Historically, Mother’s Day was my least favorite day of the year. I was three years old when my “Mama Dottie” died of colon cancer, and for decades, the requisite happy celebration of mothers cut to my core. I was undone for weeks as the Hallmark holiday reopened the huge attachment wound I didn’t fully understand.

Even when I became a mother, I couldn’t enjoy the sweet handmade gifts or flowers from my children. I felt terrible at how desperately I wanted to withdraw from them on Mother’s Day and did my best to put on a good face. Yet, I’m sure they knew. My husband started a wonderful tradition of taking them to the long-closed Opryland amusement park on the second Sunday in May, which allowed me the freedom of being miserable by myself. I was grateful and they had a blast in the nearly empty attraction.

When I entered recovery, slowly I came to understand my story and my mother’s story, and I had more compassion for myself. Still, the day was hard. Only in the last several years, after bajillion hours of therapeutic soothing of that abandoned little girl, have I relaxed into enjoying the day as a mom, rather than hating it as a daughter.

On this Mother’s Day, I celebrate my children. Nothing in my life has brought more joy than being their mom! I am so proud of them, so astonished by the amazing people they are. Both are kind, tenderhearted, generous, smart, tenacious, funny, and dedicated to God, to their spouses, and to their own children.

Certainly, they have frightened and pained me, too, as all children do. I will never forget the day my five year old son got lost at the circus and the excruciating 34 minutes before he was found, or the day a neighbor boy ran into the house screaming that he had been hit by a car. I didn’t know you could survive when your heart twice stopped beating for that long.

I’ll also never forget the phone call from my son-in-law that started with, “There’s no easy way to tell you this, but….” and then described a sudden medical emergency with my daughter. Never have I driven so fast as I desperately wound across the mountains to reach her hundreds of miles away.

Each time one of my children was troubled, my heart broke too. I didn’t think I could possibly love them more, until they were wracked by sorrow or difficulty, and I learned that a broken heart gushes love as well as tears. Being powerless to assuage life’s pains for your children is sheer torture.

I’m not unique, of course, in my responses or feelings. They are what loving mothers everywhere do. I’m certain it’s what Mama Dottie felt for me and my brothers at the end of her short life, and it’s what I am blessed to do for my now grown-up children.

The gift of grandchildren exponentially extends the love of motherhood. Today, being a GrandMarnie is the deepest joy of my life! My heart melts everytime the boys squeal “GRANDMARNIE!” or the toddler girl’s face lights up as she lifts her chubby arms to me.

On my birthday earlier this week, I stopped by the cemetery and stood on the sloping green hillside at my mother’s grave to thank her for giving me life and love. This afternoon my 103-year-old mother-in-law will join us as four generations celebrate Mother’s Day. It will be a special time of togetherness (still physically distanced but together) after almost two months apart.

For me, though, the celebration is really about the children –the two precious souls who call me mom, the little ones laughing and playing among us, and the children we all once were. I’m sure today brings a special smile to a loving Mama God, too, who eternally delights in Her beloved children. It’s what mothers do.

Marnie C. Ferree