Five Ways to Support Someone Who Has Lost Their Mom this Mother’s Day
My mom passed away in September of 2019, and I remember that the first Mother’s Day after she died was awful for me. Like many of the moments when my grief hit me hardest in the first year, it came as a surprise. Mother’s Day growing up meant buying mom flowers at the farmer’s market, bringing her raspberries and croissants in bed, and an excuse to present her with more elaborate versions of my prolific output of homemade cards and giftable art projects (I remember being especially proud of a paper mache pig, painted with a patchwork of dots, stripes and squiggles). But because I moved to a different city for college and hadn’t lived nearby for almost 20 years, I hadn’t spent Mother’s Day with my mom in person in a long time and it didn’t seem like a big deal. I always called and sent a card or gift but it wasn’t a day when we made a lot of memories after I became an adult. She didn’t put a lot of emphasis on it and we always got together at other times in the year.
But when I realized in the spring of 2020 that it was coming up (hard not to be aware when you’re in the greeting card business), my stomach turned, my heart lurched and I spent the next few weeks in a state of heavy dread. As a new mother myself, I also suddenly felt pressure to look forward to it and enjoy it as a celebration of my role in my own kids’ lives, so there was an extra layer of feeling bad for feeling bad. Basically not the joy-filled flower-scented season of appreciation Mother’s Day is “supposed” to be. It’s one of the many days that don’t feel like they should since she died. Just a very public, in-your-face example of the thousands of ways that the world feels not-right after losing a parent.
I’m not sure what it will be like this year. I’ve started to have more good moments of remembering my mom, moments when I feel her presence and the ache isn’t so powerful that it drowns out the feeling of closeness that comes with those memories. But it is still a day I approach tenderly.
If you have someone you want to support this Mother’s Day who won’t be able to serve brunch, buy flowers, hug their mom in person for whatever reason, here are my suggestions based on my own experience.
1. Acknowledge what they are going through. The disconnect between what we’re “supposed” to be feeling or what the holiday is “supposed” to be like and what we’re actually feeling is part of what’s hard. While you can’t fix the sadness, you can take the edge off by helping someone who’s grieving feel less alone.
2. Remember together. I think often people shy away from talking about the person who’s died for fear of triggering painful memories, but in my experience, it has really helped when people talked about her. When people share memories of experiences they had with her, things they remember she said, what she liked and didn’t like and how she was, it helps bring her back into the world in a way and lets me feel like she’s still part of my life. You could simply share a story in your message inside a card. Or you could find a recipe for something she liked to cook and gift the ingredients.
3. Be a stand-in mom. You can’t replace someone’s mother, but you can help fill the void she left by saying some of the encouraging things that moms are so good at saying. I don’t think anyone ever really stops wanting their mom’s approval and validation and something like “I wish she could see you now, she would have been so proud” can go a long way when it is said by a trusted person who knew both you and your mom.
4. Be a stand-in grandparent. One of the hardest parts of losing my mom is losing the Nana she would have been to my kids. It means so much to me when other people take an interest in them, ask after them and even spoil them a bit the way many grandmothers do.
5. Name the ways they are carrying mom’s legacy well. One of the ways people we lose live on is when we embody their best qualities and skills we learned from them in our own lives. When people say to me, “You are your mother’s daughter” in reference to something like my ability to organize things or my love for elaborate projects or (especially) my own parenting, it makes me feel like she is part of me and therefore part of my (and my kids’ lives), and that I’m honoring her in the way I’m living my own life.