I have an uneasy relationship with Mother’s Day, for a variety of reasons. It’s not that I don’t think mothers should be celebrated or honored. I had a great mother (still living, at age 96), four wonderful adult children, and five grandchildren, who I dearly love. But the holiday itself just makes me uncomfortable.
I first noticed it as a child, with the blessing at the end of Mass on Mother’s Day. All the mothers were supposed to stand up, but my mom didn’t. She wasn’t Catholic, and rarely went to Mass with us. To me, it seemed unfair that she didn’t get the blessing–she had certainly earned it, having to put up with me! As I got older, I decided God would take care of blessing her, even if she wasn’t there.
Then I grew up, got married, and had children. I came in contact with other women who
- were having difficulty getting pregnant
- had miscarried
- had stillborn babies
- had lost a child (Cemetery)
- had lost custody of/contact with their child
So even as I stood in church, squirming child in my arms, sometimes not so thankful I was a mother (come on, we’ve all had days/weeks/months like that!), I would notice the women not standing. My heart would ache for them, not necessarily knowing the reason. Truthfully, every year it was harder for me to stand, not because I was ashamed of being a mother, but because it seemed like salt in the wound for the known and unknown women who were hurting–whether or not they were standing. I didn’t want my kids freaking out about, “Why isn’t Mom standing!?!?!” so I always stood. I seldom do, now, though.
With genealogy, I find these wounds regularly. Miscarriages won’t be recorded–because few of them are ever known beyond the mother and father. Stillborn children and those who died young I always include on the tree as I learn of them. Even if they are unnamed, they need to be remembered and mourned. One of my dad’s cousins had three daughters . . . and also three sons who died at or shortly after birth. The generations coming up need to know about those branches that got pruned too soon.
I remember looking through the Kreuzeber, Thuringen, Germany, microfilm church records for the mid-1800s at a Family History Library (Film 1193951 Item 1 DGS film #007768336). My great grandfather, John Haase, and his wife, Elisabeth Nachtwey, were born there, married, and had at least one child before emigrating to Wisconsin. I had located the specific events I needed for them, then started back at the beginning. I scrolled through Births, Marriages, and Deaths for each year, looking for other Haase and Nachtwey family.
I found the names of John’s parents, and at least one brother. But it was a small village, so I assumed anyone with those surnames were likely to be a relative. My plan was to print the pages with a Haase or Nachtwey record, then I could bring them home and sort out the people. Unfortunately, the “sorting out” phase is still waiting to be done . . .
As I scrolled through, I jotted notes to myself, so I knew which pages to print later. Capital “H” and “N” are fairly easy to pick out, even in funky German script, so I could cover a decent number of pages each time I went to the library. One afternoon I was tooling along when I let out a pretty audible, “OH!” Half a sigh, like air being let out of a balloon. I quickly glanced around to see if anyone was giving me the evil eye for being noisy. Fortunately, no one was.
I had just found the death record for a very young girl. It was the mid-1800s, so not a terribly unusual occurrence. But I had just seen the birth record for this girl. For whatever reason, that particular day, finding her death record left me feeling sad, and wondering about the mother.
How did she cope with her loss? Did she think about this little girl, or try not to? Is she happy that a complete stranger (me) is now acknowledging her child’s brief life, and mourning its loss, even after more than 150 years? Does it give her satisfaction knowing her child will always have a spot in at least one persons’s family tree? I don’t know, but I hope so. I hope that mother can rest easier knowing someone besides herself remembers and mourns her child.
Mother’s Day. It’s a little trickier than flowers and chocolate.