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.