Mother's Day—Without Mom

A Note from Barbara on spending Mother’s Day without her mom.

Our corporate offices are in the flower district of New York City and judging by sumptuous displays of roses, tulips, lilies, daffodils and irises in the windows, it’s obvious that Mother’s Day is upon us. And while everyone from Amazon to Starbucks has ideas on how to thank Mom for all she does, I often wonder about the people like me who live outside this orbit, a little tribe that no longer has a Mother for whom to express the perfect sentiment.

My Mother passed away in 1992 from lung cancer. As a two pack a day smoker, the diagnosis was hardly surprising by today’s standards, and yet back then people did not realize how toxic cigarettes were. As an herbalist, I was able to develop remedies to help her cope during her illness and seeing the comfort this care brought made a huge impact on my decision to devote my career to wellness. To this day, when someone lights up a cigarette, the smell catapults me back to the hours I spent with my mother sharing our mutual love for the outdoors on our Virginia farm going horseback riding, harvesting fruits and vegetables from the garden or hiking through the woods.

Above all my mother was the master of simple rituals. She possessed an uncanny knack for tackling the stresses of the day or intangible worries with practices that made the universe feel sane.

Teatime was a daily occurrence in our household. Every afternoon when I got off the bus from school, she would put the kettle on the stove and we would sit down with warm mugs of black tea, laced with cream and sugar, to discuss the day’s events. Mom knew how to hit the pause button, and together we would watch the world go by. Her infectious laughter made the world brighter. Even now, whenever I have a thorny issue to tackle, I blend my herbs in the teapot to act as a divine conjurer and allow me the space to tease out solutions.

Water was another sublime pleasure my mother loved, as baths were an essential nightly ritual. Her favorite bath time elixir was Jean Nate by Charles of the Ritz, a powdery concoction of Lavender, Jasmine, Rose, Carnation and Lily of the Valley that was popular in the 1970s. The scent rose in a plume as the water gushed forth and when my mother settled back into the porcelain embrace of the tub, my sisters and I would all gather there, a sort of informal summit where gossipy bits of information were dispensed and discussed. Every night I continue this tradition by slipping into a warm bath with a concoction of essential oils to ground my senses.

For my mother, lighting a fire was a celebration of a day well-spent. She always lit candles or set the fireplace ablaze at dusk. Just as the tinkling of ice in a glass announces the arrival of the cocktail hour, my mother’s fires announced to the world that the day’s tasks were complete, and you had made a difference.

In her lifetime, my mother provided endless amounts of care and support, with a good helping of tough love when necessary. So, what to do on Mother’s Day if you are like me and your mom is no longer around?

To all my motherless companions out there I say light the fire and prepare the perfect cup of tea. Take a long walk. Get on the floor with your dog and do some belly rubbing. Inhale deeply the amber notes of Sandalwood, Frankincense and Vetiver before settling into the meditation cushion. And if you are a mom yourself or still have your mom, celebrate this lasting relationship, cherishing the rituals that bring you together. It may sound corny, but the truth is, these rituals bring the warmth and simplicity back in our lives and keep us sane. Just like Mom did.