Loss at holidays is most profound. Mother’s Day is not a day that I mourn the death of my husband, it is a day that I continue to celebrate my mother and all the fabulous mothers in my life.
Frankly, this holiday is not about men at all–rather it is a tribal celebration of the one that came before us, either biologically, or by happy association.
Mother’s Day is a day where we start in youth with, “I see all you have done, and continue to do for me.” Later, the message becomes more nuanced, it is “Thank you for showing me the way.” and later, it becomes a living memorial, “Thank you for the life you created, inspired, and led yourself.”
I have been so fortunate to have been, and continue to be, surrounded by good, strong, loving mothers. From my own mother, to my sister, and sister-in-laws that in turn were raised by good strong women, to my beloved mother-in-law, who by some cosmic turn of events has taken the passed baton from my own mother, and has led me me through some hard-core tragedy
My mother is from a family of six girls–all varying levels of professional and personal accomplishment. The daughter of Irish immigrants, she grew up in a three bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Westside, until her father bought a commodious three-story brownstone in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.
Her real name is Josephine, which she hated and why, at the tender age of ten she decided that she would be “Jody” (my Uncle Frank, the first man who had the temerity to marry into the mostly female family would often call her by that name 50 years later). Jody at some point transitioned to “Joan” or “Joanie” to her sisters, and that is what she remained.
When I was born she was 23 years old and fought long and hard with my father NOT to name me Josephine. By unhappy coincidence it was his treasured mother’s name as well. But thanks to my mother’s unyielding pushback, I became Claudia. I was never thankful in childhood, when everyone was able to go to the variety store and find, on the wire stand, personalized key chains and assorted notepads with names written in bubble type and neon ink. I always came away empty handed. Today, I couldn’t be happier. My name suits me and always has, so I thank her for sticking to her guns.
My mother was a fierce protector, a staunch advocate, and sometimes harsh critic. She dressed beautifully and was always trim. She could put on a pair of jeans and a crisp blouse and look “dressy.” At some point early on (I can’t remember when) she went from brunette to blond and wore some variation of a blond bob her entire adult life.
If my father was adventurous and fun, my mother was home and simple elegance. Although we feared my father’s wrath and the suburban phrase of “Just wait until your father gets home” was used frequently, it was the terror of my mother’s disappointment that could turn your knees to jelly.
Everything I learned about being a mother, I learned from my mother
The good, the bad, the ugly, everything I know about being a mother came from my own. She was a strong mother who had a fierce sense of protection and loyalty to her children. She had five of us and those qualities were never diluted or stretched–everyone had their own share in abundance.
She took pride in her home and always created rooms that were simply elegant, yet functional. As a young child, I remember my mother wallpapering, and painting, never waiting to have someone do something she could do herself. Later when the house and the projects were much bigger, she hired an affable painter who would be at the house for months on end. She sat and chatted with him over coffee before the start of the day, and later, when he would eat his bag lunch, she would sit with him and have her cup of tea. Bob the painter became family and would frequently feel encouraged to weigh in on family conversations.
My mother sang beautifully and our days began with her lovely voice reaching to our rooms above. Her genre of choice was Irish songs, many that were centuries old, and country ballads. Her singing was paused long enough for her to call up to us to get ready for school. Her singing provided the soundtrack for our childhoods. Now looking back, I know that it was the soundtrack of a happy life. My mother was happy, and at the worst of times, content. She loved her husband, adored her children, and was happy to provide for us materially and emotionally. She never held back her affection. Every morning when we got up she kissed us good morning and kissed us when we came in from school, and later, in the evening, when homework and baths were done, she kissed us goodnight. It was a simple protocol of affection that has stayed with me.
For my mother, being a homemaker and mother was a noble vocation.
I know it is a generational thing, but when my father came home from work, she insisted that we stop whatever we were doing to greet him at the door. Dinner was ready for him, (we had eaten at a more reasonable hour) and she had us sit with him as he ate and provide a recounting of the day’s events.
My father traveled extensively and my mother would allow us to have breakfast foods for dinner and stay up late (probably only a half of an hour, but it seemed so special.) A few weeks after my youngest brother was born, my father went to Egypt for a month. With a newborn, and four school-aged kids, she held everything together and made the time seem like a small vacation..
