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May 6, 2020 Beyond The Dash

Mother's Day Dread: Why Grief is So Much Harder This Weekend

Coping with a motherless Mother's Day

Mother's Day Dread: Why Grief is So Much Harder This Weekend
Mother's Day is a difficult occasion for those whose mother has passed, or is not in their life for other reasons. Learn how to cope over the Mother's Day weekend with these tips. (Getty Images)

May is the month of mothers. Every spring, Mother's Day is a reminder to pay tribute to the women who raised you. It's a day to give credit to all the role models who took care of you as you developed from a child to the person you are today.  It's a time for gift giving, lending a hand, and gratitude for all that you have. For those who don't have mothers—whether they are departed or absent for another reason—it's an extraordinarily difficult weekend of grinning and bearing it while others celebrate.

No one wants to be a downer on Mother's Day. But if your mother is not around to celebrate, it can be hard not to resent the day. Despite knowing that there are millions of living mothers deserving of some love and praise this weekend, it's difficult not to hate the whole day. The flowers, the hype and the sad looks from the people in your life who can see that you're struggling all contribute to a sense of alienation. 

Strategies for handling grief this Mother's Day

  • Take the day off

If you are able, taking Mother's Day as a personal day is a great act of self care. Your schedule or circumstance might make this impossible. If you can take space on Mother's Day, a lot of your worries for the day might suddenly seem a lot more manageable. 

You don't have to just take the day off from the daily grind—you can also give yourself the day off from all expectations of how you should be grieving. In fact, you don't have to grieve actively at all, if you'd rather just avoid Mother's Day altogether. There's no right or wrong way to handle a day that you know is likely to bring grief to the forefront of your mind. Though it's important to face grief head-on at times, there's no need to put yourself through an ordeal on a day that was always going to be wrought with intense feelings of longing, sorrow and maybe even resentment. 

Give yourself a break.

  • Think more inclusively

One of the most painful parts of Mother's Day for those who've lost their mother is the narrow definition of the word 'mother'. Though many were raised by biological mothers and celebrate them on this day, it's important to remember that this is not everyone’s experience. Many people are raised by fathers, aunts, siblings, grandparents, or other family members. Others are adopted. Mother's Day includes chosen family, and the women who raised us in addition to conventional definitions of mother

Still others have allowed mother figures to guide their lives in the absence of their biological mothers. There are also people who live their lives without a mother figure to celebrate on Mother's Day. 

If your mother has recently passed, you may be noticing a grief reaction to the realization that life doesn't always continue the way you expected. Remember that you are now a part of a community of people who are also disenfranchised by a holiday you can't celebrate the same as before. Some people find a lot of comfort in joining a band of motherless strays, at least until they can find their place in a pack again. You may find greater comfort by thinking of yourself (and others) as included in a common loss, rather than excluded from an annual celebration.

  • Connect with other grievers

Finding other people who share your experiences with loss might be easier than you think. There are countless Facebook groups for grief support, and there are several that are specific just to the loss of a mother. Many communities also have some version of an annual Motherless Mother's Day meetup

Consider redefining Mother's Day for yourself. Is this day only about your mother? If it is, think of a way to honor her memory on Mother's Day as a way of honoring your past, as well as her life. If you can think of Mother's Day as an opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate female-identified role models, relatives and parents, you may feel less pressure this May.

  • Be compassionate

If you are struggling with grief, suggesting you think about the experiences of others less fortunate may seem like a tall order, but empathizing with and helping others can actually help you get through Mother's Day. As mentioned above, it's important to remember that there are others who share the same or similar pain as you. There are also people who are in need of help. 

Give to charity, volunteer, lend a hand to others and use your grief as motivation to prevent or alleviate future tragedies. This is a great way to regain power after death has rattled your world.

  • Honor your mother

There's something to be said for taking a break from grief, but you can also tackle it head-on today by remembering your mother and honoring her life. If you want to spend the day mourning, consider doing something you used to do with her. 

Many people honor their mothers by publishing a retrospective obituary about her, or leaving flowers on her grave. What you do should reflect the unique relationship you shared with your mother.

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Participation is not mandatory

There's no need to feel pressure to participate in Mother's Day if you don't want to. Reclaiming the day as a different kind of celebration may help you regain control of Mother's Day, but different people handle it in various ways. There's nothing wrong with throwing yourself into work, school, a passion project or an entire TV series on Mother's Day. 

Mother's Day is a great opportunity to remember special women who have contributed to your success in life. When your mom isn't around anymore, you get to redefine what it means. Do what feels right for you this year, and take it year by year at your own pace.

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