Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 8, 2007

Feeling bittersweet as Mother’s Day approaches

When it comes to Mother’s Day, most people think of celebrations featuring fragrant flowers, handmade cards, macaroni necklaces, and breakfast in bed.

That’s how I’ve celebrated the second Sunday in May – both as a mother and a daughter.

But with the approach of this Mother’s Day, my mind is on those for whom the holiday brings reminders of loss as much as celebration of blessings of children and a mother’s wisdom and love.

Perhaps it’s because of the still fresh horror of the Virginia Tech shootings, or the recent devastation caused by tornados in the midwest, or the incessantly growing death and injury toll in Iraq that I find myself in a bittersweet mood this holiday.

I can’t help but wonder how many Mother’s Day celebrations were altered forever as a result events like these, and how many more are quietly altered without the news media’s attention.

I can only wonder what it must be like on Mother’s Day to long for a deceased mother or child. I have not lost a parent, and although I had to face the possibility of losing a child, I’m forever grateful that did not come to pass.

Despite my own good fortune, this year I’m thinking of those who no longer have someone to whom they can give a bouquet of flowers on Mother’s Day, or who might be missing a card from a son or daughter who can no longer send it.

The news media highlights stories of such losses when they result from newsworthy events like crime, natural disaster, accident or war.

But many other deaths that transform holidays like Mother’s Day to bittersweet events don’t receive such fanfare. Sometimes these deaths result from illness, sometimes old age, sometimes suicide.

These quieter deaths are often only noted in the press by small obituaries. But these quieter deaths must bring the same kind of grief as dramatic deaths from newsworthy causes must bring. I imagine that holidays like Mother’s Day must reawaken the pain of the loss of a parent or a child, regardless of whether or not the news media deemed it newsworthy.

I decided to do a little research on the holiday’s history to see if that might transform my bittersweet state of mind to a candy-and-flowers mood.

It did not. Instead, my research confirmed that bittersweet is, historically speaking, quite appropriate for Mother’s Day.

I was surprised to learn that in 1870, Julia Ward Howe, famous for writing the lyrics for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” promoted Mother’s Day as a day of peace.

Aghast at the injuries and deaths of combatants in the Franco-Prussian and Civil wars, Howe issued a proclamation calling for a Mother’s Day to demand peace:

“Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own, it says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.’”

The Mother’s Day inspired by Howe’s proclamation was celebrated on June 2 for 30 years in cities from Boston, New York and Philadelphia to London, Geneva and Constantinople.

Eventually, Howe’s controversial link between peace and Mother’s Day celebrations gave way to a non-activist version of the holiday championed by Anna Jarvis. Jarvis’ campaign to establish a Mother’s Day holiday in her mother’s memory led to a bill signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914 that established the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Whichever version of Mother’s Day suits you – activist or amiable, bittersweet or breezy – I hope that this Sunday, you’re surrounded by loved ones and filled with happy memories.


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