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Jackie Gingrich Cushman / May 6, 2021

This Year, a Mother’s Day Marked by Love — and Loss

My mother-in-law passed away. Elkin Goddard Alston was a wonderful, elegant, giving lady.

Becoming a parent was the most profound, all-encompassing event in my life. While I loved and still love my husband, Jimmy, the birth of a child ignited inside me a new type of overwhelming love: motherly love. Though I knew that parts of both of us had combined to create a new human being, I also knew that she was a new life, totally independent of us, who was created through a miracle by God.

Our first child, Maggie, is now an adult, but I still vividly remember the day she was born. A rather uneventful labor changed course during her delivery, when the doctor announced that the baby was having problems breathing and took her out of the room. My husband followed them. I felt secure in the knowledge that he would ensure her safety, and he did.

Our first night home on our own with our new child was sleepless for all of us. She cried almost constantly; we were exhausted and frightened. But we all made it through the night. Less than two years later, we were blessed with a second child, Robert, whose entrance into the world was a bit more dramatic. After a scare with a prolapsed umbilical cord and an emergency C-section for which I was put under general anesthesia, he was born. An hour later, I woke from sedation for a few seconds and saw my husband giving me a thumbs-up; I knew all was right and that I could go back to sleep.

Maggie is now a 21-year-old college junior who is bright, creative and thoughtful, and seeks each day to help others. Robert is a college freshman, over 6 feet tall, funny, engaging and looking for ways to be a better person. Best of all, they enjoy spending time together, often grabbing breakfast or lunch at the university they both attend.

Being a mother has been both the most gratifying and the hardest role of my life. I am so grateful that my husband and I raised our children together; I can’t even imagine how challenging it would be to be a single parent. The journey of parenting is always changing: They go from diapers to crawling to walking, to school to driving a car to college to falling in love. What does not change is my love for them. It just grows and grows over time.

This week, we are celebrating Mother’s Day. It became an official holiday over a century ago, when then-President Woodrow Wilson signed a presidential proclamation designating Mother’s Day to be held on the second Sunday in May. Father’s Day was proclaimed decades later, in 1966, by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Anna Jarvis began advocating for Mother’s Day in 1905, after her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Two years later, she held a service for her mother at St. Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Her mother had advocated for peace during the American Civil War and tended to soldiers on both the Union and Confederate sides.

The Civil War, which pitted son against son, must have been excruciating for mothers. They knew that whatever the outcome, many sons would die during the conflict. As her mother had done, Jarvis channeled her efforts to tend to both sides.

After the war, Ann and Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist who is credited with writing the lyrics of the song “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” led a movement to rally mothers to push for peace.

As Anna Jarvis said, when advocating for Mother’s Day, a person’s mother is “the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” I realize that not all people are blessed with loving mothers. Some abandoned or abused their children. Those wounds must be the hardest from which to recover and heal.

This year, our family’s celebration of Mother’s Day will be mixed. This week, my mother-in-law passed away. Elkin Goddard Alston was a wonderful, elegant, giving lady who loved her children and grandchildren above all else. She loved hearing about their latest escapades and attending their baseball and football games, ballet performances, plays and orchestra recitals. As her grandchildren grew older, she enjoyed engaging them in conversations, learning about their lives and asking smart questions.

For us, this weekend will hold joy from knowing she loved her children and grandchildren and that they will continue her legacy of love. And it will hold sorrow, for she will be so missed.


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