By Douglas J. Hagmann
It was during the “time critical” research project on which I have been feverishly working, trying to separate facts from myth while up against a looming deadline, that my thoughts drifted to this year’s Mother’s Day holiday in America and, naturally, my mother.
Pardon me while I drift for a moment, and humbly ask you to accompany me along my brief journey away from my research and whatever it is that you might be doing that seemingly requires your immediate attention.
Perhaps like me, you feel that there are so many pressing issues we are being forced to handle that it becomes overwhelming and most frustrating at times, and the last thing we need is yet another “holiday” thrust upon us. As I work at trying to complete a time-sensitive project, you might also be engaged in projects or duties that are equally time sensitive but for different reasons. Perhaps it’s the completion of a job so you can collect your pay or finish seemingly mundane tasks that need to be done just like every other day of your life. Perhaps you are thinking that the last thing you want or need is the inconvenience of a slickly manufactured holiday that seems like a backdoor stimulus for retailers of candy, flowers, and cards.
As the clock continues to count down the remaining minutes I have to complete my task, I find myself quietly cursing the evil genius of whoever thought up Mother’s Day and the “forced inconvenience” of it all. Today, alone in my office except for the companionship of my slumbering German Shepherd, my cynicism toward the intent of the holiday grew even as I tried to rid myself of all distractions so I could complete my report. I unplugged the telephone, turned off my e-mail, and muted the TV monitor displaying breaking news headlines.
After a marathon session of research and writing, I am still fighting the prospect of the “forced” Mother’s Day holiday that is taking me off task and increasing my level of personal frustration. As I often do when I’m stuck in a mental paralysis, I reached for my dog’s leash, which was all it took for him to wake up and stand at the ready. What focus? I thought of my canine’s attentiveness as we exited my office and walked to “our” spot, a secluded area of trees and wildflowers beginning to bloom. No noise from traffic, radios, or incessantly ringing telephones. It was just the noise made by the rustling of the wildlife and foliage, along with the occasional grunt of a rather verbose German Shepherd who loves the outdoors. It was only then that I allowed myself to consider the thoughts of my own mother and Mother’s Day, and my life as her only son and only child.
It was at this moment that I recalled the last Mother’s Day we spent together and how I felt that it was more out of obligation to the holiday itself than to her honor. I recalled that she sensed my feeling of obligation as well, as she told me that she knew I was busy and did not need to spend the day with her. I reasoned that I didn’t need a manufactured holiday to express my love for her, that I loved her regardless of the day, the time, or the season. Taking the convenient out that she had selflessly given me, I continued to rationalize my hasty departure, for I had many important things to do.
It’s ironic how we can justify our actions and easily convince ourselves of whatever it is we want for the sake of expedience and convenience. The time that we did not spend together on that particular Mother’s Day was never recovered. After all, I had more pressing things to do. On that Mother’s Day over three decades ago, it never occurred to me that it would be her last.
When I finally thought I could spare some extra time from my self-absorbed world a few months later, I scheduled an unplanned visit with her one Saturday morning, thinking perhaps I could take her out to breakfast or perhaps talk over coffee. Using my key to enter her house, I cheerfully called her name but received no response. I knocked on her bedroom door, only to be met by an eerie silence. I opened the door and saw her still in bed, unmoved by my words or presence. As I knelt by her bed, I touched her cold hand, knowing that no words would bring her back. She passed away unexpectedly and at a young age, alone in her bed earlier that night.
As I knelt by her bedside, a flood of emotions washed over me, including a feeling of insurmountable regret that I had squandered my opportunities to spend time with her while she was alive. My tears that fell on the sheets that morning were indeed tears of regret and a very painful regret at that. Never again could I tell her how much I loved her, how thankful I was for all that she had done for me, or how deeply I really cared.
For her, at that moment, there was no tomorrow. For me, only memories that fade and erode over time, along with the inability to create more with the very person who gave me life, raised and cared for me, always putting my needs and wants above hers.
Standing amid the silence of nature with my canine companion, who I believed sensed my emotional state, he twice nudged my leg with his nose, “herding” me back toward my office. Perhaps he realized our mission was accomplished since I had identified the mental hurdle I had been fighting these last several hours.
As we walked back, I felt the need to share my very private journey with you. Maybe my words will touch those of you who need them before you are forced to endure the heart-wrenching pain of regret over the self-rationalization of inconvenience over a “manufactured” holiday.
Given our perilous time in history and the haste in which we live, it has never been more important than now to not only tell, but show those closest to you exactly how much they mean to you. You might not have another opportunity. Please don’t squander it.