Patrick’s first Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, the congregation where he now serves as pastor, was one year ago – on Mother’s Day. Patrick and I knew that it would likely be a hard day for me. By that time in our journey, we had already experienced two miscarriages; little did we know then, though, we were only mere months away from experiencing two more. However, at the time, very few people – especially very few people at this new church where we still knew only a handful of people – were aware that this celebratory day would be hard or why it would be hard for us. Our struggles were still in the shadows then. My motherhood still unseen and unrecognized by most of the world, in part because of our own desires for privacy.
So, subtly and ingeniously, Patrick found a way to incorporate our own story into his introductory Mother’s Day sermon simply by telling the story of Anna Jarvis – the founder of a movement that would create Mother’s Day as a national holiday.
As Patrick began her story on that first Sunday morning:
Anna Jarvis wanted Mother’s Day to be a personal and religious time when children would visit with their mothers and express gratitude when she created it in 1908….
Anna was inspired to create Mother’s Day because of her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who held Mother’s Day work clubs in the 1850s to improve sanitary conditions and to lower infant mortality by fighting disease. In the 1860s, these clubs became places for mothers, whose children were fighting and dying in the Civil War, to gather and care for wounded soldiers from both sides. After the war, Jarvis organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and other events to reconcile former Confederate and Union soldiers.
These early Mother’s Day gatherings weren’t about candy. They were about women, who like Mary, mother of Jesus, witnessed the death and injury of their own children. They were about improving the conditions of women and fostering peace. They were about loving and remembering the sacrifices women made to be mothers.
This image of these earliest Mother’s Days still moves me. I thought of it often yesterday as I fell into my own grief. Mother’s Day was once a day of peace and reconciliation born out of the pain of death, disease, and war. I imagine those Union mothers alongside Confederate mothers, whose sons may have shot or been shot by one another, joined together by these early Mother’s Days and united with one another by their shared grief. It is a powerful reminder that the roots of Mother’s Day are based in mourning, in grief, and in pain. Like a flower, so often given as a cliched Mother’s Day gift, this day once stood as a bright beacon of hope rising out the mud.
“Quickly, however,” Patrick’s sermon went on to explain, “Mother’s Day became something else.”
People, it seemed to Anna, were trying to profit off mothers, and she felt that women had been exploited for profit for too long. Anna was furious that Mother’s Day was commercialized by greeting card companies and reduced to an hour of brunch. “A printed card,” she said, “means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother, and then eat most of it yourself!”
She organized boycotts and threatened lawsuits. People mocked her, the New York Times calling her a “frail little spinster.” When she died in 1948, the creator of Mother’s Day died without children, having never married. She died blind, broke, emaciated, and surrounded by strangers. “This woman, who died penniless in a sanatorium in a state of dementia, was a woman who could have profited from Mother’s Day if she wanted to,” says historian Katharine Antolini. “But she railed against those who did, and it cost her everything.”
Anna had a vision, but life turned out very differently.
In a similar way, we too had a vision for Mother’s Day, but our life has turned out very differently. To be honest, I would have preferred to celebrate a greeting card-inspired version of Mother’s Day this year. Or last year. Or any year. In truth, I hate knowing this day’s dark pain so intimately. I much prefer chocolate and candy!
Yesterday was a hard day. It was probably one of the hardest days since the funeral, with moments when I would have to retreat back to bed when the pain was just too much. Yet, for as painful as it was, the Mother’s Day that Patrick and I celebrated yesterday was beautiful. It was meaningful. It was sacred. Born out of our own grief, I wonder if what we experienced yesterday touched at the heart of what this holiday is truly supposed to be about. For on this Mother’s Day, we were blessed to experience the profound peace of our sons’ presence and God’s presence.
To start the day, Patrick and others graciously gifted me with Mothers Day gifts. Flowers and chocolate – some much needed commercialism to commemorate the moment. Yet, the rest of the day was spent in remembrance.
Together, when the rainclouds finally broke, Patrick and I released balloons into the heavens – 6 in total in remembrance of each of our losses. We said words to each baby, reminding them of our love and praying for their comfort and peace. We then went through the dozens, if not hundreds, of cards that we have received, reading them aloud to one another. We watched movies, read books, and napped together, taking comfort in our togetherness through this moment. We texted our moms, our sisters, and other mothers in our lives. And then, we ended the day reading “The Hobbit,” the book we had been reading to the boys throughout my pregnancy but could not bear to pick up again after they died.
As we have shared before, butterflies have been meaningful for us since Ezra and Leo’s death. They keep showing up like little signs from them reassuring us that they are okay, or perhaps as God’s promise to us that we too will be okay. One of our Facebook friends encouraged us to listen for when the boys will speak to us. And in this final moment of Mother’s Day, we could feel their whispers as the chapter ended with Bilbo discovering thousands of butterflies dancing above the treetops. In a later post, I may detail this beautiful moment further. But for now, it is enough to know that we were filled with the peace of their presence and of God’s presence in this poignant end to our Mother’s Day.
This may not have been the Mother’s Day of our plans. Yet, this was the Mother’s Day that I needed.