When Mother's Day Is Hard
Mother’s Day is usually a day of togetherness, a day of family and celebrating Mom. But it's not a happy day for everyone. For those who have lost a child, lost their mother or are estranged from their mother, it's a tough day to get through.
If you've lost a child—whether through accident, illness or miscarriage—or your mom, the pain of that loss can be nearly unbearable on a day that celebrates the bond between mother and child.
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If you're estranged from your mother, the impending holiday can increase that strain.
The important thing to remember is you're not alone, and there are things you can do to cope with your loss on Mother's Day.
Losing a Child
Sandi from Framingham, MA lost her 17-year-old son Bryan in a car accident in 2002. “My world ended. I never knew depression could cripple a person until he died. The very first Mother’s Day came seven months after his death. I decided to face my grief and put on a brave face for my daughter because I love her and wanted her to know that even though I grieved her brother, she matters.”
Karla Helbert, MS LPC, wrote for HAND, a support network for bereaved families: "When we are bereaved mothers who are also fortunate enough to have other children who are alive, we continue to miss and to mourn the ones who are not here for our arms to physically enfold. For these mothers, acknowledging their child who has died can be an incredibly meaningful gift. One child does not replace another. We celebrate in the joyful presence of our living children and deeply mourn the absence of the ones who are not here sharing our daily lives."
On that first Mother’s Day without Bryan, Sandi visited his grave before her daughter came home from school. “I stood there with a card and pictures of him and left them at his grave," she says. "We didn’t have the best Mother’s Day, but my daughter and I were together, we went to brunch and talked about Bryan, which brought us closer than ever. Subsequently, year after year on Mother’s Day, we would do brunch and then hang out together. But before we met up I would go to the cemetery first.”
Sandi laminated the last Mother’s Day card Bryan made for her for safekeeping. Each holiday and occasion marks Bryan’s empty chair, but Sandi says, as time has passed, it eases a bit.
She says, “My daughter is a mother herself now, so our Mother’s Day routine has slightly changed. I never thought I could smile 16 years later but seeing her with my grandchildren is definitely a gift from Heaven. I still go to Bryan’s grave before I see her on Mother’s Day and I know he’s watching over all of us.”
The Loss of a Mom
Jeff from Natick, MA lost his mom to suicide. His stepmother helped him cope with his loss, so for him, Mother's Day is both a time to celebrate and a time to mourn. “Mother's Day is a mix of memories, emotions and experiences. I'm grateful, fortunate and thankful to have the best step-mother anyone could ask, hope and wish for,” he says.
Still, he feels the loss of his mother on that particular day. “Since my mother chose her journey's end, after her lifelong illness and struggles, all my memories of/with her are forever laced with that.”
Mental Health America points out that mourning a loss by suicide can be particularly hard. "A loss due to suicide can be among the most difficult losses to bear. They may leave the survivors with a tremendous burden of guilt, anger and shame. Survivors may even feel responsible for the death. Seeking counseling during the first weeks after the suicide is particularly beneficial and advisable."
A Painful Relationship With Mom
Asher McKay of Vermont has a strained relationship with her mom and shares, “I am still in touch with my mother, but our relationship is one-sided. She is very attached to me, and often sees me as her confidante and emotional support. Because of childhood abuse and trauma, I have emotionally detached myself from her and have set several boundaries that have been hard for her to respect and understand. So I have a hard time opening up to her. When Mother’s Day rolls around, I try to find a card that will make her feel good without compromising my honest feelings for her.”
Dr. Linda Mintle, marriage and family therapist and author of I Love My Mother But...Practical Help to Get the Most Out of Your Relationship, suggests that there is a loss to mourn in this situation, as well.
For example, Mintle writes, if your mom has never been the affectionate type, recognize that and grieve that loss. Then, consider “the other ways she shows love.” Even if your mom doesn’t change, is unable to express (or control) her emotions or won’t ask for forgiveness, grieve those losses.
Coping on Mother's Day
If you know Mother's Day will be a difficult day for you, there are a number of ways to get through it.
Kimberly Solo is a licensed social worker in private practice in MA. She shared some tips on coping with loss on Mother's Day.
- Engage in an activity or tradition that honors what you have been through. If you're in pain from the loss of your mother, cook one of her favorite recipes or shop in her favorite store. Find a way that makes you feel more connected.
- Only spend Mother’s Day with loved ones if they are supportive and don’t create additional stress. Otherwise, it’s imperative that you avoid family activities and gatherings. You must give yourself permission to opt out of situations that increase your stress while you're feeling vulnerable.
- If you’ve miscarried or are experiencing other forms of loss, practice a few keys responses to people's inevitable questions that set a clear boundary. I recommend saying, “I’m doing as well as I can be under the circumstances, tell me about what's new with you?"
- Pain is personal, so there’s no right or wrong way handle it. Tune into what you need, not what others need from you. All your feelings are worthy of your attention and nobody else gets to decide this for you.
The death of a mother or father is particularly hard on children. If you're looking for tips to help a child in your life, read Helping Your Child Deal With the Death of a Parent.