While Mother’s Day is intended to be a day of celebration, for some it is a day of reminded loss. This may be true for those who have lost their mothers, or mothers who have lost a child. The images of the perfect day, in addition to school and church activities dedicated to celebrating mother’s day, can trigger a cascade of pain and emotional distress.
The death of a parent is the most common form of bereavement in the United States. Almost 12 million Americans lose a parent every year, but our society tends to believe that because it is expected that our parents will die, bereaved adult children need to “get over it quickly and move on.” Many bereaved adult children feel they have lost a friend and advisor. They lament that there is no longer anyone who can truly relate to their childhood memories, nor anyone with whom they can openly share their or their children’s awards, achievements, or everyday lives.
“When a mother dies, a [child’s] mourning never completely ends,” says Hope Edleman, author of the 1994 book Motherless Daughters, one of the first books to examine the emotional journey a woman takes when she loses her mother. When a child dies, a mother’s mourning never completely ends, and she will grieve each milestone her child will not reach.
If Mother’s Day is painful for you, you’re not alone — and you have the right to spend it however you want, and to take care of yourself in the process. Here are a few strategies to find strength this Mother’s Day — consider sharing them with loved ones so they can help support you.
You have the right to choose how you want to spend the day
Even the most understanding friends and family may expect you to be cheerful on Mother’s Day. Talk to them ahead of time so they know how you’re feeling and what you’re up for this year. Let them know that you may change your mind about participating in festivities, even at the last minute. Tell them if you’d prefer to play it by ear, and release the guilt and shame that may come with bowing out of social pressure to celebrate. Research shows that we’re not actually very good at predicting how we’ll feel in the future, so leave yourself room for flexibility.
You have the right to be acknowledged as a daughter and/or a mother
You have the right to feel however you feel
Mother’s Day can be filled with memories and traditions that cause unexpected and shifting emotions. There’s no one right way to be. People who tell you how you “should” feel or act may mean well, but they may not know what’s best for you. Notice when you tell yourself how you “should” feel. Try to replace those thoughts with acceptance of your feelings as they come.
You have the right to talk about it—or don’t
There is a misconception that talking about a loved one who has died “will make people sad.” By contrast, bereaved individuals report that hearing others say the name of their loved ones makes them feel both seen and understood.
You have the right to take care of yourself
Be gentle with yourself. Research shows that self-care can make it easier to cope with stress, especially during challenging times. Eat well, stay active, try to sleep, and give yourself the opportunity to relax when you need it. In short, practice parenting yourself.
You have the right to hold on to hope that you will not feel this bad forever
This particular day may not be the same as it was before. It may never be quite that way again. But it won’t necessarily always be this hard. You don’t know what next year has in store for you, and you won’t always feel how you do right now. Watch for signs of the mental trap of permanence — believing that things will never get better. If you find yourself falling into it, try replacing words like “always” with “sometimes” to remind yourself that the future is not fixed.
And remember, death ends a life, but does not end a relationship.
This article was provided by Judy Austin of The Grief Center of Southwest Colorado. The Grief Center provides support for those living in Southwest Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Please contact Judy at 970-764-7142 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.