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In the predominately Latin American and Caribbean community that I grew up in, mothers weren’t always just the women who birthed you.

In our cultures we take the “it takes a village” adage seriously and are often nurtured by women who didn’t birth us but love us as fiercely as if we were their own.

For me, that woman was my aunt, Melina. Calling her my “aunt” now feels disrespectful and inaccurate in retrospect. She was in fact, the first mother I remember. She took care of me while my biological mother (who I also adore), was “back home” making arrangements for the rest of the family to come to America.

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It’s no exaggeration that Melina was is literally the sweetest person I’ve ever met in my life. A sentiment that was echoed to us by just about everyone who attended her funeral last October. But we were all stunned by her passing; none of us even knew Melina was sick until the day she died. We never saw it coming.

My biggest regret…

We were later told this is because she feared that we’d drop everything to be by her side and yes, we would have.

But instead the last time she (sort of) saw me, was when I was visiting my family in Boston last spring. That particular year I was recovering from a bit of heartache, so when my mom came crashing into my room belting, “Get up! We’re going to see your auntie! She misses you,” I hissed at her like an angsty teenager: “I can see her some other time. I’m too tired right now!” Not my best moment.

What I didn’t know though was that my aunt had actually walked into the hallway outside my bedroom on that fateful day and heard my tantrum, my rejecting the chance to see her.

My mom would later tell me that my outburst hurt my aunt’s feelings. And after I left Boston, I made a note to myself to call her and clear things up. And kept meaning to call her back, until six months later when the phone rang and I found out she was dying.

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That morning last fall when I hopped on a plane back to New England, I begged every God imaginable to let me see Melina before she slipped away. To apologize, to thank her, to say “I love you” one last time.

But she took her last breath before any of that could happen. And the guilt that I’ve experienced in the last seven months since has threatened to swallow me whole on more occasions than I care to remember.

Even now, I’ve had to rewrite that last paragraph three times through blankets of tears and find myself gripped with fear about how my family is going to survive this weekend’s festivities while our wounds are still so fresh.

We’re not alone in this. There are many families out there who simply won’t be equipped to see this Mother’s Day as a joyous occasion. And while I have no plans on raining on the parade of people who do, I did want to send a message of love and encouragement to those amongst us who now have a complicated relationship with the concept of “motherhood,” for a myriad of reasons.

Give yourself permission to not be okay

To those of you whose moms have passed away and are planning to do your best to smile through this Sunday, for the rest of us, please know that you don’t have to.

Cry if you must. Your pain is valid. Your tears are cleansing. And carrying any sense of shame about how long your grieving process is taking serves no one, least of all you. If there was ever a day to give yourself permission to mourn all that you’ve lost, this is it.

I also want to acknowledge those whose mothers may still be alive, but repeatedly failed them; causing trauma and perhaps even teaching them to subconsciously beg for love and acceptance from similarly toxic people.

We often shy away from saying this but, not all women who give birth are meant to be mothers. So I promise you are more worthy than she ever made you feel. Forgive her if you can, for your own sake. And when you’re ready… also give yourself permission to stop looking for pieces of her in your lovers, friends or even your work. You won’t find her there.

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Nothing in this world can replace a mother’s love. But that pain her absence gave you has a purpose. It’s gifted you with a stunning perspective on what love is — and isn’t. It’s also made it impossible for you to take emotional safety for granted. Now your capacity for gratitude gets to be superhuman. So give yourself some credit! But don’t feel obligated to see her Sunday if you know it’ll be toxic or triggering.

And while I’m at it, I’d like to wish a wholehearted “Happy Mother’s Day!” to those who have carried children in your hearts, or maybe even in your wombs but never given birth.

You are a living testimony that motherhood isn’t just biological. The children that you have helped raise have been forever shaped by you and that matters. So please include yourself in Sunday’s celebrations. You’re a mom too. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Also, Happy Mother’s Day to those who respect the bond between mother and child enough to know… it isn’t for them. I know women like you get a lot of slack for choosing to skip motherhood altogether. But your choice is honest and you owe us nothing. Enjoy your freedom without guilt on Sunday, even if that means avoiding certain people. Keep prioritizing your peace.

And to the mothers this day was meant for…

I couldn’t end this without also mentioning all the good mothers I know; you brave, patient, overly criticized and under appreciated superheroes who make the world go round. If your child is still alive and/or around, I hope they honor you with every fiber in their being. And if your child is far away or has passed, I hope you feel their spirit all around you. You give the rest of us hope and deserve every bit of goodness coming your way this weekend.

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But moms, even in the midst of all the brunches and celebrations, please take a moment to chill out and put yourselves first without worrying about the million things you need to get done. Your babies (even the grown ones) are still learning how to love themselves from watching you. So take this as yet another opportunity to show them what self-care and healthy boundaries look like in action.

Be extra kind to each other this weekend, fam. Sincerely ask people what Mother’s Day means to them rather than assuming. You’d be surprised how many folks around you are planning to suffer over the next few days in silence. Let them know they don’t have to.


Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric