Navigating Grief on Mother's Day

Written by:
May 6, 2021

Navigating Grief on Mother's Day

Written by:
May 6, 2021

Mother’s Day can be tough.  It can be a day of connection, longing, love, or grief, depending on your reality.  For some, Mother’s Day might be both positive and painful.  This is a nod to those for which Mother’s Day is complicated.  A nod to those who have lost a mother and mothers who’ve lost a child - be it through death, illness, a strained relationship, miscarriage, a difficult circumstance or a lack of acceptance.  This is for those still yearning to become parents, those who never had a mother figure for painful reasons, and for those who’ve lost a beloved parental figure - I see you.  Below are a few invitations you may find helpful this Mother’s Day.

Be Open to What Is

Our grief changes with the tides and the times.  Perhaps you’re seasoned in facing Mother’s Day within the context of your loss.  Maybe the past few years weren’t too tough and you’re anticipating the same this time around.  That might be the case, yet, we just can’t predict how we’re going to feel year to year.  There are so many factors that make each year different.  Perhaps something is different in your life and you wish that your loved one was here to share that with you. Maybe this is the Mother’s Day that you’ve reached the same age your mother was when she died.  Our grief is compounded by additional losses we’ve faced, including the individual and collective losses experienced this year due to Covid-19 and racial injustice.  Whether it’s your first or fiftieth year navigating a painful Mother’s Day - we simply can’t know how we are going to feel. 

In light of this, I offer you the invitation to be open to what is.  Spend some time checking in throughout the day on how you’re feeling and what you need.  If you’re struggling more than anticipated, surprised by your tears, or want (and are able) to take time away from work or other responsibilities - that is okay.  Maybe you’re feeling better than expected, perhaps you’re happy, contemplative, grateful, maybe you’re feeling sort of neutral and unaffected this Mother’s Day - that is okay.  Keep in mind that there’s no “right” way to feel and opening up to our feelings can ultimately give them less power, increasing our sense of freedom and flexibility.  

It’s common for our minds to make up stories about our feelings, and they often include judgement.  These stories might sound like, “If I feel happy on Mother’s Day, I’m not being a good daughter and honoring my mom” or “It’s unfair of me to take the day off from work today because my child will never get the chance to go to work.”  If you notice stories playing in your mind in response to your feelings, I invite you to take a breath and meet those stories with self-compassion.  Practice responding to those feelings as you would respond to a good friend.  You don’t have to be any certain way on this day, you can be open to what is and welcome what you find.  

Feel Your Feels

As you practice being open to what is, I invite you to greet what you find and welcome it as much as you’re able to.  Consider spending some time with whatever feelings you notice, giving them the space they’re asking for.  Look to the tools and methods that you’ve found most supportive for you. Today can be a day to lean on what you already know supports you in processing your emotions.  If you enjoy making music, perhaps spend some time expressing yourself through sound.  Consider creating something new or singing/playing a song that helps you externalize your feelings or reminds you of your loved one.  If anger is present for you this Mother’s Day and you enjoy writing, consider writing down everything you’re feeling angry about and finding a satisfying way to destroy it when you’re done (tearing or crumpling it up, burning it if you have a safe way to do so).  You don’t have to spend all day deep in your feels, a little can go a long way.  If you don’t have the practical or emotional bandwidth to really feel your feelings on this particular day, that’s okay too.  You can always process later on, perhaps with the support of a loving friend or trusted therapist.

Here is a short, not at all exhaustive, list of some ways to spend time with what feelings may be present for you:

  • Journaling
  • Talking with a trusted confidant
  • Spiritual and/or contemplative practices such as meditation and/or prayer
  • Breathwork (if you are already familiar with this practice)
  • Doing something you used to do with your loved one (on your own or with company)  
  • Writing a letter to yourself or your loved one (it’s okay if you can’t send it)
  • Creative expression through art
  • Spending time with photos or things that remind you of your loved one  

Lean on Your People

Often, the times it feels difficult to reach out are the times we need connection the most.  Days that society has deemed most “special” - holidays, anniversaries, birthdays - can be some of the toughest.  Often, these days can feel a little more manageable with others by our side.  Though not always easy, as it can feel vulnerable, I invite you to ask for the support that you need this Mother’s Day.  It can be extremely helpful to know that even one person in your life is clued in to how you’re feeling about this day.  

