to all whose mothers or children have died recently. That’s a lot of people whose throats tighten when they see the impossibly attractive models in the newspaper or TV ads.
Imagine those whose mothers or children are serving in the military, or are incarcerated, institutionalized or alienated. Many women yearn to be mothers, but even the expensive ordeal of fertility treatments hasn’t filled their empty arms. Then there are moms who’ve given up a child for adoption, whose hearts harbor questions and whose hands long to tousle a toddler’s hair, even to know what color it is. Women who’ve had a recent miscarriage or a stillbirth—how must they feel?
Some might argue that the sorrow of some shouldn’t overshadow the joy of many. True enough. Let the celebration of moms continue full force—with a heightened sensitivity. If we are truly members of one mystical body in Christ, then for us, “when one cries, the other tastes the salt.” If one person delights in health, it doesn’t diminish compassion for another who is ill. So too for Mother’s Day. Emphasis on the “perfect” relationship (which no one has) worsens the heartache for those who feel distant from it.
We’re not out to reform the media here, a task like teaching a pig to sing—an annoying waste of time for both parties. Once again, we take a countercultural stance. Within the Catholic community, we should discover ways to make this holiday less painful for those who don’t fit the prefabricated mold.