I’ve been motherless on Mother’s Day since my mom died 20 years ago. I suppose it’s an anniversary of sorts, but I don’t feel like celebrating. I’m still grieving the death of my mom. In many ways I’m sure my grief will never go away. But over the years I have figured out how to get through Mother’s Day without a mother, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.
If this is your first Mother’s Day without your mom, I’m really sorry. The first year can be so hard, but the truth is that sometimes the second or third years are even harder. Actually, it can take a lifetime to sort through all our mother-related losses.
Then there are the trigger moments such as walking past all the Mother’s Day cards in the store, the ads for flowers and gifts, or maybe even seeing someone that looks like your mom. Not to mention the times when we really need our moms to support us and tell us how proud they are of us . . . graduations, job promotions, weddings, becoming a mom ourselves. These are all stark reminders of our motherless lives.
I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mom who was also my best friend. Nobody loves me like my mom and that’s a really tough loss to grieve. But I’ve come to realize that those we love in life we love in death. My mom and I are still connected in some way. Our relationship has changed, not ended. Using the term “motherless” is a misnomer of sorts. I still have a mom, even though she died two decades ago.
We may be grieving this Mother’s Day even if our mom is alive. If our mom has Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can leave us wondering what happened to the mom we always knew. She is here but also gone, and this type of “ambiguous loss” can be incredibly painful to grieve (a great book on this subject is Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping with Stress and Grief by Pauline Boss, 2011).
Perhaps we’ve lost our mom to an addiction or mental illness. Or maybe the energetic and healthy mom we always knew is suffering from a serious illness that leaves her tired and weary. We grieve the loss of our vibrant mom and our life before the day of that terrible diagnosis.
Maybe we grieve a mom we never had. Due to neglect or absence in our lives perhaps we never got the chance to even have a mom. We wonder “what if” and how our lives might be different if our mom was part of it.
Our mom might be alive and well but the relationship is strained and difficult at times. We grieve our ideal image of mom and are left grappling with the reality of a flawed mom and a challenging relationship.
I think many of us will be motherless on Mother’s Day in some way or another. So here are two suggestions for coping:
1. Honor a mother-like figure
Look for people in your life who have been like a mother to you. Think of an older sister, mother-in-law, friend, mentor, or aunt. Call them, buy them a small gift, or plan to spend time together.
2. Plan a special way to honor and remember mom
Whether mom is alive or dead, absent or present, mentally or physically ill, we can do something to celebrate the mom we knew or wish we had. We can plan a visit to a nursing home and spend time playing games and talking with the residents. We can write a letter to our mom even if she can’t read it. We can have brunch at mom’s favorite restaurant. We can light a candle at the dinner table. We can plant flowers, a rose bush, or tree in honor of mom.
Every year around Mother’s Day I bring flowers to my mom’s gravesite. My mom used to say “bring me flowers when I’m alive, not when I’m dead.” But I don’t let that stop me. I didn’t always listen to my mom when she was alive and I’m not about to start now! The pansies and tulips look great this time of year. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
How will you cope with a motherless Mother’s Day?
Grieve Well . . . Live Well