Goulburn Writers Fest Masthead

The signposts of Mother’s Day

Vivien Mitchell

Mother’s Day signposts the circle of life.

If you’re a mum, then it points in two directions. It’s forward, and back; it’s future and past.

It’s not only a day to be pampered by little fingers delivering a mani-pedi, but a day to recognise our own mums and grandmothers. For me, it will be a day tinged with sadness, as it’s the third Mother’s Day since my mum died and the years before that were equally tough, as she was lost in the fog of Alzheimer’s.

This is the most cruel disease, and creates a long, long good-bye. It started as a mist that burnt off easily, often revealing a sunny day, but over time, the fog rolled in more often, and she struggled to see through it or recognise her family.

It’s true that the first time Mum failed to recognise me was like a stab in the heart.

But with Alzheimer’s, sometimes there’d be a wonderfully lucid moment and she would know exactly who I was. Recognition became a commodity – a valuable gift. There was usually a ready smile, although one day she was heartbroken and cried in frustration, “I should know you”.

Misplaced faces also meant misunderstood relationships: at times she thought I was her mother, sister or daughter – depending on the moment and how her memory fitted me into the puzzle. A Mother’s Day visit could unfold in any number of ways, but she was always my mum, and on very foggy days, there was a way to connect – simply holding hands.

It’s tragic that Alzheimer’s erases a life of memories, but she was able to laugh and cry with her family even when she stopped talking. Her eyes remained a brilliant blue and she remained a quite the flirt. She had surgery about a year before she died, and when the anaesthetist came to review her, she was sitting with arms crossed over her chest protectively.

“May I listen to your heart?” he asked.

“Of course you can” she beamed, and flung her arms wide open. It was simply wonderful, and so funny, a fleeting glimpse of a spirited past.

Despite what she lost, she still appreciated a handsome man.

She loved to play the piano, and was able to play the Moonlight Sonata with feeling and emotion long after she gave up on reading books. I can’t listen to the Moonlight Sonata without crying, and suspect there are many other girls out there who approach Mother’s Day with a degree of sadness, anticipating a sense of loss. Afterall, on this very day when we celebrate being a mother and the mothers who shaped our lives, well, if they are no longer with us, then we really feel it.

There’s a poignancy around Mother’s Day that you keenly feel if you’ve lost your mum. It’s yet another exercise in commercialism, and fits neatly into a marketing calendar of Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter. We’re told to stop and celebrate mothers – but this is hard when all you’ve got is your memories and other reminders of her unique role in your life.

Where the magic really lies, though, is in individual homes and aged care centres. This is where we find a deeper meaning, connection and expression of love between mothers and daughters and mothers and sons, and when you’ve become a mum yourself, it’s beautiful to receive hand-made cards with gorgeous little messages.

A good experience of motherhood is one of life’s greatest gifts, as a mother or a daughter.

Whether you are celebrating or remembering your mum, or experiencing your first Mother’s Day as that person who’s actually allowed to stay in bed and be the one who will patiently enjoy a make-over courtesy of a little person, may love and appreciation be thrown over you like a 1970s crochet patchwork blanket that your grandma made. You know, the type that have had a revival and now offer a snug respite for cold knees in the all the coolest cafés.

Image of ‘old and young…‘ via Shutterstock


Vivien Mitchell

Vivien is a mother-of-five who values kindness and connection. She is an entrepreneur, founder and designer at Solar Bare, a boutique sun wear label that offers stylish sun protection with distinctive prints. In a previous life, she was snr partnerships manager at Centenary of Canberra and has also managed some high-profile events around town. She is a consultant on partnerships and development in the arts and has travelled the ‘long-goodbye’ Alzheimer’s path with her mum. She’s a creative soul who loves writing, photography, fashion (in particular vintage and op-shop finds), coffee, French champagne, Tasmanian sparklings, family and friends. Vivien tweets at @Viv54 and is on Instagram @54viv. More about the Author

Denman Leaderboard