What To Say To Moms Who’ve Lost A Child On Mother’s Day, According To Counselors
Mother's Day can be complicated for anyone, but loss moms, or women who've lost a child, may need extra support. The focus on contented, happy families with healthy children in advertising and on holiday displays can be alienating or upsetting. If you're friends with someone who's lost a child or experienced a miscarriage, it can be difficult to know what to do or say around the holiday to make them feel better — but it is entirely possible to be able to help, in your own small way.
"Mother's Day can be made harder for loss moms because society views it as a day to celebrate," counselor Heidi McBain tells Bustle. "What does it mean if you’re a mom who can’t celebrate on this day, but can only see your loss (while everyone around is celebrating)?" Everybody — no matter their status as a parent or a child —will have different reactions to Mother's Day, so there's not a one-size-fits-all perfect reaction to every loss mom. With empathy and sensitivity, though, you can be a good friend on what might feel like a bad day. Here are eight ways to support a friend who's experienced the loss of a child on Mother's Day.
1. Acknowledge Their Pain
It can feel like an easy option to simply not talk about it — at all — or to leave your friend alone around Mother's Day, but being direct can be very helpful.
"Acknowledge that this is a very hard day for them," suggests McBain. "Don’t ignore it, act like nothing happened or act like everything is the same for them. Something simple like a card letting them know that you’re thinking of them and are here for them can go a long way. This goes for moms of a recent loss, as well as moms where the loss is not as recent. The pain is still very much there with them each and every day."
2. Accept Their Grief For What It Is
All loss moms are different, and their reactions to their grief and Mother's Day will be individual — and all are valid.
"Some parents may express their feelings more often, reach out for support and find talking helpful. Other parents might want to work through it on their own or become more involved in work/activities. The way that a parent grieves does not mean that they loved the child any more or any less," parent counseling service Parentline writes on its website.
"Every loss mom's experience is different when it comes to wanting Mother's Day to be acknowledged or not," marriage and family therapist Annie Wright of Evergreen Counseling tells Bustle. "Your friend/partner/family member may not want to have anyone bring up Mother's Day at all to her, or they might want something very special to take place on that day. Because what might feel best to one person may not feel good to another, and because how you may want to be treated may look different if you were in that loss mom's shoes, don't assume anything about what she might want or not want on Mother's Day."
3. If They Want To Talk, Let Them Talk
Sharing the story of their child on Mother's Day might be very powerful for loss moms. "Through losing Zachary, I have learned that sharing stories is key for families to turn their pain into joyful remembrances and peace," Alexis Marie Chute wrote for Mother magazine in 2017. "With one in five pregnancies ending in miscarriage and one in  ending in stillbirth, there are a lot of stories to be shared. There are a lot of babies to be remembered. And, especially around Mother’s Day, a lot of bereaved moms want to be acknowledged."
It's OK to feel awkward in these moments, but by being present, you can work through it. "Many of us feel overwhelmed by death and grief and don't know how to talk about it when someone around us experiences this," Wright says. "I believe it's better to be clumsy and actually acknowledge someone's reality than to avoid the subject altogether."
4. Respect Their Rituals
Some loss moms may have come up with their own rituals or memorials on Mother's Day. This may include a candle-lighting, a moment of silence, playing their favorite game, or other traditions. Ask your friend if they want to mark the day in a particular way, and offer your help to do so.
5. Ask How They're Feeling
Being a loss mom comes with societal expectations. Kate Kripke of the Postpartum Wellness Center in Boulder told Glamour in 2018 that for loss moms, "there is a lot of pressure and expectation to feel a certain way." So let your friend or loved one open up about their experience in their own way.
"One of the best questions we can ask is ‘How are you feeling?’ rather than ‘You must be feeling [like this],’” Kripke says. Then, listen to the answers they give.
6. Come Up With Authentic Ways To Make Your Empathy Known
It can feel like the best option when talking to a loss mom is to stick to broad-brush statements, but it's not actually advisable. "Empty sentiments are not helpful, so just steer clear of them," McBain says. "Don’t say things like: It was God’s will, you’ll have more children one day, at least you have other kids, at least you know you can get pregnant, etc. When in doubt of what to say, simply let them talk while you actively listen."
7. Pick Your Activities Well
If your loved one wants to do something but has left you to coordinate it, be sensitive, advises Wright. "Avoid restaurants and brunch spots where families may be out celebrating unless she tells you this would feel good to her," she tells Bustle. "Consider getting her out of town and into nature: to the mountains, to the forest, to the ocean, anywhere where she can feel at ease and less triggered by scenes of moms and kids all around her. Help her design and create the kind of day and experience that is going to feel supportive and nurturing to her — whatever this looks like."
8. Take Direction From Them
Got plenty of ideas? Park them and let the loss mom herself direct what she wants to do on the day. "Ask them how you can be most supportive to them," McBain tells Bustle. "Find out if there is anything specific that they would like or need you to do. If they can’t think of anything (or aren’t in a good mental space to do so), do something nice for them that is not intrusive (in case they would just like to be home alone to mourn and grieve). Something like bring by a card and dinner/dessert/flowers, etc. might be appropriate. This way, if they are feeling up to having visitors, you can come in, but if they don’t, you can just leave everything at their front door."
Being supportive of loss moms on Mother's Day is very important, whatever that ends up looking like. "At the end of the day, any acknowledgment or expression of love to someone who has experienced a loss is well-intended," says Wright. "You can better support your friend/family member/partner by directly acknowledging how hard Mother's Day may be for them as a loss mom and being open and receptive to what they need and want for support on that day."