A year and a half ago, I found myself in a new role — family matriarch. Somehow, it had never occurred to me that it was in my future. Despite planning ahead, the present is where I dwell.

Mother’s Day is not always joyful, especially for the infertile and bereaved. Consider them this Sunday as social media will be flooded with joyful photos of mothers being spoiled. Don’t take away from their joy, but please be sensitive to those who find little to no joy on this occasion. For me, it is indeed bittersweet.

My entire life, Mother’s Day has been a joyous opportunity to do for others. Sadly, now all those others have departed from the bounds of earthly bodies. In fact, it is very difficult for me, and always has been, to rest on my laurels, be pampered, honored and catered to. It has simply never been my lot in life to expect a great deal, therefore receiving with grace is a challenge.

It’s rather a sad day for me, and it grows sadder with each passing year. For one thing, there is that phone call from my deceased son that will never come. My mother-in-law left us in 1998, and my own mother left in 2019. All my aunts and other mother figures are gone; the mothers of my peers are gone, as well as many of my peers. No wonder old age is lonely. Most of the contacts from our very beginnings no longer linger, except in our memories.

That’s when this new role as matriarch hit me — and hard. It is very lonely at the top. It’s a position never sought nor hoped for. It’s another milestone in my earthly journey that says, loudly and clearly, "Your time is short!"

As if another reminder is necessary, right?

Contacts with other family members are few. Other than my daughter, son-in-law and great-grandson, they all live in other states and are busy, busy, busy, rearing their own families and pursuing their own dreams. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t miss them like crazy.

The little family still near is a great blessing to me. They help in so many ways, physically and emotionally. When needed, they respond quickly to my plea for help.

My siblings are scattered, and though I am their family matriarch, we are a bunch of independents who only reach out in extreme emergencies, though we all began in the same boat. Daddy always told me that I was as independent as a hog on ice. Picture that.

Matriarch is a title that brings me great joy; however, it’s a hollow position. The respect garnered is present, but it is often a mere afterthought. As I’ve pondered this, it occurred to me that in our present society, we have drifted so far very away from our past traditions, family structure and frankly, our way of life.

Despite the technology at our fingertips, we are caught up in our own little webs and too often fail to reach out to other family members, but I digress.

In the days and weeks preceding Mother’s Days past, my time was spent creating gifts, preparing favorite foods for those to be honored and hosting dinners for their enjoyment. Chicken and dressing for my mother, pot roast for my mother-in-law, accompanied by coconut cream pies piled high with filling and mountainous swirls of meringue lightly browned and carefully dabbled with shreds of toasted coconut.

Gifts were both practical and sentimental for the most part, ranging from books of stamps, rolls of quarters (for laundry), a box of carefully selected extravagant treats from the grocery store, homemade gifts such as memory boxes filled with little slips of paper with handwritten memories, homemade gift cards for services to be rendered and so much more. The giving of oneself is the greatest gift and fits every budget.

Though most of us are a mixture of the biblical Mary and Martha, the latter has defined me for much of the time. Thankfully, my psyche is now a more even balance of the two.

My life has been spent striving to make others happy with few indulgences. Now, I splurge on me. But, oh, how I miss the times spent doing for others, striving to make them feel loved and happy. Something is amiss when we cannot share our deepest joys and concerns with another. Yes, women still need other women.

Now, it’s just me, yet I am not alone. Even when the time comes that we cannot rely on ourselves, there is another who never fails. There may not be any more mothers in mortality, but we have a heavenly father who loves us. We can rely on him when our little circle shrinks to almost nothing.

— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.

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