One route to consider is sharing with a trusted friend, partner/s, or family member what you think might be helpful for you in advance.  You might let them know that Mother’s Day can feel complicated for you and you’d love to spend some time with them that day, if possible.  Maybe, for you, it would be helpful to ask if a friend would be up for checking in via text or a phone call on Mother’s Day.  If they have the capacity, maybe this is a day when you ask if your partner/s would handle meals, errands, etc. so you can take it easy.  When communicating with your loved one/s, it’s okay to ask for some flexibility.  You might acknowledge that you have an idea of what might be helpful, but it’s possible that your needs could look different once the day arrives. If you don’t have an idea of what you might need or want on Mother’s Day but think that connection would be helpful, sharing that you’d like some support but aren’t sure what that might look like is a great place to start the conversation with your loved one/s.

If available, leaning on others with whom you share similar lived experience can be very meaningful.  If you’ve lost a child and someone in your life has gone through a similar experience, this day could be a powerful moment to connect.  In her book The Dead Mom’s Club: A Memoir about Death, Grief, and Surviving the Mother of All Losses, author Kate Spencer facilitates a gift exchange for other young adults whose mothers have died.  If your reality doesn’t feel shared with anyone in your personal life, local support groups and online communities can offer a sense of connection in what might otherwise feel like an isolating reality.

Ground with Ritual & Resources

Establishing some form of ritual or tradition can be really helpful in navigating grief.  Rituals allow us to pour our time, energy and heart into something.  Rituals provide a meaningful, often symbolic, way to honor our loved one and/or ourselves.  Your Mother’s Day ritual could involve something more intensive like travel or organizing a gathering, but it could also be super simple and just for you.  Perhaps your loved one had a favorite food that you make in their honor every Mother’s Day, or you always listen to one of their favorite albums.  Maybe your Mother’s Day always includes a video call with a close family member who’s been with you through your loss.  Your ritual can be complex or simple, take five minutes or all day.  What’s important is that it feels supportive and helps meet your needs.

Much like leaning on your people can bring some light to this potentially murky day, leaning on your favorite methods of caring for yourself can go a long way.  Perhaps each Mother’s Day you take yourself on your favorite hike, pausing along the way to take in the nature around you.  Grounding in your resources looks like self-care - enjoying nature, movement that feels good to you, your favorite meal or beverage, animal friends, meditation, warm baths, music, extra comfy clothes. These activities can make really any day a bit lighter and more manageable.  This Mother’s Day, I invite you to ground in some form of supportive ritual and/or intentional self-care, whatever that might be.   

Allow Yourself Space from Comparison

When Mother’s Day is something other than uncomplicated and pleasant for you, comparison can make it feel even more complicated and even less pleasant.  We live in a hyper plugged-in world that makes comparison a screen away a lot of the time.  Around Mother’s Day it’s common for social media feeds to be full of pictures of families at brunch, and adoring best-mom-ever or best-kid-ever posts, which can feel tough if you have a different reality from what others are presenting.  It’s totally cool for people to want to shout out their loved ones and share their joy on social media.  It’s also totally cool for you to not want to see that on Mother’s Day.  If social media isn’t supportive for you, I invite you to take some space from plugging in.  Consider taking the day off of social media or being intentional about your usage.  If you want to engage in social media, try to track your mood as you do and try to notice if your mind drifts into comparison mode.  The same applies for out of the app interactions, too.  You might encounter scenarios that ignite comparison in your relationships, at work, etc.  Recall that, truthfully, we don’t really know what’s going on with anyone from a short, surface level interaction.  If you do know what’s really going on, whatever feelings you have about that are valid and deserve to be met with compassion.  That other person likely has their own pain and difficulty, of some kind, in life and it might not look like yours.  We’re all just humans doing our best.  If the very natural inclination to compare creeps in, I invite you to breathe, share some compassionate words with yourself, and shift to one of the support ideas offered above.  You got this.

Sometimes, the world can make it seem like Mother’s Day is an uncomplicated holiday for all.  In reality, Mother’s Day can be tough for so many people for a variety of reasons.  It’s likely that you have a friend, colleague, or neighbor who's also a part of the complicated Mother’s Day club.  My hope is that you can find some sense of connection in that truth and look for those people when you need them.  Finally, I hope that these invitations prove helpful for you.  Take what you need and leave what you don’t.  Most of all, know that you are not alone this Mother’s Day. 

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