I have never liked Mother’s Day—as I have never liked any holidays, special days. The burden of celebrations and gifts.
This sort of ceremony and tradition has always felt forced, insincere, superficial.
As I grew older and my mother grew older, buying her gifts became more and more difficult because what do people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond need given to them?
It is Mother’s Day 2018. My first since my mother died in December 2017 just a few months after my father died in June of the same year.
This Mother’s Day feels even more burdensome than normal, of course.
As I have examined, we left living have been sifting through all my parents’ stuff, throwing away most of it—presents rendered just more trash.
As I have examined, I am a churning mess of anxiety, in part, as a biological and environmental gift of my mother.
She died over the course of about six months, slowly and fitfully after a stroke and then stage 4 lung cancer. The stroke took her ability to communicate, but worst of all, it supercharged her anxiety.
It was horrible to witness.
It wasn’t a fair thing for anyone to endure on the way out.
I don’t have much left to say except I am more convinced than ever that these holidays, these designated moments to celebrate and give gifts—this is truly a real failure of human imagination.
For gifts, I had begun to give my mother plants, living plants in pots that could be transferred and maintained. I just could not buy her another shirt she didn’t really want and certainly didn’t need.
When my father-in-law died 7 years ago, his daughters found stacks of gifts, mostly shirts, if I recall correctly, never opened, never worn.
Just resting in his dresser.
Somehow I thought the plants were a best case approach to gift giving, to this damned circus of stuff that we have reduced our human condition to in the name of love.
But they weren’t.
What my mother needed, what my mother deserved, what everyone deserves, was her human dignity.
Especially in the last years and then final months, she needed and deserved high-quality and affordable health care.
Instead, her deteriorating body and my father’s even more dramatic decline were hellish burdens on them and everyone around them. And this wore heavily on my mother who believed her stroked killed my father at last (in a way, it did of course, but mostly, his life was at its end and she had kept him alive longer, if anything, than his frailness really supported).
My nephews and I are still trapped in the calloused and mind-numbing labyrinth of bureaucracy surrounding my parents’ living and dying, the most evil part being the insurance system designed more to deny healthcare, to deny human dignity, than anything else.
Dignity, I suspect, seems too abstract, and health care, too mundane.
But if all we can must are a few designated days, some really awful cards, and then an endless stream of things people really never wanted or needed, we may be better served to consider the real value of human dignity and the essential role something as mundane as high-quality and affordable healthcare for everyone plays in that dignity.
To live as if everyday were a holiday, to live for others as if we all deserve the full fruits of human dignity.
I Ask My Mother to Sing, Li-Young Lee
Eating Together, Li-Young Lee
The Gift, Li-Young Lee