At my previous synagogue, I became friendly with an older woman. She told me all the time about her amazing son. My wife and I even had dinner with her, her son and his family to celebrate her 80th birthday.
A few weeks later I got a call at my office. The caller said she'd like to set up a meeting. I asked what it was regarding. She told me it was a personal matter. When we sat down a few days later, she told me she was my 80-year-old friend's daughter.
I was shocked. "I-I-I had no idea," I replied. "Yes," she said, "We haven't spoken in 15 years. She barely knows my children. I know you have gotten to know her. Mother's Day is coming up. Can you help us heal?"
It was at that moment I realized how painful Mother's Day can be. It is a time to pay tribute. And it is also a time to recognize. To recognize the pain of estrangement; the heartache of those who can't become mothers; and the hurt of those who have lost their mothers.
Studies estimate 30 percent of women have been estranged at some point from their mom. This fact may sadden us. But should it surprise us?
No relationship is perfect. We say things that hurt another. We are not always present when we need to be. These mistakes are part of being human.
Yet, as Alexander Pope once said, "to err is human; to forgive, divine."
We resist the need to forgive. Sometimes we resist it most fiercely with those love. Mothers can be at the top of that list. We need to remember this reality when we celebrate Mother's Day. We need to remember the pain of the estranged.
Abraham's wife Sarah is the mother of the Jewish people. Yet, she had a hard time becoming a mother. Her pain was so great that she asked Abraham to have a child with her maid Hagar.
Two of the other Jewish matriarchs, Rebecca and Rachel, also experienced great pain in their attempt to become mothers. They pleaded with God. Their cries are some of the most poignant and heart-felt in the Bible.
Some people may cry hard on Mother's Day. Sometimes we think giving birth is the most natural thing in the world. Thousands of years of history prove otherwise.
In my congregation, I always make it a point around Mother's Day to call people who have lost their mother over the past year. The joy of the day can also remind us of the pain of our loss.
The pain is felt even if the death was expected, and even if the death happened at a ripe old age. Life is not measured by years. It is measured by the depth of our relationships. We may feel most acutely the depth of what we have lost on a day when others celebrate what they still have.
Israeli poet Naomi Shemer said life demands we accept the bitter with the sweet. Mother's Day is one of the sweetest days of year, and we should celebrate it. In our celebration, however, let us not ignore the pain our friend and neighbor may be feeling.