Making Mother's Day Meaningful for the Motherless: The Mother's Day Project
Mother’s Day for me has been angry, bitter, and resentful. For most people, Mother's Day doesn't conjure up these feelings. But for those of us without mothers on Mother's Day, the motherless, it can feel like the most terrible time of the year.
I'd spent years eye-rolling at Mother's Day ads plastering my television and catalogues and billboards and pop-up windows. "Don't forget Mom!" they'd broadcast in bold. I scoffed at the greeting card displays at Target, with "Love you, Mom!" in every color imaginable. I feigned interest when my waiter let me know as he picked up my bill that they've started taking Mother's Day Brunch reservations. "Treat the woman who always treated you!" I stayed off social media for the days around Mother's Day because I couldn't take the love everyone else shared. "Being your mother is the greatest honor of my life!" It was all an annual a spotlight on what I never got to have, a party I wasn’t invited to but was forced to watch.
Remember that scene from the American classic film Legally Blonde when Elle Woods’ boyfriend had just broken up with her, and Elle is watching a love scene on TV? She responds by throwing her chocolates at the screen, yelling "Liar!" I was basically Elle Woods every year for the entire month of April and the first week of May anytime a Mother’s Day commercial came across my screen.
It wasn't fair! Why me? Why my mom? Why her? Why did she have to die of cancer?
I know I can't get around the grief I feel. That's not going anywhere and I have to learn to live with it. It's a part of me. As David Kessler writes in his book Finding Meaning, "Healing doesn't mean the loss didn't happen. It means it no longer controls us." The fact that my mom is dead? That's never going to change. But what I realized five years ago was that there is one thing that is within my control: I get to decide what I do with my grief for my dead mother. Do I stay angry and bitter every year? Do I keep yelling at the TV?
I woke up one morning in the middle of April in 2017 and decided "Nope, not today" to my Mother's Day bitterness. Instead of anger and envy, I wanted to feel a sense of purpose on Mother's Day. I wanted to do something for moms—for moms who may be hurting, too.
I was in graduate school in Chicago at the time, and got in contact with Lurie Children's Hospital and their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit because I knew those moms would really be struggling. They should feel the love on this special day, but their own self-care would be the last thing on their minds. I decided that I would deliver gift bags to mothers with infants in intensive care, who are thinking about anything but themselves on Mother's Day. When Lurie Children's gave me the green light, I started fundraising.
That first year, I raised a few hundred dollars from friends and family and hopped over to TJ Maxx to fill up some goodie bags for mothers: candy, fuzzy socks, eye masks, lip gloss…anything but baby stuff. Just something to give them a little love that day. I dropped off the gift bags on Mother's Day to the children's hospital. And you know what? It felt amazing. I was doing something positive with my grief for my mother, honoring her as an influence in my life instead of focusing on the emptiness I felt without her.
I was finally healing from my mother's death after 15 years.
And so, the Mother's Day Project was born. Every year since then, fundraising and donors have grown exponentially to include strangers I've never met but who heard about the project through social media or friends. Women who received gifts while their babies were in the unit have become donors the next year. When I moved back to North Carolina, the project focused on Duke Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and just last year expanded to include The University of North Carolina's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, as well. What started as just 20 mothers, a few hundred dollars raised, and a couple dozen donors, has turned into tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of donors, and hundreds of mothers getting a gift bag on Mother's Day. Even local news has covered the story!
Last year, I incorporated The Mother's Day Project, LTD, and received tax exempt status from the IRS as a nonprofit organization. This idea that I came up with five years ago is now a full-fledged whole thing! And let me tell you, I've got big goals for the organization: statewide expansion, or even nationwide expansion one day! There are mamas all over the world who could use some extra love!
But here's the part that really touches me: this thing I started doing with my own grief for my mom is an outlet for other people's grief, too. I know that many Mother's Day Project donors have lost parents and are giving in their honor every year, because it helps them channel their own sense of loss into something positive. Maybe this project is helping them heal too, and that ripple effect fills me with more pride than I can put into words.
Now that we are in April, it's time to kick off The Mother's Day Project fundraising season for 2022: we have a big goal of raising $10,000 this year by May 8th! These funds will be used to purchase 140 gift bags for mothers with infants in intensive care at Duke and UNC hospitals, breakfast for the units' medical staff, and to support expansion next Mother's Day into more hospitals.
We need your help to reach our goal in one month! Visit our website at www.mothersdayproject.org to donate today!
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