I found myself in the Mother’s Day card section at the store this morning. It was bumper-to-bumper with buggies and proactive husbands picking out cards for their wives with their kids. It was endearing. I usually like to make my own cards, but this year I find myself shorter on time and I wanted to send out several to special women, so I started in on making my selections. I was minding my own business when the aisle seemed to clear, giving me the space I needed to move freely around and choose a variety of cards to suit the recipients.
Then, I bumped into the only other person that was sharing the aisle with me. She was an older woman, with a well-coordinated ensemble and she too was on the hunt for the perfect card. She must have been a mind reader because she shared my chagrin at just how expensive greeting cards have gotten. “They want seven dollars for this one,” she pointed out. We engaged in some banter over the ridiculousness of the price and as I tossed four cards into my cart, I started thinking about all the things I could by with $30, and remembered why making homemade cards is really the way to go! “Well,” I reasoned, “I guess they know that people will spare no expense for their mamas.” Wrong.
No sooner did I finish my sentence, did this elderly mind-reader also notice the invisible sign on my forehead indicating that I am indeed a geriatric counselor. “How do they always find me?” I wonder. She proceeded to tell me her husband died a year ago, and she is so incredibly lonely. She went on to say that she rarely hears from her children now, and never her grandkids. She would be getting no $7 Hallmark card. She told me she and her husband worked six jobs between them to put her sons through school so they would have good lives. And they have very good lives now. The other bit that stung me was she said her grandkids told her, “Granny, we will only communicate with you if you learn how to text.” She went on to say that she learned how to text, but that they don’t text her back.
It’s hard to know what to say to a perfect stranger in the greeting card section, surrounded by stationery sentiments dedicated to love and adoration for the mom who sacrificed everything for her kids, and know that this person who did all that is suffering so deeply. I wonder if her grandkids knew she was talking to a random lady about her pain and isolation, about the unanswered texts, what would they feel? There is usually nothing to say in these kinds of situations that makes a darn bit of difference.
“I’m so sorry. You deserve to feel special,” I tell her. I turned and scurried away from her, wishing that I would have given her a hug or have said something that truly mattered, but the bottom line is she is alone and grieving and the people that could truly make a difference in her life, the ones who owe her the most for theirs, won’t be bothered to return a text message.
In the helping profession, there are certain days we fear. For the nurses in an ER, it’s the night of the full moon. For my sister who works in a burn hospital, it’s the day after the fourth of July. For me, the geriatric counselor, it’s the Monday after Mother’s Day. Come Monday, my day will unfortunately be filled clients who will express much of the same feelings of sadness, longing and disappointment that the stranger shared with me. Many of the older women I see will explain that there were no cards and no calls. And it will always break my heart.
I get the complex relationships children have with their mothers, I do. I completely understand that some people have had such toxic and abusive mothers, that they have to shut them out completely and those ones will not be getting a Mother’s Day card. I am not talking about those moms. What I want adult children and grandchildren to realize is that they have so much power.
A small act of sending a card, or a phone call can make such a difference in the life of an older adult who is feeling isolated, lonely or depressed. They still matter, and your life depended on them. Let them know that you have some gratitude for who they are, what they have done, or simply let them know what is going on in your lives. It is the absolute least you can do. And if you can’t muster up the time and effort to write a card or buy a stamp, pick up the phone and call Granny. Then follow up that call with a text and selfie every now and then. It will brighten her week, trust me.
The other thing we can do is to look around at our neighbors, friends and extended relatives and ask ourselves “who is that person who won’t be getting a Mother’s Day card this year?” Maybe it’s a bereaved mom, an elderly aunt, or neighbor who you suspect is lonely. Please reach out, because otherwise the Monday after Mother’s Day is going to be brutal.