Navigating Mother’s Day When You’ve Experienced Loss

| Megan Davis LCSW

When someone mentions the words “Mother’s Day” what image or memories come to mind?  For some, there may be images of giggling children bringing their mother breakfast in bed, others may have memories of the pressures of trying to find the perfect Mother’s Day card or gift.  For those who have experienced significant losses surrounding the maternal/child relationship, the images, memories, and feelings that emerge are often quite different.  

Mother’s Day is a day that can hold many feelings for those who have experienced loss.  When I refer to loss, it could be the loss of a mother/maternal figure, loss of a child, the loss of a relationship one wishes they could have with their mother or child, and loss of the opportunity to be called “mother”, whether it was by choice or not.  Chances are that you may connect with one of these experiences or know someone who has.  Feelings of dread surrounding the second Sunday in May might occur weeks or months prior and you might notice yourself wishing the calendar would just skip over the holiday each year.

Coping with Mother’s Day can be difficult, especially as it has become a holiday that has significantly shifted from its origin as a private holiday of remembrance to an increasingly public and commercialized holiday.  Due to this change, it can be difficult to avoid reminders or triggers.  Everyone’s experience of loss is different, so it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to cope.  Keeping this in mind, here are some suggestions that may be helpful:

Bring awareness to the feelings that are present.

So often loss is so painful, we want to avoid it and stuff it in the closet so that we can feel better.  The trouble with this is that the feelings are still there and once the closet becomes too full, it is going to explode.  See if you can allow yourself to touch on your feelings through journaling, mindfulness practice, talking to a trusted support or therapist, or simply just being curious about your emotions.  Even just naming and knowing what is there can be helpful, even if the emotion(s) do not seem to make sense.

Connect with your values.

Values can be viewed as cardinal directions of our life, rather than the actual destinations.  What is or was meaningful about being a mother?  What type of daughter or son would you like to be or to have been?  Take some time to think about how your values show up and see if there is a way to identify a meaningful activity for Mother’s Day.  For instance, if your mother has passed away and you value tradition, consider thinking of a tradition that you and your mother once had to engage in with those you care about in your life.  You might have envisioned connecting with your child through creativity or sharing your knowledge – is there a way you could do that to honor these hopes and expectations on Mother’s Day?

Cultivate self-compassion. 

This one can be incredibly difficult for many people.  How easy it is to be gentle, kind, validating, and empathetic towards those we love the most, yet so difficult to engage with ourselves in this way.  Keep in mind that this day might be hard, it might bring up painful feelings, or it might not be as hard as you expect.  Regardless, check-in with yourself and meet yourself where you are at.  If it seems kind to yourself to opt out of Mother’s Day and carry on with your normal Sunday routine, do it.  If it seems like a nice time to take a vacation somewhere or spend some time with friends or alone, do it.  Only you truly know what is best for you, so honor this and mother yourself like the mother you had, wish you had, or wish you could be.

Today's the day to make a change.