Reaching back in time through my matrilineage …
Mother’s Day is an important time to recognize our mothers and everything they do for us in our families, communities and society. Mother’s Day is celebrated at different times of year, around the globe, and originated as an opportunity to recognize, give thanks for and spend time with our mothers or mother figures.
However, not everyone has a mother, or they have a complicated relationship with their mother and mother figures. Mother’s Day can feel different, depending on your relationship with your mother. It can be joyous, and it can bring up tough memories and emotions. I believe it’s helpful to recognize Mother’s Day as an opportunity to be with whatever arises and to be open to new ways of relating.
Although I still have a deep love for my mother—and I believe she loves me deeply, too—we have a difficult relationship. My mother has struggled during her life and our relationship was extremely difficult at times. I have dedicated a large part of my adult life to healing myself after sticking around too long trying to heal her.
Though there remains a lot of pain in my heart about my mother, I want to share how I found a different way of knowing her and myself—by connecting with my maternal lineage.
When I was a teenager, my mother gifted me an heirloom, a beautiful locket necklace made out of German steel from the early 1900s. My mother told me she used to wear it all the time when she was a teenager and she wanted me to have it.
The older I got and the more healing work I did, the more interested I became in the locket. In my mid-thirties, I started to look into where the locket came from. I found out it had been gifted to my mother by my Great-Auntie Faith, when my mom was about 13 years old. I figured this was right around the time my mother was starting to have difficulties. At the time, there weren’t many tools available for support, and most people turned their backs on her struggles and tried to hide them away.
I imagined that my Great-Auntie Faith had given the locket to my mother as something for her to hold onto, to help her through this difficult and probably very lonely time.
I contacted my mother’s brother, in England, who is a hobby historian, to learn more about Great-Auntie Faith and the locket. All of my family is back in England. We moved to Canada when I was three and a half, so I had little to no knowledge of my extended family.
I learned that Great-Auntie Faith was a writer, a poet and an illustrator, much like my mother and myself. In the photos, she had a delightful and warm disposition. She seemed warm-hearted—the same kind soul who had gifted my mother with the locket, many years ago.
With the help of my uncle, I also learned about the original owner of the locket—my great-great-grandmother, Emily Butcher.
Great-Great-Gran Emily was my mother’s great-grandmother and the mother of Margaret, Great-Auntie Faith’s mother. Emily had six children, one of whom was named Elsie, who was the mother of my grandmother (another Emily), who was the mother of my mother, who had me!
As I thumb the locket around my neck, I can almost feel the presence of Great-Auntie Faith and my Great-Great-Grandmother Emily, with me. Through the photos and research about them, I could see they were strong, wise and creative women with a zest for life. It felt reassuring knowing that these mothers, with these characteristics, were related to me. Knowing them, even just a little, helped me see my mother and myself in a new light—Great-Auntie Faith as a creative, loving maternal figure; and my Great-Great-Granny Emily as a wise, kind and strong woman. Because of her struggles, I wasn’t able to see these kinds of qualities in my mother. But seeing them in my maternal lineage helped me understand that they were still a part of me.
Like a conduit beyond time and space, the locket binds me to these two women. It also connects me with my mother, continuing the relationship between us even when words don’t come easy, if at all.
Sometimes, it feels like the locket is looking after me, in a way my mother couldn’t. Just as Great-Auntie Faith gifted the locket to my mother, when she was going through struggles, my mother had the foresight to gift the locket to me before the worst of our family challenges.
When I think of Mother’s Day and how I want to recognize this important and deeply personal holiday, I think of my mother. Yes, I think of the hardships in our relationship and the sadness of the challenges that she and our family have endured. And given the newfound connection through my locket, I also think of the expansive matrilineage of wise, magical and creative women who came before us and who also make up who I am.
When I look at the black-and-white photo of my Great-Great-Grandmother Emily, I notice a sparkle in her eye and a deep look of knowing. And when I look closer, I can just make out the shape of a locket around her neck, and I can’t help but wonder if it is the same locket that hangs around mine.