By Justine Sutton
As I was nearing the end of my Funeral Celebrant studies last summer, we were given the assignment of listening to an interview with Celebrant Shae Uisna about her Motherless Mother’s Day ceremony. Shae had created this community event in 2010 as a way for those whose mothers are no longer with them to honor and celebrate them in a supportive atmosphere. She discussed the River chant she sings at the event, and sang it once through when requested by the interviewer.
I was already deeply compelled by this concept, having lost my mother to cancer in 2010 and spent many sad Mother’s Days since then, but when I heard the chant, I was completely entranced. This is the same chant I had sung for years in ritual circles and had woven through a spoken word piece I wrote and performed in 2018, “Down to The Sea,” telling the stories of both my parents’ deaths.
The River it is flowing, flowing and growing
The River it is flowing down to the sea
Mother, carry me, your child I will always be
Mother, carry me down to the sea
After I finished listening to the interview, on a whim I looked up Shae’s number and called her. She was warm and welcoming, and when a call came through she needed to take, we’d been talking long enough that I was prepared to wrap it up then. But instead she said, “Can I call you back?” And she did! She seemed touched when I shared the deep connection I also had with the River chant. I was truly starting to see what I’d been told about the supportive, generous nature of the Celebrant community.
So this year in late April, I had a swell of inspiration to put on my own MMD, via Zoom. When I contacted Shae to see if this was okay with her, I was met again with warmth and encouragement. I was also thrilled to learn that while I was planning mine for the actual day of Mother’s Day, Shae was conducting her virtual MMD on the day before.
Being able to attend her gathering before I held my own was such a wonderful experience. It gave me the chance to participate fully and honor my own mother, plus seeing Shae do it gave me good ideas and helped me feel a sense of confidence in my own abilities. I had sketched out a quick outline for the ceremony and was pleased to find that it served me well with a few tweaks, incorporating what I learned from Shae’s MMD and her generous input.
I had six people attend my MMD, all of whom I knew except for one. I had no idea how many people to expect, since on the Facebook event, about seven people had responded Going, but over 50 had marked Interested. I had taken the step of acquiring a licensed Zoom account in preparation, so I could put people into breakout rooms for sharing if necessary, but I’m glad it was a small enough group that we could all stay together.
I sang the River chant, people introduced themselves and shared their mother’s names, lighting a candle as they did so. I read excerpts from an essay by Rebecca Solnit, everyone shared stories and memories of their mothers, and I read a sweet poem I got from Shae. We talked about “mothering,” self-care—how we mother ourselves. People shared ways of caring for themselves they learned from their mothers or that their mothers would be glad about. I ended with a reading about women supporting other women, that universal mothering.
I am so grateful to Shae and others who supported and encouraged me, to the folks who showed up for my MMD gathering, and for the opportunity to do this as my first official action as a Celebrant. I can tell I am on the right path because it made me so happy to plan and carry it out! And I noticed that though I still missed my own mother, I wasn’t so sad and alone on this day as in past years—I really felt the support of community holding me, holding all of us, together.