My mother dressed us all–not just when we were small, but when we got older. My father’s clothes were purchased for him down to the belt and shoes, and he never had to give a second thought as to whether or not he looked appropriately dressed. She had a fine eye and everyone under her care was well-turned out for every event.
(In my teens and later, her subtle-not-so-subtle questions would indicate wardrobe or make-up deficiencies. “Oh, you are wearing that? I just thought the blue dress was really flattering.” TRANSLATION “The blue dress is really the only thing you should wear because it is your color and that dress is just not working on you. ” Or the other famous, “Don’t rush, you have time to put make-up on before we leave.” TRANSLATION “You need to put more make-up on because you have not clearly accentuated your assets.”)
Years later, she would do the same for her grandchildren, gifting Christmas dresses and suits before the holidays. But most importantly, she made Christening gowns for them. They were beautifully hand-crafted, and made of the finest materials and trimmings she could find. During the process, she would zip out to our houses in her little car, wrestle a rubbery newborn into the dress in progress, and zip back to finish the sewing. I have these precious garments and they are among my most treasured possessions to date.
“I Wouldn’t Give Him the Satisfaction”
Her grace under fire was formidable. When infidelity and betrayal destroyed her 25 year marriage, she showed incredible dignity and fortitude. Her happy world was rocked to the core, but she never allowed it to change her. She continued to live a life of grace and elegance, remaining true to the natural trajectory of her life. She spent time with her children, her grandchildren, entertained, and lived in a manner that she had planned. If bitterness and disappointment were ever present, she never allowed it to eclipse her natural gratitude for what she acknowledged was a wonderful life. “I have my children and my grandchildren and they are all well, what else can I ask for?” When I heard that, I would think, “What about a boyfriend? Or a new husband?” But, that didn’t figure into her mindset, her contentment was awe-inspiring. If it was possible, to my prejudiced eye, she looked even more beautiful than ever.
She was a friend to many-and her house on Long Island would often have guests that needed a place to “be”–whether from divorce, death, or relocation, she opened her home to her friends looking for a place to find peace, humor and maybe a cocktail or two. Her laughter was infectious, and even the most dour of her bunch would be buoyed just hearing it.
When my youngest brother was out of school, my mother traded in her suburban house and bought herself a beautiful gem of an apartment back in Manhattan. This place was where we would come and stay when the kids had a day off from school. Or later, our kids would go in and stay with her for days on end. It was her new place and it suited her.
Mother’s Day 2020
My husband played a vital role in my own Mother’s Days. He did his part to orchestrate the procession of homemade cards, and even dearer, homemade gifts, many of which had been hidden in backpacks waiting for the exciting moment where they would be brought to the side of my bed with much fanfare. He also supervised “Breakfast in Bed” made at some ungodly hour and prepared with little hands–toast, eggs and coffee, all a tad cold from the lengthy time it took to assemble the food. My kids would sit on the bed and watch like hawks as I ate every morsel on the tray.
Michael would get gifts from the kids, and from himself, always with both a very beautiful card with a heartwarming sentiment and then another crazy pop-up card-every year.
My sister and I have a saying “It is not MY Mother’s Day as long as we are lucky enough to have our mother.” Simply put, it meant that the morning was for us and our young families, but that the day itself was preserved for our mother. As the matriarch of a large family, it was her due, and her day, as no other.
My children are older now, and they will remember me this Sunday from wherever it is that they are weathering this crisis, but I still have a mother and it is still her day. As with many older mothers, this Mother’s Day will be spent in isolation, but the only difference is our mother will not know it. She will not know that she is missing her three sons taking her to dinner the night before, or my sister’s and my family spending the day with her, ending with a dinner of her choice, made by my sister. She will not know that she didn’t receive cards, or gifts, and she will smile with those around her and not know that they are not her family.
She is well cared for, but resides in a Memory Care unit at a lovely facility, the victim of the neurological sinkhole modern medicine has named Alzheimer’s Disease.. We would normally have “liberated her” as we say jokingly–for the day. And later, we would have brought her back and decorated her room with the cards and gifts she had received. This year, for us and so many others, we will have to rely on pictures sent to us by a well-meaning employee–FaceTime would be too confusing. Her five children and 15 grandchildren will sit in their individual “isolation pods” and if we are smart, we will have a Zoom session where we reflect on what a wonderful life one woman provided for us. And if we are of a mind, we will have a good cry, as I am having now, for her loss and for our own.
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.