Clodagh Finn: The sting of grief on Mother’s Day will slowly pass

Many people might find Sunday, Mother’s Day, difficult — those who have lost mothers; those who could not be mothers; those who are no longer mothers, writes Clodagh Finn

Clodagh Finn: The sting of grief on Mother’s Day will slowly pass
Clodagh Finn and her mother after Clodagh’s wedding in 2006: ‘This year is the second year without her but as the days and months go by you begin to realise that, even in grief, you are never completely without a mother.’

On Mother’s Day two years ago, we were quietly told to gather the family — the euphemism used by nurses who were gently telling us that our mother did not have long to live.

I remember thinking it was cruel, yet fitting, that we were being asked to gather around her on the very day set aside for these things. We had already assembled, of course, and the signs of it were sitting on the hospital windowsill; shiny cards and cheery gifts still nestling in the colourful paper they came in. Our little offerings at the altar of hope.

As it turned out, she didn’t leave us then but she was not there when Mother’s Day came around again. This year is the second year without her but as the days and months go by you begin to realise that, even in grief, you are never completely without a mother.

She’s there whenever I smell a particular brand of hand cream. A waft of anything floral-scented brings me right back to her disproportionate joy at being given a simple tube of hand lotion. 

She was the proverbial cat who got the (hand) cream. Sometimes, happiness is as simple as that.

Mind you, she’d be horrified to see herself in print again. We made an exception in late 2018 to write her obituary but I think I’d have a harder time justifying it now. She might relent if I told her it would help me get through Mother’s Day, or more correctly the run up to it, but I’m not so sure that would wash.

“Can you not just give it a rest?” I can hear her say. It became a refrain when, as a teenager, we entered the ‘war years’. I’d push and she’d push back — the familiar dance between many a teenage daughter and her mother. For a time, she nicknamed me The Steamroller, though I never quite seemed to steam anywhere.

On the other hand, she seemed to me to be made of steel. Not that she was hard, just that she had the kind of forbearance that is being shown all around us in these exceptional Covid-19-restricted days.

She just kept on keeping on no matter what was happening around her. Perhaps it was a generational thing; many of her cohorts seemed to be made of stern stuff.

When she was in her eighties, she called me one evening to say that she’d taken the early train from Tralee to Dublin but was home now. She’d been looking for shoes and had got just the right ones but was ringing in case I had spotted her browsing in a shop around Henry St and wondered if I was seeing things.

That day, she clearly didn’t have time to interrupt the shopping excursion but, on others, she thought nothing of making the same journey just to meet me for lunch.

In her nineties, she started to use a walking stick but resented it. Maybe that explained why she twirled it in the air like a wand. She still managed to go to the shop, tuck the newspaper under her arm, carry a bag of shopping and also wield the stick/wand.

After she died, many neighbours told us they had often stopped to offer her a lift but she always gave them the same firm but polite reply: “No thank you.”

She’d be furious I’m even writing that because she felt elderly people were endlessly patronised.

As Mother’s Day draws nearer, her words and her expressions have been playing over in my head. I have hundreds of little daily vignettes that played out over a lifetime. I’d need not simply a book, but a library, to do them all justice. Anybody who has lost their mother will know the feeling.

It’s unlikely grief will strike on cue on Mother’s Day because it doesn’t really happen like that. It comes in waves, I’ve found.

Sometimes it can hit you like a downpour out of a cloudless sky — cold, heavy raindrops reminding you that she is still gone. It’s the endless gone-ness that is so hard to fathom.

Sometimes it’s a dull ache that stays for a while. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt at all. It’s a warm glow that percolates through you when you catch yourself saying something she used to say.

Other times, it’s physical, writing itself on the body in myriad unexpected ways.

I remember saying that to another woman who had lost her mother and the understanding that passed between in a single moment us still comforts me.

I feel for anybody who is without their mother on Sunday. The irony, of course, is that most people will be, given the need for social distancing.

But if there is one upside to the coronavirus it is that the usual blanket invitation to celebrate mums has been a little bit muted this year.

There might be a slow dawning of something else too. Last week, one British daily newspaper, cynically perhaps, offered readers a chance to opt out of Mother’s Day messages. It circulated an email that read:

We understand that this can be a sensitive time for some of our readers. We would never want to make it any more so.

Maybe I’m being unfair. It’s possible the newspaper was just registering the fact that many people might find Sunday difficult — those who have lost mothers; those who could not be mothers; those who are no longer mothers.

And, as we have seen all around us this week as the spirit of solidarity took hold, a little bit of understanding and empathy go a very long way. Wherever you are Sunday and whatever your circumstances, know that you are not alone.

And, now mum, I’m going to give it a rest.

I can see her put down her newspaper, look over the top of her glasses, and say: “Good.”

“Just know that we are thinking of you, though.”

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