Revision of My mum became the mother for whom she mourned from Thu, 05/09/2019 - 21:13

Revisions allow you to track differences between multiple versions of your content, and revert back to older versions.

— Photo from Jesse Sommer​

Jesse and Mum.

My mum was only 4 years old when her own mother died, just before Christmas in 1954. That terrible loss blasted a hole in her heart that she’s spent a lifetime trying to fill, first with the thousands of furry or feathered friends for whom she’s cared in her capacity as a veterinarian, and then, eventually, with four babies of her own. She wears that psychology on her sleeve, nurturing as many souls as she can find in the same way that her mother couldn’t do for her.

In short, she became the mother for whom she mourned, while I became the beneficiary of a limitless love borne of that bereavement — blissfully unaware that a “mom” was something which might one day disappear.

Growing up as the son of the town vet was often surreal; classmates would routinely approach me at school to volunteer intimate reports of their pets’ medical conditions while recounting my mother’s exploits.

Sometimes I benefited from her performance — as when the crush who’d never before acknowledged my existence showered me with gratitude because “Dr. Holly” had fixed the family dog’s broken hip — while at other times I was treated to cold and bitter stares from friends who would announce, unforgivingly: “Your mom killed my cat.”

Yet irrespective of the particular medical treatment, my mother was widely regarded as among the planet’s sweetest and most empathetic women. And no amount of evidence to the contrary — be it my reports of the insufferable organic “health food” to which she subjected me, or the capriciousness of her school-night curfews, or her unAmerican prohibition of Nintendo, or the indignity of being forced to make my bed on Saturdays — could convince the community otherwise.

Mother’s Day is this weekend. First observed in 1908, it was founded by peace activist Ann Marie Jarvis.  In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson formally designated the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to honor mothers.

But when my mom’s mom died four decades later, “Mother’s Day” assumed a significance for her that was very different than what it’s always meant for me.

For the first time in my life, I’m viewing Mother’s Day in a new light. Rather than conceive of it merely as the intended day to honor mothers, it suddenly seems like a holiday honoring my incomprehensible privilege of having taken 35 consecutive Mother’s Days for granted — having been blessed to annually send the perfunctory two-sentence “Mother’s Day email” to the woman who gave me life — when so many among us aren’t that lucky.

I don’t know why I’m thinking about this now. But, if I’ve ever deemed mailing a Mother’s Day card to be a cursory chore on an interminable to-do list, then I’ve clearly failed to grasp that my mum would have given anything, everything, for the chance to send her mom a card each May.

Because for some, Mother’s Day packs the prick of wrenching heartbreak that I’m not ready to confront myself. Logically, I know that someday I’ll join the ranks of those whose mothers have died, for whom Mother’s Day is a day of remembrance. Logically, I know that someday I’ll have to mourn not only the loss of my mother, but the loss of that final connection to a childhood she made safe.

But just because I’m not ready to contemplate that distant someday doesn’t mean I have to wait until my mum isn’t around to appreciate the significance of the holiday that celebrates her. Henceforth, the annual “second Sunday in May” will be a day I pledge to honor Mum’s values, and to take stock of whether I live up to them.

Too often I fall short. Most relevantly: I don’t call enough; I’m not great with in-person demonstrations of affection; I’m reliably late in reimbursing my sisters for the Mother’s Day flowers they send in my name.  (OK, Robin, relax — I just sent it to your Venmo. We good now? Sheesh.)

Yet I’m hoping this column will nonetheless warrant posting to the refrigerator, just like that dried noodle artwork on my Mother’s Day cards 30 years ago. Because, as the person who officially made my mum a mother, my arrival on Earth redefined her relationship to Mother’s Day. And despite the vast multitude of my imperfections, I’m hoping that mothering me so lovingly over the course of my entire life has helped my mom heal the scar of losing hers.

Even when she’s gone, my mom will always be my Mum — which is why I still won’t be able to buy Froot Loops when I pass through the cereal aisle because it’s just not worth neurotically combatting the admonishing voice in my head as it recites the evils of sugar cereals.

Even when she’s gone — leaving me gripped by sadness and nostalgia on Mother’s Day — I’ll still be soothed by tender memories of the crackers and daytime television she’d permit when stomach bugs kept me home from school (she practically made illness something to look forward to).

Even when she’s gone, on Mother’s Day I’ll still join the legions of people nationwide who will reflect on all those mornings that mom got us ready for school, on all her paths not taken so she could ferry us to hockey practice or dance class, and on all the glorious sleep we denied her — whether as crying infants or that time we kept her up sick with worry because we forgot to call.

Together, we’ll take a moment to honor the first person we met when we entered this world, and of whose body we were once literally a part.

But since Mum isn’t gone, I’ll use my space in this edition of The Enterprise to exclaim: Happy Mother’s Day to you, Dr. Holly Cheever. And to my sisters who are now mothers themselves in turn. And to all those who care for others as only a mother could.

And happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers no longer with us, but for whom we’d give anything for just one last chance to say “I love you, Mom.” Indeed, on this Mother’s Day, I address a woman I never knew, but without whom I wouldn’t exist:

Grandma, you would have been so proud of your daughter, just as I am so proud to be her son. Thank you for looking over her, and for blessing me with yet another Mother’s Day where I can call my mum to tell her that I love her.

Just as soon as one of my sisters reminds me to.

Editor’s note: Captain Jesse Sommer is a paratrooper and Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He is a lifelong resident of Albany County.

Location: