Navigating Mother’s Day with Grief

This is the first Mother’s Day our family will celebrate without our mom, since she died earlier this year. Joining the ranks of those without their mothers on Mother’s Day, I’ve had some time to reflect on why this particular holiday is so difficult for those who are grieving. Losing a mother can feel like losing a part of ourselves. For me, when she died it felt as though I was untethered, left without an anchor. It’s going to take some time to reconfigure life without her. I know it is a process. I am also anticipating that Mother’s Day this year is going to be hard for myself and my family.

We can suffer from the loss of relationship with our mother in many different ways- not just loss through death. Illness such as dementia, family conflict, estrangements and separation within families can all lead to a loss of connection with our mothers. No matter the reason for your loss, take some time to be gentle with yourself this Mother’s Day as you navigate your own difficult emotions. Whether it’s been a few days or a few years, the loss of your mother in your life is huge. The following are some ideas to help you.

  1. Give yourself permission to honour your feelings and grieve
    Losing your mother is a significant event in your life, regardless of the reason, and you will likely experience many different emotions. Sadness, anger, loneliness, regret, longing, despair, guilt and feelings of depression are all normal reactions to loss. Be kind toward yourself and make space for your feelings, while having reasonable expectations of yourself and what you can manage. Be willing to accept support and help from others. Surround yourself with supportive people.
  1. Establish an intention for how you want to spend Mother’s Day and with who
    If you need time alone to grieve and mourn, take that time for yourself and invest in self care. If you want to be with others, make a plan that reflects your intention. Be thoughtful about how you want to honour this day and let others know what you need. If celebrating is not going to work for you, give yourself permission to withdraw from those plans.
  1. Remember that holidays and special days are often when “grief bursts” will occur and we may feel that we are at the beginning of grieving all over again. As painful as it is, grieving is a natural and necessary process that will move us toward healing and growth over time. Expect that you may be triggered by external reminders of Mother’s Day all around you, such as advertisements, social media and displays in stores, as well as people making plans for the day. Give yourself permission to limit exposure to things that might intensify grief, and engage in self care to manage grief bursts, including reaching out to others.
  1. Have a self care plan. When we are grieving, we are suffering, which impacts us physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Grief is hard work, it is taxing on our system and can lead to further difficulties when we are not taking good care of ourselves. Focus on an authentic plan for your self care that looks at all domains of your well being. Take care of your body, your mind and your spirit. Be conscious of the types of coping you might be using to manage the difficult feelings and replace negative coping with things that nourish you-such as time outside, time with friends, time with pets, and moving your body.
  1. Have grounding strategies for the body when grief is overwhelming
    Practicing breathing is one way to help calm the emotional brain when we are flooded with feelings. Practice mindfulness strategies to stay in the here and now (noticing things around you through the senses, focusing on the moment). Remind yourself that you will survive this, and that grief is the price we pay for having loved and lost someone, it is part of life.
  1. Create new rituals to honour your mother
    Find a meaningful way to remember her on Mother’s Day, for example, lighting a candle, buying yourself flowers, making a meal she loved and sharing it with others, or writing her a letter to express your thoughts and feelings. Put together a memory box of things that are special and share those memories with others to keep her spirit alive. Engage in creative expression by making something, painting a picture, or planting something in the garden in her memory. If you are grieving with siblings, come up with a new ritual together that will promote your connection.
  1. Celebrate the positive qualities of your mother
    Reflect on the gifts that she gave you, starting with the gift of life. Spend some time thinking about how your own life honours her legacy and what qualities in yourself you want to continue to cultivate. Write down the ways that your mother impacted your life in a positive way or the things you learned from her and savour those things. Even within complex relationships, we can find things for which we are grateful.
  1. Reach out to others for support, especially others who understand your loss
    Connecting with others who have had a similar loss, or who know what you are going through, can help you bear the burden of your heartache. Support groups and online communities are also great sources of support for grieving people. Remember that you are not alone, even though your grief will make you feel as though you are.

If you are finding that you are feeling stuck in your grieving, or your mental health is deteriorating as you are grieving, please consider reaching out for professional support. The clinicians at Brant Mental Health Solutions have a wide array of professional and personal experience to draw from and can support you in your grief journey. You do not need to suffer alone.

Christine Bibby, MSW, RSW Social Worker