“Behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”
— Mitch Albom
Losing the one person who has known you as long as you’ve been alive can be profound and life-changing – and felt most deeply on Mother’s Day, when the proclamations of love with flowers, special brunches, and cards are seemingly inescapable reminders of your mom’s absence. That can intensify your sense of loss and isolation, or bring up feelings of grief all over again.
Healing is a process, and in the case of losing your parent, can be a lifelong one. Be patient with yourself and recognize that all you’re feeling is normal, even resentment that others are still able to celebrate with their mothers.
It’s important to acknowledge the sadness you feel about not having your mother physically present to celebrate, and over time, find new ways to honor what she meant to you and how she’ll always be part of your life.
“Death doesn’t end the relationship. It ends the ability to talk in the physical presence,” says Donna Schuurman, executive director emeritus of The Dougy Center, a nonprofit that supports grieving children and families. “We don’t want to forget the person who died,” she says, although we live in a culture in which we’re often encouraged and expected to “get past” grief.
The grieving process is different for everyone, and rarely travels along a straight line of plot points, as is commonly believed. Be compassionate with yourself, siblings, or a loved one who has lost a parent if grief resurfaces at unexpected times – even years later.
I miss saying “Mom” out loud. I miss not being able to find that special card for you, and then having found it, writing “To Mom” on it for yet another cherished Mother’s Day.
― Millie Lorenz
Grief can sometimes be most difficult for people who didn’t have a picture-perfect relationship with their mother. Mother’s Day can magnify those feelings and hopes of what might have been and how, if we’d just had more time, we could have repaired the relationship.
Don’t fault yourself or feel guilty for not having the kind of relationship portrayed in greeting cards. As one adult daughter says, “There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. Don’t shame or guilt yourself on Mother’s Day. There’s nothing specific you should or shouldn’t be doing on this day.”
It may help to take a break from social media, where the ever-present Mother’s Day celebrations only reinforce unrealistic expectations of what a relationship “ought” to be.
Reader’s Digest offers 22 ideas on how to recalibrate your thinking and stop blaming yourself in ways that undermine your self-confidence and well-being.
“My mother is the single biggest role model in my life, but that term doesn’t seem to encompass enough. She was the love of my life.”
– Mindy Kaling
Some ways you can celebrate and remember your mom this Mother’s Day:
- Spend the day doing things you and your mom enjoyed together, like taking a walk, gardening, or baking.
- Read your mom’s favorite book, watch her favorite movie, or listen to her favorite songs.
- Be with siblings, loved ones, and others who also loved your mother, who will listen to you, understand your sadness, and perhaps share favorite memories of her.
- Go to a place that was special to your mom, or that you went together or as a family – the beach, or a favorite restaurant.
- Spend time with people to whom you have a maternal connection, such as an aunt, mentor, or friend of your mother – people who nurture you.
- Nurture yourself. Get a massage, meditate, do yoga, or exercise. If it’s a comfort, take time to be alone.
- Visit your mother’s final resting place or the place her ashes were scattered, alone or with loved ones.
- Start a journal to record your memories, thoughts, and feelings about your mother. It may help heal your grief and sort out complicated emotions; it may also be a meaningful memento for your own children or loved ones.
- Celebrate spring: Plant flowers or a tree in your mother’s memory. Cultivate new life and watch it flourish.
- If a friend or someone close to you is grieving the loss of their mother, reach out or send a card to let them know you’re thinking of them and understand how they’re feeling.
“A good mother loves fiercely, but ultimately brings up her children to thrive without her.”
— Erin Kelly
Julie Yip-Williams, who wrote and spoke movingly of her struggle with colon cancer before she died in 2018 at age 42, told her two young daughters, “You will be deprived of a mother. As your mother, I wish I could protect you from the pain. But also as your mother, I want you to feel the pain, and then learn from it. Be stronger people because of it, for you will know that you carry my strength within you. Be more compassionate people because of it. … Rejoice in life; live with special zest and zeal for me.”
If you are struggling with grief, subscribe to our free online bereavement program, 12 Weeks of Peace.