What The Pink Power Ranger Taught Me About Grief

Motherless Child Grief

By Margaret Mason Tate

Back in the days of VH-1, which, to be quite clear, were the very best of days, they cast Amy Jo Johnson [the Pink Power Ranger] to star in a biopic about Nancy Nevins and Sweetwater.

It premiered right at the end of the summer in 1999 when I was 13, and everything seemed to fall into place in my little slice of the world in the 29605 area of Greenville, SC. (#yeahTHATgreenville) My mother and I were navigating middle school, with me as a student and her as a newly-minted teacher.

Amy Jo did a very fine job singing their biggest hit, a reimagining of the spiritual “Motherless Child,” and I learned every single bar. Being a theatre kid with cable and a TV that had a recording VCR, that was my legal requirement.

Imagining being the person who got to sing the very first note at the most legendary concert ever hosted, being a woman with that kind of power, her boldness…I ate it up. I felt every drop of that, could place myself in her espadrilles.

So it was easy and comfortable, too, to borrow the trauma and tragedy of Nancy Nevins’ car crash and resulting vocal cord injury. Try it on, like an out-of-season jacket. Imagine how it might feel, to be her, to have shot up so high so fast—to be living the dream, the opening act at WOODSTOCK!—and then shattered, so young.

To have to rebuild. To learn to speak again, to learn to sing again. To become brave enough to do it, even as she watched her band move on without her.

I bawled that summer in 1999, draped in that jacket of borrowed suffering. Full-body sobs, the kind that twist your adductors and buckle your knees, the kind of crying you only do when you’re thirteen. Or when someone very, very close to you dies.

My mother died in the first strained and terrible weeks of COVID-19. It was the beginning of the beginning, April 18, just five weeks after the President declared a National State of Emergency. When the first responders arrived, they were in full HAZMAT-style suits, and when they wheeled her out, it looked like a scene from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

The EMTs were just as scared as everybody else, and asked me loudly and several times to stay away from them because of potential contagion risk. I didn’t get to squeeze her hand or kiss her cheek.

I never saw her again.

But it wasn’t that night that I recalled those heaving “Motherless Child” sobs.

April 18 was a hard day, a surreal day, a day with so many tears. Same with my first birthday without her, April 29, just eleven days after she died. Even so, that wasn’t the day either that cracked the egg of grief all over my head. That day didn’t happen for three more weeks.

May 10, 2020, was Mother’s Day. And with it brought the Amy Jo Johnson sobs.

Three years earlier, the Thursday before Mother’s Day, my husband left our home. Our kids were sick, my mother was coming into town, it was a shitshow, literally and figuratively. My ex-husband texted me that he didn’t want his actions to ruin my holiday, and I remember texting back some drivel about how he didn’t have the power to ruin my holiday. But that wasn’t ultimately true, even if I wanted to believe it when I said it, and since then, Mother’s Day had felt a little tender.

But it didn’t feel like floating in space with no tether à la Sandy B in Gravity. It didn’t feel both nebulous and definite, vague and exact. It didn’t cause me to keen, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child / And I’m a long way from my home,” over and over for hours on the floor of my bedroom until I mercifully passed out, delirious and thirsty.

Moreover, it didn’t inspire the spectrum of thoughts and emotions that the first Mother’s Day without my mother did.

Those were, frankly, dark. And if you haven’t walked this path, they may sound jarring to hear. But if you have…they may sound familiar. And that familiarity is often the only thing that can approximate comfort when one is grieving, especially grieving one’s mother.

So…I’ll say it. I hated every single friend who posted loving tributes to their living mothers on Instagram. I seethed at the photos, I spat angry curses at every person I loved deep down who wasn’t in this same pain. I didn’t wish it on a single one of them, but I did hate them all. Just for a bit. Just a blip. But oh how I loathed that they had what I never would again.

I hated every commercial, every advertisement, every beckoning brunch. Someone honked at me erroneously in Grant Park and I followed them for three blocks, honking and screaming out the window. It was unhinged. The jealousy and envy and anger inside me were some of the only things I could understand in those gauzy days and weeks after my mother’s death.

It doesn’t last.

That might be the moral of this story, besides go watch Sweetwater (1999) starring Amy Jo Johnson immediately, is that grief is such a constantly-evolving thing. Last Mother’s Day was lovely, I enjoyed time with my son and then also time alone with my best friend. No weeping, no sore throat from wailing, no jaw pain from clenching my teeth the whole night prior. This one may be different. After all…well, you know. Grief evolves. Always, all ways.

So if this or any other Mother’s Day is feeling rough for you, here are my self-care recommendations:

  1. Prioritize yourself. If you are the child of a mother who has passed, people should expect you to potentially feel [insert one of a million feelings], and if they don’t, then they’re not super attuned anyway and it’s kind of a “bless their heart” situation. Suffice it to say that for those kinds of folks, the standby excuse of a headache or allergies is a good one. For everyone else, they understand. So figure out what you need and declare that. If it means you don’t attend the celebration for your partner’s mother, it’s OK. There will be other years. And like I said, moral of the story, grief evolves.
  2. Stay off social media. Truly, if what I wrote resonated with you, and you thought, “That rage and anger at her friends just for having moms seem pretty cringe but preeeetty relatable…” just make the decision to stay off. Also hey, if you do slip up and pick up your phone out of the near-unbreakable habit that the free market has ensured we all developed, you can put it back down.
  3. Hide your credit cards. Seems a little rash but then so are grief purchases, okay, so just … hide the cards. Put a hold on the PayPal account. Pump the brakes. Anything you could possibly want will be there next week when you’re in a different headspace. (Say it with me: Grief is ever-evolving.)

These three things will cover a lot of bases when it comes to Mother’s Day grief. I hope.

Here’s wishing you, our mothers’ spirits, and Amy Jo Johnson a gentle and held Mother’s Day.