I was thrilled when my dear friend Gail Sobotkin (Happyboomernurse of Hubpages) invited me to her neck of the woods in Milford, Delaware on May 10th to attend a workshop in honor of those who have lost their mothers and grandmothers.
I was totally unprepared for a mind and body revolt on the 4th anniversary of Mom's death, May 7th, that left me quite sick and unable to make the drive. As expected, Gail was the consummate nurse and made me feel better virtually every way she could across the miles.
Read on and see what a meaningful workshop this was for all involved.
I have already 'booked the date' for next year!
Thanks, sweet Gail!
The Workshop ....
The Saturday before Mother’s Day, twenty men and women are seated around a horseshoe-shaped banquet table in the Milford, Delaware Hospice Center conference room, feasting on a delicious assortment of pastries and fresh fruit, when Dr. Judith E. Pierson, Clinical Psychologist, welcomes everyone to the “Remembering Our Mothers & Grandmothers” workshop.
The room is decorated with colorful table cloths, flowers, and a remembrance table filled with framed photos of each participant’s mother. The photos are in an honored location to the right of where Dr. Pierson is standing. This touching display will become an important part of the grieving and healing exercises we do today, but for now it is a gentle reminder of why we have gathered together, and the as yet unspoken pain, regrets and memories that are particularly acute at this time of year when the whole world seems to be focused on their mothers.
Dr. Pierson introduces herself as Dr. Judy, instantly breaking down the invisible barrier that usually separates a professional addressing a lay audience. Most of the attendees already know and love her, through the work she does at the hospice center and in her private practice. She is a small woman with a big heart—quick to reach out and comfort those who are grieving with a compassionate ear, a soft touch or a warm embrace, and she is a dynamic speaker who quickly makes her audience feel at ease.
She says, “Whether your relationship with your mother was ideal or far from ideal you are likely to have strong feelings about her death.”
Several people, including myself, nod, and I realize that in one sentence she has effectively set the tone for the rest of the day giving us permission to explore all the feelings we have about our mother -- embracing the good and the bad without fear of sounding heartless or disrespectful.
She tells us, “If your mother was wonderful, you will feel like you have lost your biggest fan, your protector, and your nurturer. You may feel as if you have lost your compass or at least one of your best sounding boards.”
I think of Maria, my dear friend who planned on attending the workshop with me before she got sick.
Maria’s mom, Miss Sammie, was all those things Dr. Judy just said, yet as wonderful as Miss Sammie was, she couldn't protect her loving daughter from the rage of a crazed gunman who almost succeeded in taking Maria’s life back in 1999. Fortunately, Miss Sammie was still alive back then and was able to help Maria get through the long process of recovery from multiple gunshot wounds -- not just the physical wounds, but the injuries to her spirit, too.
Sadly, Miss Sammie died in 2010, and I know Maria still grieves the loss of her wonderful, supportive mother.
But, not all of us have had that kind of closeness with our mothers. Dr. Judy acknowledges the ambivalent feelings many of us have by saying, “Few of us have had trouble free relationships with our mothers. Like all human beings, mothers are usually a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses.
"We, too, are mixed bags and so some regrets seem inevitable. Given how strong our feelings are about our mothers those regrets provide fertile ground for feelings of guilt.”
I think of my own mother, who, unbeknownst to me as a child, suffered from mental illness that was later diagnosed as manic depression (bipolar). The highs and lows of my childhood, and also my adult relationship with her, were punctuated and sometimes strained by the extremes of her mania and depression.
Ours was not an ideal relationship but the love between us runs deep and that bond was strengthened not broken, by her death two years ago.
Dr. Judy speaks a while longer, then leads us through several small group exercises by having us pair up with someone we don’t know to discuss the following prompts:
• “The qualities I enjoyed, admired or were inspired by in my mother were…”
• “Things about my mother that were in need of improvement or made her human were….”
• “Ways my mother lives on in me, in others, in family traditions or in other ways….”
As we work on the prompts, the morning passes by quickly. Tears, regrets and feelings of guilt are shed as we grapple with our grief. Smiles are also shared when we remember the good things about our mothers.
At Dr. Judy’s gentle nudge, one woman shows everyone a beautiful white teddy bear and tells us it was made from her mother’s favorite shirt. She hugs the bear in a moment of grief and the comfort it brings her is bittersweet and palpable. I’ve heard about these bears, but have never seen one. Now I understand how valuable they can be to the grieving process -- in some childlike, almost magical way they deeply connect us with the childhood bond we had with our mothers.
Dr. Judy addresses this bond by saying, “In many ways you will always be children in relationship to your parents. And it is the parent of your childhood and youth that you bury which is why you can feel orphaned at any age when your mother dies.”
I recognize the truth of that statement on a gut level. It explains why I can still miss my mother, even though she was 83 years old, and I was 60, when she died.
It is now time to share the photos we brought.
Sharing the Photos ...
One by one, Dr. Judy gives each participant the chance to retrieve their mother’s photo, hold it up and speak about ways our mother lives on in ourselves, others and in our family traditions. A few participants decline and she’s quick to assure them its okay to take a pass on this exercise.
I am the last one to hold up a picture of my mom. Though I’d brought a framed collage for the remembrance table, I hold up a 5 by 7 photo of mom when she was 30 years old because I always thought she looked like a movie star at that age.
My voice quivers and my hands tremble as I speak about her.
“My mom was a stunningly beautiful woman. I won’t say I share that trait, but I will say that she was as kind and compassionate as she was beautiful and I do share those traits. She also lives on in me in my love of reading, writing and learning. From the time I was a little girl she read books to me and told me I was smart enough to be anything I wanted to be, and I believed her. When I grew up I decided to become a nurse and she was so proud when I was the first in our family to earn a college degree.”
When I sit down I feel an unexpected wave of gratitude for my mother and the strengths and gifts she bequeathed to me.
Dr. Judy has one last exercise for us to do. She passes out blank 4 by 3 inch cards with a hole punched in them, plus a short length of string, and instructs us to write down something we’d like to say to our moms.
I inscribe the following words on my small blue card ...
Thank you for raising me with love and compassion and for instilling in me a great passion for learning and writing.
Your Loving Daughter,
Dr. Judy recommended that we hang the cards on the open arm of a tree on Mother’s Day as a tangible connection to our mothers who will hopefully receive our heartfelt message.
Some may have thought this exercise hokey, but I’m glad I took Dr. Judy’s recommendation literally.
Mother’s Day dawned bright and sunny and as I hung my card on the maple tree in my back yard I had no doubt my mom would receive the love and gratitude I was sending her.
Happyboomernurse of HubPages.com
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