When Mother’s Day Brings Both Gratitude & Grief

Mother's Day inevitably leads to feelings of grief after my mother's passing but also gratitude for the love and lessons

Shayne Rodriguez Thompson

Credit: Shayne Rodriguez Thompson | Courtesy

My mom embodied what it is to be a strong and resilient Latina mother and even though she’s been gone for eight years, she continues to impact the way I parent my own children. My mom taught me everything about being a mom who loves unconditionally, and even though she’s been gone so long, I still learn from her nearly every day. I lost her when I was 30, just three months after I had my second child and when my first was only three years old. My world was shattered. All these years later, the grief is still there. It’s real. Still tangible. And this time of year, when everyone is making Mother’s Day plans and celebrating their family’s matriarchs, that grief flares and lingers. Emotions come out of nowhere, memories hit hard, the loneliness consumes. But still, I’m grateful.

The majority of my own motherhood journey has happened without my mom to turn to. I can’t call her and ask for advice or share my fears of doing it all wrong. She doesn’t babysit my kids when I’m working or keep them for the weekend so I can take a little break and recharge. She’s not a shoulder to cry on when it’s all just too much. But there are countless times that I think about how strong she was and know that if she could do it, I can too. She still inspires me as a mom every day. Her impact doesn’t fade.

If I’m being honest, I know that she endured far more than I ever have and likely ever will. Her family has been in the states since the early 1950s, but my grandmother had returned to Puerto Rico on an extended trip when she was pregnant with my mom and she was born there. They came back to New Jersey several months later, and my mom spent most of her childhood as one of very few Latinxs in a middle class suburb. Spanish was her first language, but she had dark skin and kinky hair, and like so many of us, she confused people. But even from a young age, she had the ability to flex — to defy expectations — and an uncanny ability to unite.

I didn’t grow up in the same world that she did. Her and my dad faced a lot of obstacles for a lot of reasons — including becoming teen parents — and life led them to the urban area where I was raised. My childhood was surrounded by brown faces, and I was one among many, many Latinxs in my neighborhood and schools. But my children, they are growing up in a suburb where being Afro-Latinx isn’t the norm. They’ve faced some things that I did not, but my mother did.

I remind myself that if she could endure and still boldly proclaim her heritage back in the 60s, my Generation Alpha kids can too. She inspires me to empower them to shout their Boricua pride out loud and shatter the expectations and assumptions of anyone who challenges them. She was loud and opinionated and Boricua through and through, and no one could tell her otherwise. She instilled that in me and I’m working hard to instill it in my kids.

She did it decades ago, and while I’m sure not everyone loved her for it, she was in fact, loved deeply by many. My mom could make friends with anybody, anywhere. She had deep relationships — the kind that feel like a myth to me, but I know are real because I witnessed them. I think about it as an adult, and I know now that it’s because she simply loved people, and did her best to love them well.

She was one of the most empathic people I’ve ever known, always wanting the best for everyone, even to her own detriment. No one knew this more than her own children. Yes, we witnessed the flow of her relationships and how she engaged with people and lived life alongside them. But more importantly, we got to watch her do what she was born to do — raise children.

Credit: Shayne Rodriguez Thompson | Courtesy

My mother always wanted to be a mother. She had my older brother when she was just 19, and dreamed of having more children for seven years until I was born. Then, had my younger brother just a year later. Her and my dad dealt with a lot issues that plagued the Puerto Rican community in the states during the 80s and 90s — poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues — and ultimately did not have any more biological children, despite the fact that my mom always wanted another. But her maternal instincts were the strongest I’ve ever known. She was mom to everyone — cousins, friends, and near-strangers. She took care of everyone, all the time. A long-time in-home day care provider, largely caring for underprivileged children, she eventually opened our home to foster kids.

Throughout the years, she fostered dozens of children, and eventually, I gained three more little brothers. By the early 2000s, my mom was officially a mom of six. Motherhood was her calling. And while her life was rife with struggle and hardship, she did what I believe she was put on this earth to do. She made her mark — a mark that for so many of the people she loved will never be erased. I’m not sure that in her life, she knew that she’d done it, but she did. She loved so hard, so fully and unconditionally. She was a best friend to many, a confidante to many, a safe haven, a fierce protector, and there are so many people who cherish her memory and I know they will forever.

She was not perfect. She made a lot of mistakes. And as a 38-year-old mom of two and wife myself, I’ve reflected on those mistakes, and I can say with confidence that they too often came out of love. Raising my own children, I remind myself of that often. She made mistakes and wasn’t perfect. She didn’t live an idyllic life, and had a lot of personal struggles that we as her children witnessed and had to contend with often (sometimes still do). She yelled, she sobbed, her expectations were high and she was sometimes too hard on us.

But despite her mistakes, we all adored her. We trusted her, believed in her, and never questioned her devotion to us. So now, when I doubt myself as a mother — which let’s be honest, is often — I remember that she made mistakes too, that she wasn’t a perfect mother, but she was still my everything, and is still, my inspiration. She overcame countless obstacles and managed to raise six kids who are true to themselves, unabashedly proud of our culture and family roots, kids who are resilient and strong, who love hard, and honor her every day.

At 57, she left us far too young, and yes, it still hurts and I still grieve the loss of the best friend I ever had. I grieve that my children will never know her. Will never feel her arms around them or hear her belly laugh, or listen to her belt out her favorite classic rock song, or taste her arroz con habichuelas and pernil. Sometimes, it feels like just yesterday she was here and other times I can tell the memories are fading.

Now, as Mother’s Day approaches, I once again find myself tender. The edges of my mind feel frayed and fragile. Tears come when I don’t expect them, the grief washes over me whenever the thought of celebrating another Mother’s Day without her creeps in. I glance at the pictures on my wall and wish I could hug her just one more time. I see people making plans with their moms who are 67, and 77, and 87, and I’m envious. I question why I had to lose her so soon. I lament the fact that I have to raise children without her.

But, I’m also so grateful. I’m grateful for the time that I had with her. I’m grateful that I got to be her only daughter, and later, her confidante. I’m grateful that I got to watch her raise kids and for everything that I learned about being a good mom from her. I’m grateful for her successes and for her failures, because I’ve learned and I am still learning from all of it.

If my own daughter one day becomes a mother, I hope that I can be the same presence for her, that I can be her best friend, her rock, her biggest cheerleader, just like my mom was for me. I work hard to take care of myself so that she can hopefully have me longer than I had my own mom, because even in the least flowery way, my mother still motivates and inspires me to be the best version of myself. She believed in me and if she could see me now, I think she’d know it was all worth it.

My brothers and I are her legacy, and because of that, her impact will endure. As a mom, I hope every day to honor her and the sacrifices she made for the six of us, and I can only dream that one day my children too will remember that while mom was not perfect, she did it all out of love.

In this Article

afro-latina mom culture family latina mom mother's day
More on this topic