While Mother’s Day is a fun family holiday for a lot of people, for others—especially those of who have lost a mother or child—it can be a painful reminder of grief and loss. The holiday can also trigger memories from not-so-pleasant life events such as estrangement, infertility, and complications with pregnancy, making it hard to get through the day without feeling a whole cocktail of undesirable feelings.
To help make Mother’s Day a little easier for those who have suffered grief in their lives, we called on Diane Brennan, Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Life & Loss Mental Health Counseling, and Natalia Skritskaya, PhD, and M. Katherine Shear, MD, from The Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University in New York for help getting through the often-emotional holiday. Read ahead for their tips and suggestions for navigating a tough Mother Day’s weekend.
5 Tips for Dealing with Grief on Mother’s Day
Natalia Skritskaya, PhD and M. Katherine Shear, MD share their suggestions for managing your sadness throughout the holiday weekend.
1. Remember that grief is a form of love
“We don’t want to experience pain and suffering, but they are a natural part of life, not something we are able to eliminate,” says Skritskaya. “If you or someone in your family experienced a loss, you might accept grief as a part of Mother’s Day. Give yourself or another griever permission to feel the emotions. Acknowledge grief as the form love takes after someone dies and let it be a part of the day.”
2. Let yourself feel what you feel
“Allow yourself or someone else who is grieving to feel sad that day,” says Shear. “Try to plan things that are not stressful. Allow space and time to do things that might be comforting. Sometimes grieving people need time alone. Sometimes they want to do something distracting. Try to plan things that meet the needs of grievers.”
3. Know that every emotion is OK when you’re grieving
“It is natural to experience pleasant emotions as well as painful ones when you are grieving,” explains Skritskaya. “Some people feel uncomfortable with feeling happy after someone has died, but it’s not bad or wrong. Positive emotions promote physical and emotional health. Try to think of something that everyone can enjoy, at least a little, on Mother’s Day.”
4. Honor the person who died
“Find a way to remember and honor the person who died.” Says Shear, “You might light a candle or organize a memorial gathering. You might serve their favorite food or tell a Mother’s Day story about them. Use your imagination and be creative.”
5. Let others help where they can
“Other people may want to help. Try to let them do that.” Skritskaya says, “They could help with planning for the day or taking care of some stressful things. Others can help honor loved ones. In whatever way it works best for those who are grieving, let others help.”
5 Things to Do on Mother’s Day (If it’s Tough for You)
Diane Brennan, LMHC, shares strategies for surviving Mother’s Day if you’re feeling down.
“Mother’s Day can be hard because the marketing and social media focus around the day forces us to reflect on motherhood in our own lives.” Brennan explains, “This can be a deep pain point for those who have experienced a loss related to their mother or themselves as a mom. We can’t escape the messaging and it serves as a reminder of the grief that we have around these losses.”
1. Make a Plan
“Think about the day in advance and how you want to spend it: alone, or with others; make sure in advance you have a plan that feels best for you.”
2. Tune Out
“Take a short break from the news and social media for a few days before and after Mother’s Day. It will spare you from additional reminders that might be unavoidable otherwise.”
3. Create a Ritual
“Rituals help acknowledge the grief you are feeling and can be very healing. They also provide a healthy distraction (that still honors your emotions) during a painful day.”
4. Ask for Support
“Tell others how you are feeling about the day and let them know what would be helpful to you. Whether it’s a phone call or respecting your privacy, give loved ones a chance to offer their support, whatever that may be. ”
5. Find an Outlet
“Create positive energy by doing activities you enjoy: a run in the park, a walk on the beach, or reading a book.”