Mother’s Day: You feel disinvited to a party that you’ve always RSVP’d to

It comes by once a year to remind you that all you want is the clock to turn back

Barry O’Rourke: ‘Grief is one of the worst clubs in the world that you can join. And although it has a widespread membership, it’s all-consuming and often never talked about.’

I used to dread losing things at home because rummaging through drawers and shelves could often prove fatal.

Sometimes it’s an old photo in a frame or a pair of earrings behind a book. A scarf, still with a hint of her perfume. Or in the case of this week, a handwritten note found tucked inside an old coat. It reads “Good luck tomorrow Barry. Everything will be fine. Love Mam”.

My eyes water and I stare at it for an hour, fearing at any moment I could combust. I forget what I’m even looking for, transfixed on this small page, written on a day I can’t even remember. At the very least, one more booby trap has been disarmed, a piece of treasure collected.

Mother’s Day: A party you can’t attend

Grief is one of the worst clubs in the world that you can join. And although it has a widespread membership, it’s all-consuming and often never talked about.


Members will forever be both master and novice in the topic. Each day brings new challenges for you to navigate. You never quite feel in control.

Grief is also exhausting, both physically and mentally. Although we all grow up to know and appreciate the circle of life, when it does befall your family, you’ll feel helplessly bitter at how cruel life can be.

And yet, the world still spins. The sun rises the next day. Time moves on.

But do we move on? Many people liken grief to an ocean tide, something I’ve learned is fairly apt. There’s a constantly ebbing and flowing against you, pulling and pushing you this way and that.

Sometimes waves are crashing down at you and all you can do is let it wash over you. Other times it’s a gentle current, but you’ll never permit yourself to enjoy the peace – there’s always a calm before the storm.

If my grief is indeed an ocean, then Mother’s Day is most definitely a full moon. It summons this unavoidable tidal wave, which throughout the year you see in the distance, slowly gathering speed and volume. By early March the size is enormous.

I’m often embarrassed by how much power a single day has over my life now. But I see the changes in mid-February, and my psyche defends itself almost instinctively.

I walk through town with horse blinders on, shielding me from shop display windows and billboard advertisements. I filter out emails before they can come through, with their hot deals and last-minute gift ideas. Radio ads calling out competitions are turned off. Commuters clutching floral bouquets and balloons are ignored.

Perhaps that’s why Mother’s Day can be so challenging. You feel disinvited to a party that you’ve always RSVP’d to. Now, friends and strangers celebrate something you’re desperately still missing.

Despite time moving forward, and you attempt to make do with a new normal, once a year this day comes by to remind you that all you want is the clock to turn back.

A few years ago, I was only too delighted to be in the middle of it all. Money was no object when there were teddies, cards and cake to buy for the world’s best mammy. I wonder was there someone else, all those years ago, looking at me in the same way? With that pang of disbelief and jealousy.

We’re all guilty of being blissfully ignorant to grief until we aren’t.

Mourning more than just your Irish Mammy

My mam was, like any Irish mammy, a force of nature. She was thoughtful and selfless and bursting with love and affection. She had a wicked sense of humour and always knew how to draw out a person’s smile. When she listened, you felt heard.

She would leave little notes about the place, just to remind you she was thinking of you. She’d ring every day, and acted much like a best friend, as well as a parent.

When you grieve, you often fantasise about what things would be like if life turned out differently. You mourn not only your loved one but yourself – the person you were when they were around, the person you would become if you weren’t so cynical of life now. As much as I miss her, and I miss her immeasurably, I often miss myself.

Irish mammys make us better people in every sense. Their existence makes ours worth tenfold. And their absence is like being robbed of a key ingredient to the recipe that is you.

As time moves on

I’ve been a member of the grief club for a few years, and I’ve learned that each day it becomes easier to process your new reality.

The most important step for me now is not being afraid to talk about it. To not wince when someone brings Mam up. To be patient with others who say something wrong. To be patient with me when the waves come crashing down.

You’ll pre-emptively build stronger walls for that looming tidal wave that comes every March. Every birthday, Christmas and other special days will have its own set of defence mechanisms. Try to enjoy the calm times afterwards too; you’ve earned it.

Some days, grief feels like her passing happened just yesterday. Others it’s like something I’ve always lived with. Grief never plays by the laws of time.

Eventually, you won’t mind talking about your loved ones in the past tense. But you shouldn’t shy away from talking about them in the present, either. Because as I’ve learned, our lost ones are still very present in everyday life.

You’ll find them in photographs. In old text messages. In signs and symbols in nature. Meals reignite family memories. Brand new pieces of music will make you think of them. You’ll hear new stories from old friends. You’ll ask for their advice in your head, and know instinctively what they’d tell you.

And sometimes, you find little pieces of paper in an old coat pocket. You might think this is the new kind of invite to Mother’s Day, now. An invite you’ll RSVP in an instant.

And you’ll finally look at those old drawers and think to yourself there’s probably a lot more treasure to find.