Tomorrow is Mother’s Day here in Australia, and in many other countries across the globe.
It’s the day when thousands of small- and medium-size munchkins present their school-stall-bought presents, usually preceded by days of proud declarations of what the present isn’t that ineptly disguise and instantly reveal the present in question. Sometimes. One year my then-three year old walked back in from preschool, and simply announced at the top of her lungs, “Mummy! I got you some CHOCOLATE!!” … Parenting win! *grin*
Seriously, though, despite the pleasures of chocolates and treats, it must be acknowledged that we are surrounded by the trappings of a consumerist, materialist culture. It shouts at us from the television and the end of every supermarket aisle: “Hey you! It’s Mother’s Day! Be happy!” “Get your mum a pretty card, a great present, be a grateful kid and she’ll love you!” And then we take that message on board and twist it even deeper in our own minds, “You should be happy. Come on, you’re alive, aren’t you? How can you not be happy today? You ought to be grateful. Why are you feeling upset? What excuse do you have to be unhappy? Get over it…” and so the negative stories in our heads can go on.
Ugh. Have you ever noticed that telling yourself to be happy doesn't actually help to make you happy? It's more likely to do the opposite.
Many of our brothers and sisters are mourning today. People across the country mourn the loss of family relationships, through relocation, estrangement, and death. Some of them try to quash the pain under a festive smile and “it’s all good” attitude – but it’s still there. They mourn parents and parent-figures taken from them by disease, death or choice; children who died too soon or lost through family upheaval; babies who were stillborn or miscarried, or who never came into existence at all. Others live in a state of deep uncertainty – when they don’t know if they will ever receive the blessing of children, or who are facing the possibility that maybe they don’t have much time with that child or parent left.
For many, Mother’s Day is more a day of grief, pain and struggle, than joy and happiness.
To you who are experiencing that, I want to reassure you: This is normal, and you are precious. You are valuable and you are valued. I may not have ever met you, but I am glad that you walk this planet, and I know that we are all richer in some way because you are here.
No day is ever going to be 100% happy. Happiness is just an emotion, like any other. It will come and go. When awful or difficult things happen to you, you will feel anger, despair, shame, guilt, sorrow, hopelessness, helplessness, disappointment, relief, rage, and/or uncertainty. These are natural emotional reactions to difficult experiences. It’s okay to feel all of that. It really is.
Be wary of trying to suppress those feelings - suppression often makes them come back more frequently or intensely, and usually at a more inconvenient and emotional moment. Accept the emotions. Name them. Imagine them like waves – watch them surge, and then let them drain back out to sea.
When you feel overwhelmed by all the emotion, remember that this is one wave that can’t physically drown you or wash you overboard. Take a moment to breathe. And breathe again. It is another feeling. Name it, breathe, and let it drain away. This too will pass.
Find something to ground yourself in your present moment. Notice what your senses are telling you about your surroundings. Feel the ground under your feet – is it hard or soft? How does the air and clothing feel on your skin? What can you hear – music, traffic, the soft drone of voices from next door? What can you smell? What can you taste? What does your tongue feel like? What colours and textures can you see around you?
Be compassionate to yourself. If someone you loved was suffering, what purely kind, supportive things would you say to them?
It is impossible to live a meaningful life without experiencing pain. However, instead of letting pain be something to avoid, we can transform it or add to its meaning. What was once a trigger to squash or ignore our feelings, can become a reminder of what we value in life and in ourselves, and help propel us down a road towards a life full of hope, meaning and purpose.
So what are the qualities you want to bring into your life? Nurturance? Compassion? Patience? Kindness? Gentleness? Your pain tells you that you have a heart, that life matters to you, that you are living and therefore have a live to live, stretching out before you. Choose a quality that you want to embody, gather up your grief gently and compassionately as if it was a child needing comfort, and carry it with you as you live out a tiny bit of that quality today.