I hate mother’s day. I wake up in the morning, always forgetting what day it is. I look at my Facebook newsfeed and all I see are photos of mothers; mothers that are alive. I am reminded of a scene that Roland Barthes describes in Mourning Diary.
From the terrace of the Flore, I see a woman sitting on the windowsill of the bookstore La Hune; she is holding a glass in one hand, apparently bored; the whole room behind her is filled with men, their backs to me. A cocktail party.
May cocktails. A sad, depressing sensation of a seasonal and social stereotype. What comes to my mind is that maman is no longer here and life, stupid life, continues.”
Barthes writes this in the months following his mother’s death. This observation resonates with me for many reasons: we forget that life continues on — for us and others — after we lose a loved one. We forget that we have lost someone so dear to us, and then a moment like this occurs; a moment so everyday, so normal, that it reminds us, as Barthes writes, that ““We don’t forget, but something vacant settles in us.” This is how I feel when I look at my Facebook newsfeed on Mother’s Day each year.
The day after Barthes’ mother died in 1977, he began to write down notes about his grief on little scraps of paper, and it is these notes that comprise his Mourning Diary. Her death confounds him. And yet, she was not a young woman. She did not die, as one might say, “before her time.” This observation doesn’t and shouldn’t negate his pain. But I can’t help but wonder: what if he had lost her when he was a child? What would his mourning diary have looked like? Would it have existed? What would his grief have looked like? Barthes died 3 years after his mother.
My mother died when I was 11. She left a diary for me. And inside it she wrote me a letter: “When I was told I was going to die from cancer I wanted to leave you this letter, hopefully to make you feel better and to feel close to your mother…I know this is a great time of sadness and pain for you, a pain I wish I could take away.” And so begins the five page letter than my mom wrote to me before she passed away. Inscribed inside a small journal, this the last trace of her handwriting that I have.
I’d forgotten that this book existed and was surprised to rediscover it when I began to write an essay that I’ve been working on, an essay about her death and how literature, unbeknownst to me until recently, has helped me grieve her death [since writing this blog post, this essay has been accepted by The Puritan Magazine and will be coming out at the end of this month]. In her letter to me, my mom suggests that I use this book to write to her; she tells me that she’ll make sure my brother and dad don’t snoop in it. But I’ve left the pages blank. The blankness of the pages – a signifier of my inability to write, my inability to confront the pain of her loss – produce in me a greater sadness than her letter causes.
And then there’s the guilt. She gave me this beautiful gift and not only did I not use it, but I forgot about it. I know that it’s okay. I know that she — wherever she is — does not harbour any resentment. And so I’m writing now. After almost 20 years, I’m ready to process the pain caused by her death.But, like the fragments that make up Barthes’ diary, I too am only able to grieve in fragments.
Like Barthes, I am trying to
“…transform “Work” in its analytic meaning (the Work of Mourning, the Dream-Work) into the real “Work” — of writing.)
the “Work” by which (it is said) we emerge from the great crises (love, grief) cannot be liquidated hastily: for me, it is accomplished only in and by writing.”
There are moments when I think about my future wedding and realize that my mother won’t be there; that when I have my first child, she won’t be there. But this day is always the hardest. It’s the day that I don’t want to think about; the day where I opt out of social media because it’s too painful to think about everyone else who still has a mother. I envy them. I’m happy for them. And I feel for all of those others who have lost their mothers — either literally or figuratively. Just because your mother is still alive, doesn’t mean that you still “have” a mother. And even I, I who have lost my mother, still have her — even as an absence, she is still present in my life.
This post was written by Margeaux