Last week on Mother’s Day, for the first time I can remember, I did not make an atypical “I have the best mommy ever!” post on social media. Instead, I posted one of my favorite pictures of my mom and I from my wedding directly on her Facebook timeline, which I guess makes more sense, considering she is the only intended recipient.
Truthfully, Mother’s and Father’s Day posts are some of my favorites because gratitude is refreshing. It’s encouraging to read posts affirming the efforts of parents who probably wondered many times if they were doing the parenting thing right (to which I’d say, if that fear ever crossed your mind, you probably are doing parenting right). And it’s fun to see pictures of my friends as awkward, gap-toothed little kids in those “What were they thinking?” 80s and 90s clothes.
This year was the first time I forced myself to be mindful of people who don’t have mothers – to acknowledge how hard this day must be for some. Part of me was tempted to go above and beyond the usual public praising, because Mama Caplin is the only parent I have left – but for what purpose? It would make much more sense to just call her and tell her everything I’d want to say on Facebook.
Now the commercials and website advertisements are already telling me to remember to pick out something nice for Dad. For this year’s Father’s Day, I’ll probably avoid Facebook altogether. But that won’t accomplish much: every supermarket and department store will be reminding me, too. Well-intended cashiers and store employees, following the hideous corporate requirement to “get to know” all their customers, may ask me what my plans are. It would be downright snarky to reply “Visit Dad’s grave” (even though his remains are sitting in a box on the mantel until we decide what to do with them, but they don’t have to know that).
On one hand, it would feel good to demolish the assumption that everyone has a father, and not only that, that everyone has a good father. It will take all the strength I have not to say, “You don’t understand! Stop reminding me! Leave me alone!”
It’s true, not all people understand. But it’s equally true that I’m far from the only person without a father this Father’s Day. I’m far from the only one hurting on Mother’s and Father’s day for a myriad of reasons: it’s a hard day for couples with fertility issues, couples who lost children, people with parents who are unworthy of any honor or praise. I’m far from the only person with pain that others can’t see, but during that pivotal first year of grieving and adjusting to all the changes, it’s very easy to believe you’re the only one going through this. And it is true that no one else understands – no one will understand what it’s like for you, in your exact situation.
There is a definite “only me” attitude that comes with grief; it doesn’t make me special or uniquely damaged to have lost a parent. It doesn’t make the pain any less, but it does give me another reality check that everyone is dealing with something. No matter how tactful and PC you try to be, you’ll more than likely end up saying something to trigger the memory of loss and poke a wound in some people. There’s nothing you can do about it, to a point.
You can’t stop yourself from making assumptions, but what you can do is assume with caution. Holidays in general are painful affairs for many people for many reasons: you can be sensitive without censoring.