Mother’s Day and Tahlequah the Whale

Mother’s Day and Tahlequah the Whale

Mother’s Day is a holiday driven by sentimentality and commerce. Although it purports to celebrate all mothers, the holiday is completely disconnected from the reality of motherhood. In many cases, motherhood is fraught with sorrow, hurt, anger, neglect, abuse, disrespect, despair, worry, exhaustion, heartbreak, and depression. Of course, there are mothers who are treated well and have happy relationships with their kids, but there are unfortunate mothers who, despite their best efforts, do not enjoy the fruits of their labor (literally).

Motherhood is glorified to the point of absurdity. Images abound of madonnas nursing their babes and smiling mothers watching their children while they sleep. But let’s keep it real here: Being a mother is stupefyingly challenging, starting with morning sickness, pregnancy and delivery, followed by the 24/7 exhausting care that an infant needs. The years spent raising a child are challenging, with the ever present potential for accidents, illness, or tragedy and the mother does everything she can to protect her child from calamity. Then there are the adolescent years when she watches as her kids slowly turn away from her because they yearn to spread their wings and fly away from the nest.

A mother’s love grows and grows. She never, ever stops loving her child. But if the attachment is too close, too symbiotic, it becomes unhealthy.

I’m reminded of Tahlequah, the orca whale that, in 2018, carried her dead calf for approximately 17 days in the Pacific Ocean. When the calf repeatedly fell into the depths, the mother dove to retrieve it. She managed to keep up with her pod as she carried her poor calf. Scientists agree that, being a highly intelligent mammal with emotions, she was grieving her baby and wasn’t yet ready to it let go. It was a heartbreaking sight.

We mothers, especially those of us who have been estranged, partially or fully, from our adult child, can’t let go. Our love is a forever thing. We carry our child in our heart. We carry the weight of the estrangement, the weight of the heartbreak, the grief and the sorrow. We carry the despair of being  shunned by our own child and we can’t fix it or change it. We dive to the depths to save the relationship with our child, but come up with nothing but sludge. We carry our love and we carry it alone.

When Tahlequah finally let go of her calf, it is said that she became “frisky.” The period of mourning was over and she was finally unencumbered and free.

On this Mother’s Day, following a most difficult year, let us wake up and shake off the weight of all that we have been carrying. Throw away guilt, grief, sorrow. Get rid of any futile hopes you may have for a miraculous and loving reconciliation – it may come, but now isn’t the time. Let’s look the other way- away from our adult child and all the stress and strife, and fix our gaze on the horizon. Let’s be happy, finally,  once and for all.

Surrender. Trust yourself. Walk lightly, talk softly and love who you are. Yes, dear one, you are a mother, but you are also so much more.

4 thoughts on “Mother’s Day and Tahlequah the Whale”

  • Beautifully written Nancy! You’ve been such an inspiration to me! At fist I thought my whole world had imploded when I was estranged from one of my 5 adult children only to have my son go though a separation from his ex and now for reasons unknown, although obviously anger and revenge are obvious , I’ve now been estranged from 2 my grandkids. What is wrong with this generation that they throw away people so easily. I had gotten to a great place of release and healing with my adult daughter but then trying to apply the same tools to the grandchildren, well it just doesn’t work right now. I guess I’m not ready to release the pain. Tonight’s a hard night, looking at IG or FB makes it difficult seeing all the beautiful families celebrating birthdays, holidays with grandparents. Grief comes in stages for each situation and I’m feeling emotionally where I was a year ago. It’s going to work out one day! I keep telling myself……..

  • There are so many outside forces these days trying to separate us from our loved ones. Sometimes it’s all we can do to hang on.

    It was not always easy, but I sleep well knowing that we’re never guaranteed time with anyone, and that the days I was offered, I’ve cherished with my babies.

  • Linda – you write so beautifully about such an un-beautiful subject . Your hope and insights are so inspiring. Thank-you for your thoughts and eloquence!

  • Bravo Nancy!

    Last Sunday I gathered a large box, got down on the floor in front of a big cabinet, opened the bottom doors and removed all the baby toys, rattles, wooden box and flat puzzles, crayons, chalk, bubbles, magnifying glasses, balls, puppets, forest animal masks, books, music instruments–drums, xylophone, chimes, clackers, triangles, cymbals, lap harps, –all the toys I had purchased over these waiting years, hoping that if my grandchildren visited, there would be something for them to play with and feel comfortable and happy with while here. Thought of, planned for, hoped for. Cherished, cared for, loved. And it was fun to imagine playing with them and laughing and having fun as I did with my own children – (oh the fun we had with the “rainy day fun box”).

    And yet, my other life, my real life, forges ahead.
    This week I finished a month long course along with a certificate I’d been working on since winter. Both these items will help to solidify my footing in this next stage of my life–semi retirement without my grandkids. Working part-time in something I can contribute to.
    With the learning has come the study materials, the writing, the research, the materials that accompany growth. All sitting on the floor next to my dining room table, cluttering up the space and making me frown every time I look at it. All that learning and no place to put it–haha.

    I live in a very small space–it is clearly limited. Choices must be made. So there I sat before the cabinet, thinking that if I removed the items stored there with hope and longing for some day, ……….., I might have plenty of room for the fullness of today.

    As I packed, other than one moment where my body released some sort of spontaneous soft wail and I felt my chest compress and my throat then relax, I felt remarkably calm. Why, I wondered? Why the relative ease instead of agony in putting away, giving away, moving away from this ark of hope? And the only inner answer I received was…”because moving away from this….to that……is growth”. Growth helps it all hurt less. And growth is always good. It stands us in good stead.

    Sending the toys away from my living space doesn’t mean I don’t hope anymore. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my son, or my grandchildren, or even my DIL.
    It does mean that I intend to live what’s left of my life well ; involved with life, awake to life, present, helpful, loving and at peace.

    The truth is, no matter the agony — (and as anyone who has been through it knows, it Is agony), — the situation does not need my hate and pain and neither does my son.
    The only thing that is needed, and the only thing that can help the ethers of the Universe line up with love, IS love. Love for him, love for the situation, and mostly, love for myself and my life, which is mine to care for, grow, and make myself proud of.
    So toys and longing begone to another space. Learning and what I love about all that growth gets tidily put in order–accessible, useable, — here for the growing.
    The dining space can breathe now. And so, I notice, can I.

    I hope we all have a Mother’s Day filled with love for ourselves, our past, and for all the future to come. We have more control over the peace and joy to be had than we realize. Let’s grab whatever good is left, and feed and nurture that and see what happens.
    May all awake to the joy that they are and the love that they hold.

    Thank you Nancy, for providing the space where we can speak such things that others often misunderstand. You have provided a space of respect and honor for the pain of our losses. One of your gifts to the world.
    I hope your mother’s day is filled with love for you and peace for your heart.


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