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Mothers: We Reflect on What They Really Mean to Us

Elevate Mother's Day beyond a 'Hallmark holiday' and you might be surprised at what emotions you find lurking beneath the surface

By Suzanne Gerber

They say no one can press our buttons quite like a mother because, after all, she installed them. Whether we love her, resent her, feel empowered or enfeebled (or all of the above), Mom holds the distinction of being the person who carried us for nine months and brought us into this world.

So every Mother’s Day is an opportunity to do a little soulful searching to gain a better understanding of this most primal and powerful human connection. At Next Avenue, we’ve run a number of articles about the different aspects of these complex relationships. In honor of the day, here are a few favorites.
Golf — and Life — Lessons With Mom
When it comes to golf, travel writer Darcy Rhyno says he doesn’t know a divot from a hole in the ground. But even at 73, his mother works on her game like it’s a job, playing all winter in Florida and all summer at home in Nova Scotia, where they’re from.
So when he was offered a chance to go on a four-course golfing press trip around Cape Breton Island, he said he had no choice but to swallow his game-related anxieties, accept and invite his mother along. 
And while his intention was to treat his mother to her dream golfing vacation as he enjoyed some of Canada's most jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery, what he experienced on the trip came as a huge surprise.
As he points out in his story, it had been more than 30 years since he had lived under the same roof as his mother. Yet squeezed into an RV for a week and “competing” with his mother on her turf taught him some surprising things about her — and changed their relationship in some unexpected ways.
READ: Golfing With Mom: Lessons Above and Beyond Par
Connections Without End
Over the holidays Kristine Kevorkian, a grief specialist, was trying to cook the Armenian pilaf her grandmother used to make but just couldn't get it right. Her mother also used to prepare the dish — and though she left out certain ingredients, like butter and salt, she had it down pat.
Frustrated with herself for burning so much rice, Kevorkian finally picked up the phone to call her mother to ask what she was doing wrong. The thing is, her response was reflexive — her mother had passed away two years ago.
As Kevorkian wrote for Next Avenue, as a former hospice social worker, she was well aware that some of the hardest moments of grief come when something great happens that you can't wait to share — or when something stressful occurs and you need to hear the voice of your loved one. Yet she was she still shocked when she discovered her own trigger: a forgotten rice pilaf recipe.
READ: Why I Tried to Call My Mom, Even Though She's Gone
Sometimes They Drive Us a Little Nuts
In one of my blogs last year, I focused on the complex emotions that are part and parcel of parent-child relations. The spiritual teacher and ’60s consciousness pioneer Ram Dass liked to say to students: "You think you’re enlightened? Go spend a week with your family." The guy lived in India, had a guru, has been a spiritual mentor to two generations of seekers, and even though he didn’t specifically say "mother," I'm sure that’s what he meant.
Marsha Lucas, a neuropsychologist and author of Rewire Your Brain for Love, offered some insight. “Your mother is the one in your implicit memory connected with all kinds of deep-seated emotions,” she explained. “Those emotionally tagged memories hold a special potency. Layer on top of them years of repeated experiences — which get expressed as neural pathways in your brain — and when something happens today, it can get blown way out of proportion because it’s triggering one of those old, unresolved emotional memories, without your even being aware that it's from the past.”
Is it hopeless? I asked her. How can we tread such rocky emotional terrain?
“Cultivate bemused tolerance,” she suggested.
READ: Why Do Our Mothers Drive Us So Crazy?!
In Death, a Living Legacy
Because of complicated family dynamics, many people face crises when their parents die. Francine Russo, who has written a number of pieces for Next Avenue, recounts her complex emotions at losing her difficult mom
But not everyone has difficult relationships with their mothers. Some lucky people, like Next Avenue’s work and finance editor Rich Eisenberg, enjoy a lifetime of happy and wonderful interactions with their mothers. And even when the parent eventually dies, the loss has a positive effect.
When his mother, Renee, lost her battle with pulmonary fibrosis last year, her final days served to bring the family closer together. Each of his sons, in their early 20s, shuttled back and forth (one from New York, one from California) “to hold my mom’s hand in her hospital room and to tell her what he was up to, even when none of us knew whether she could hear him."
Her sister and her partner cut short a long-anticipated vacation and moved in with Rich and his wife so they could see Renee as much as possible. The foursome took turns going to visit and chauffeuring their father and their mother’s live-in caregiver. Dissent was nowhere to be seen. As Rich writes, “We found ourselves working as a unit, funneling information to each other about the latest news from the many doctors and nurses, who sometimes had contradictory and confusing information for us.
“Consulting with my dad, and mindful of my mom’s living will instructions, we jointly decided to move my mom into hospice-in-the-hospital. I like to think that our growing familial bonds helped prevent my mom from suffering, at least more than necessary.”

READ: My Mom's Lasting Legacy 
This Mother’s Day, if you’re lucky enough to still have a mom to honor, don’t think of this as just another “Hallmark holiday.” Make it your own and make it meaningful in your own way. Some day you’ll look back on these small acts and they’ll feel larger than life. 

Suzanne Gerber, former Living & Learning editor for Next Avenue, writes about inspirational topics including health, food, travel, relationships and spirituality. Read More
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