Flowers... Brunch... Perhaps even some chocolates... Celebrating mothers of all kinds is set aside for Mother's Day. But this day can also be challenging to face, especially for those who can no longer be with their mother. In the second blog of our two-part series, we share how to help and address such challenges. Today's blog focuses on grieving the loss of a mother. Yesterday's post offered suggestions on how to help mothers coping with the loss of a child.
Mother’s Day Grief: Life Without a Mother’s Love
Most parents with young children have some sort of nighttime routine. My own household is far from regimented, but we do usually operate within the same general framework.
Each night there’s some sort of winding down activity like books or a quiet television show before I shuffle my two daughters off to sleep. Without fail, I have to go back and forth between the girl’s beds, giving them each a grand total of two goodnight kisses, and as I leave the room, Ginny always says, “Mama? Can you check on us and send Daddy up?”
The other night I was feeling sentimental, so instead of corralling them into their own beds, I lay down with them in mine. As I lay in the middle with a little girl on each side, they wrapped their arms around me and snuggled their warm bodies in as close as possible. As their breathing became a rhythmic purr, a calm washed over me, and in one of those not quite awake but not quite asleep moments, my mind drifted back 25 years to a dim bedroom in my childhood home.
My father traveled often, and there were a few decades where my mother had a handful of young children to tuck into bed all on her own. It was not uncommon for her to kill two birds with one stone by lying down with two kids in the same bed.
It’s a scene I can picture clearly. There is a sliver of hallway light peeking into a dark bedroom with white walls and blue carpet. I see me, my brother, and my mother in a queen-sized bed being lulled to sleep by the ambient night music of a box fan. I can picture the arc of my mother’s arm around me as she fell asleep, and I prattled on about my 7-year-old thoughts. Every once in a while, I would abruptly ask, “Are you still listening?” and she would pretend she had been awake all along even though I knew she hadn’t been.
Some nights when she had something to do, like prepare her preschool lesson for the next day or fold laundry, she would sit outside in the hall instead. Her presence in the brightly lit hallway made me feel reassured and safe, knowing I’d barely have to yell if I needed her.
She spoiled us this way, which I guess is why I dreaded spending nights away from her until far later than my peers. I failed sleepover attempt after sleepover attempt, the moment of regret settling in right around the time someone else’s mother came to tuck me in.
A lump would form in my throat as I realized how far away from home I was. No amount of nurturing from the household’s parent could fill the pit in my stomach; I wanted my mom, and there was no suitable replacement.
When you’re fortunate enough to have an affectionate and nurturing mother, you never stop craving her kind of love. She’s the only one who can make you feel it. After she’s gone, you futilely search to fill her void, but you’re trying to solve a riddle without an answer.
I was an independent adult for many years before my mother died. I no longer needed her, but the security of knowing she was alive in the world certainly allowed me to sleep better at night. When she died, it was like a meteor hit; my foundation shook, I lost the things that were her, and I was left with a vast un-fillable crater.
Motherly love is a story that has no end. As long as there are loving mothers, there will always be children who crave their unique kind of tenderness. I will never again be on the receiving end of my mother’s motherly love, but I am now the source of my daughters. I try to fill their little world with tenderness and care but sometimes it makes me sad knowing that someday they will likely know what it’s like to yearn for me.
Mother’s Day can be a pretty painful day for those grieving the death or absence of their mother. Mothers Day Grief can bring up feelings of longing, yearning, sadness, loneliness, depression, anger, bitterness, alienation, and despair. For many, the day becomes about just getting through.
Obviously, there is no replacement for your mother this Mother’s Day. Still, there are constructive ways to deal with the day that might make you feel closer to her memory and to the people in your life.
If you decide to lay low:
Turn off the TV: Mother’s Day themed advertising and programming range from slightly agitating to rage-inducing for those grieving the loss of their mother. You probably wouldn’t like me if you knew the terrible things I yell at my television when it stupidly airs Mother’s Day commercials, just terrible.
Skip the Mother’s Day brunch: If your prone to bitterness on Mother’s Day it might be best to avoid places like brunch or the mall, where Mother’s Day activities traditionally take place.
Plan a constructive and time-consuming activity: Mother’s Day avoidance is the perfect excuse to get your spring gardening done, cook meals for the upcoming week, or clean out your closet. Put on your headphones, get to work, and before you know it the day will be almost over.
Plan a self-care day: Pick a few activities from our list of 64 Self Care Ideas for Grievers
If you want to focus on your loved ones:
Spend time with the other fabulous women in your life: Why not take the day to celebrate women in general? Many of the things we celebrate on Mother’s Day are in praise of traits, qualities, roles, and responsibilities that many of the women in your life likely posses.
Teach your children something your mother taught you: This Mother’s Day activity reaches across three generations and provides you with the perfect opportunity to bring your mother into your relationship with your kids. It provides natural opportunities to talk about your mother with your kids and helps you to feel close to her memory.
Focus on your wife/sister/motherly friends (for the motherless guys): Make this Mother’s Day special for another woman in your life.
Focus on your children: Truthfully, the only reason I really participate in Mother’s Day is for my kids. I don’t want them to forever associate this day with me bitterly moping around. This doesn’t mean that I don’t tell them Mother’s Day makes me sad, I am very open about this. But I also let them know the joy being their mother brings and I don’t even need to fake it when I gush over whatever trinket they’ve made for me.
Say thank you to your dad or another role model in your life: Mother’s Day is about showing appreciation for those who have sacrificed for us and molded us. So your mother isn’t here, why not take this opportunity to thank others who have guided you. In a family, the father or the eldest sibling often takes on motherly roles and responsibilities after the mother dies. You might never have thought to thank this someone for their willingness to step into very large shoes, let Mother’s Day be your reason to speak up.
Send a card to another mother: Are there other mothers who you admire? A friend, aunt, in-law, or neighbor? Send them a Mother’s Day card and let them know you think they’re doing a great job.
Band together with those who are grieving your mother: Misery loves company and, better yet, maybe you’ll end up having fun and sharing meaningful memories.
Find gratitude: This is always a beneficial exercise when you’re feeling low, so look around and acknowledge that which is good.
If you want to spend time with your mother’s memory:
Spend time in a place where you feel close to your mother’s memory: This could be anywhere – at church, her grave, the ocean – it doesn’t matter.
Spend time looking at photos or items from your mother: Most of us have a ‘mom box’ of sorts where we keep old cards, letters, photos, and other items. Spend a little time reminiscing and going through these things.
Have a ‘mom’ movie marathon: I would watch old musicals and Tammy and Bachelor movies. What were your mother’s favorite movies? Which movies did you see together? Rent two or three movies, get some snacks, and invite someone over to watch with you.
Write a letter to your mother and update her on all that’s happened since her death: Obviously, you won’t be able to send this letter, but sometimes writing to deceased loved ones can be therapeutic and help to continue your bond with them.
Do something that would have made your mother smile: Ride a roller-coaster, eat an ice cream sundae, volunteer your time, or read a book. Whatever you do, allow yourself to enjoy it just as your mother would have.