Every time I see an advertisement for Mother's Day, I tend to cringe — not because this is a day to shill flowers and jewelry to show mom how much she really means, but because it's a reminder that my own mother isn't around anymore. Celebrating Mother's Day when your Mom is no longer alive is always difficult, and will always be difficult, no matter how many people tell you that it'll get easier. In fact, my grieving comes and goes, which makes me kind of a pain in the ass to be around if there's any sort of trigger. One huge trigger? Those aforementioned Mother's Day ads.
“When we first lose someone, the pain is fresh, new, acute, and overwhelming,” Dr. Kathy Nickerson, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. “As time goes on, we get used to that pain, just like we get used to a wound that never truly heals. But no, it never truly goes away.”
My mom passed away more than 10 years ago, and unfortunately missed a lot of my big events — graduating from college, actually getting a real boyfriend, and eventually marrying that boyfriend. Even though it seems cliché to hear, "Oh, she was definitely there during that stuff," I totally did feel a presence. Even stupid stuff, like lingering over something that reminded me of my mom for a second or two longer than usual, was comforting to me. As someone who isn't truly sure of her opinions on what happens after you die, these reminders mean even more, since I wasn't necessarily looking for them. They just kind of happened.
Since I suffered the loss at a pretty young age (it was right before I turned 20), I tried to be a constant support system to the friends and acquaintances who happened to find themselves in the same unfortunate situation during the passing years. After all, that's what truly helped me shortly after it happened — friends who knew exactly how it felt, and offered healthy ways on how to cope.
Whether the loss is fresh, or it happened years ago, here are a few options for how to observe Mother’s Day if your mom isn’t around.
Reach Out To Other Mother Figures
Whether it's your mother-in-law, your best friend's mom, or even your dad, it'll make you feel good to share Mother's Day with someone. Chances are, you have a lot of family members who are thinking of your mom right as we speak. After all, she helped raise a pretty amazing kid.
When you celebrate with someone else, it's not so much about not having your mom around for the holidays. It's more of a reminder that the day, in general, is about showing appreciation for someone you love — someone who has made an impact on your life.
Visit Your Mom
It might be kind of rough to visit the gravesite (or difficult, if you live a distance), but you'll feel better for it when you do. Don't be ashamed to talk to the stone, and don't feel bad if you just can't get the words out and want to stay silent. The important thing is that you have a designated spot to remember all of the amazing memories, and even update her on your life, if it feels right.
“It can be a bit painful, but it can also be so healing,” Nickerson says. “Imaging yourself connected to your mom, even if you're not 100% sure she's there, will help you feel closer.”
Hang Out With Your Siblings
If you don't get a lot of chances to reconnect with your siblings, consider going out for dinner or a drink, or scheduling a FaceTime. You'll be spending time with someone who knows exactly how you're feeling right now.
“Reliving memories with someone that loved your mom as much as you did will make you feel more connected,” Nickerson says.
Make sure to state your intent before going out, by saying something like, "I want to spend some time with you, and maybe share some good Mom memories." Otherwise, your sibling might be a bit blindsided, especially if they have trouble opening up.
Pick Up A Hobby Or A Craft She Was Into
If your mom was crafty or enjoyed a particular hobby, consider giving it a try. For example, if she was into tennis and your eye-hand coordination made you fearful of ever trying it, get out of your comfort zone and hit the courts one day. You never know — perhaps the skill is actually genetic.
“Interactions with such tangible items can be immensely helpful in the mourning and honoring process, as death renders the person intangible,” psychotherapist Lea Schupak, MHC-LP, tells Bustle.
Knitting, cooking, piano, or even hitting up the library to read a book in a new environment? They're all better activities than feeling sad indoors, and it's a great way to honor your mom.
Donate To Her Favorite Charity Or Volunteer
If you feel left out with the gift-giving, consider dropping some cash on an organization she really believed in. For example, my mom was a teacher, so finding a classroom to support with DonorsChoose.org would be something she would have been truly happy about — plus, it'll make a difference in the world. As Nickerson says, “You will feel closer to your mom by carrying on work that was important to her.”
If you’re extra sad, you might prefer more action-oriented approaches to coping with tough emotions, Dr. Natalie Bernstein, a clinical psychologist and mental health coach, tells Bustle. So if you have energy and don’t know what to do with it, channel it into volunteering for a cause she loved.
Ask Your Other Parent For Some “Fresh” Mom Stories
If your dad is still around/didn't end things with your mom in a sad way, this is a good holiday to have him open up and tell you some things about your mom that you never knew before. When we're kids, we usually get the "mommified" version of Mom. When we're adults, we're more open to hear the fun stories. The ones that happened before she was Mom. The moments that kind of rounded her personality, and made her who she was.
Additional reporting by Carolyn Steber.
Dr. Kathy Nickerson, licensed clinical psychologist
Lea Schupak, MHC-LP, psychotherapist
Dr. Natalie Bernstein, clinical psychologist and mental health coach
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