For those of us whose moms are no longer with us, Mother’s Day can be awkward and uncomfortable.
I can only imagine how painful and hard it must be for moms whose children departed before them.
The death Tuesday of Harlem High School senior Jonathan Hartman in an after-school crash is just heart-rending, coming 11 days before he was to walk across the stage to pick up his diploma. With the blink of an eye, his mother was bereft not only of one of her children, but of her reason for attending commencement.
For me, Johnny’s death at the end of his high-school career also jogged the memory of Richard Mixon, who died in a handgun accident just days before his high-school career was to begin.
For his fellow Harlem graduates, Johnny’s untimely death will be a raw cloud hanging over next Saturday’s graduation exercises. For the Lakeside High graduates who would have been Richard’s high school classmates, how many will remember the 4-year-old gap in the alphabetically ordered line?
A friend who is today celebrating her first Mother’s Day talked to me recently about how helpless she felt in navigating her way through. How must Johnny’s mother feel today from the opposite direction?
My mother passed away 12 years ago this fall, so this is our 11th Mother’s Day without her. How must Richard’s mom feel, coming into her fourth Mother’s Day without her son?
And if we can try to back up emotionally from it, how important, really, have we allowed Mother’s Day to become?
Think about it: How much appreciation do we show for our mothers when we rock along all year, taking them for granted, and then show a burst of pride one day a year in acquiescence to Hallmark?
That question immediately arises if you browse through the card aisle and review the Mother’s Day cards from husbands to wives. (Never mind the fact that lots of wives, so I’ve heard, do not like receiving Mother’s Day wishes from their husbands, an understandable “I-am-not-your-mom” assertion.)
Those cards themselves seem intent on making the broad-brush assumption that husbands take their wives, the mothers of their children, for granted, with sentiments that boil down to saying, “I know I’m worthless the rest of the year, but hey! Happy Mother’s Day!”
As one of those husbands who at least likes to believe he helps and appreciates his wife all year, that’s just insulting. Yet the fact that it can even bother me at all, when so many others’ hearts are breaking over legitimate loss and not just sideswipe greeting-card insults, just tells me that I’m a little too comfortable, that the rough edges have worn off my own mother’s loss.
But it also tells me we intuitively know that we do, indeed, take the loved ones in our lives for granted, and that it often takes a tragedy to remind us. Again. And again.
As Johnny’s death brings home, many people are finding themselves treading water in the middle of a sea of discomfort, with their mothers recently or distantly taken, or their sons just gone or long absent.
God bless all of them.
To Mrs. Hartman, and Mrs. Mixon, and to all the mothers whose child won’t be there to give them a call or a card today, I can only hope you find comfort from fond memories on this Mother’s Day.
For the rest of us, take an opportunity to cherish what you have. You never know how long you’ll have it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)