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Mother’s Day Without a Mom
Mother’s Day is often seen as a wholesome celebration of the special women in our lives. But for those of us struggling with infertility, the loss of a child or a sister, the mourning of an estranged mother, or myriad other heartaches, Mother’s Day can bring up painful reminders of the relationships with the women in our lives that we cannot celebrate the way we’d like to.
My perception of Mother’s Day changed in January of 2015 when my sister, who herself was a mother, died at the age of 29. I used to view Mother’s Day as a silly greeting-card holiday, a nonsense day invented to drive card and candy sales. But today, as a mother of two, this holiday reminds me of how short life can be, and how important it is that we celebrate the legacy of all the women and children in our lives who we can no longer be with.
I’d also like to share with you the poignant story of Lyn Helton, who died of cancer in 1971 at age 20. As a future gift to her one-year-old daughter Jennifer, Lyn recorded a series of poems onto tape. When her tape recorder was stolen from her Capitol Hill basement apartment, she wrote The Denver Post to ask if the paper could find another so she could resume her recordings. After reaching out to the Post, Lyn followed up by writing a reflection for the paper. “Dying is beautiful,” she wrote, “even…at the ripe old age of twenty.” She lived for four months after her diagnosis; her daughter was 18 months old at the time of her death.
Jennifer, whom Lyn had called “Sunshine,” was the inspiration for “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” which you may remember as a song recorded by John Denver that same year. The song also inspired two movies and a book.
The images shown here are pulled from the collection of History Colorado. The Lyn Helton manuscript collection (MSS 2246) was donated by a journalist who wrote about Lyn in The Denver Post. The collection contains letters, newspaper clippings, and ephemera that chronicle Lyn’s short-lived experience as a mother and form a testament to the bond that’s created with a child—a bond that lived on through a mother’s recorded words and poems.
This year, I would like to challenge everyone to get to know a special woman in your own life. Ask her to describe the happiest days of her life, and the saddest days. Ask about her childhood pets, favorite toys, and best friends. If it’s possible for you, don’t miss the chance to understand the complexity of her life, forgive her for not being perfect, and allow yourself to learn about who your mother is. If you’re a woman who plays a special role in someone’s life, I encourage you to truly open up about your life experiences to the people in your life who may be trying to connect.