Mother’s Day When Your Mother is Gone

Mother’s Day was a very important holiday for our family growing up. I knew from the very earliest age that there were two days my mother cared about above all others: her birthday and Mother’s Day. Christmas was important too but, for my mom, her birthday and Mother’s Day were her days. My mother was a mentor and support to many people in her life, those days were a special time for her to feel like the center of attention. She loved to be taken care of and pampered on those days, even as a kid I could see how important Mother’s Day was to her.

Photo by Evelyn

My mother passed away unexpectedly in January 2016. She had spent Christmas of 2015 with us in Hawaii and then, just a few days after returning to her home in Ohio, she suffered a fatal acute aortic dissection. Her sudden death was especially traumatic for my family after going through the sudden loss of my brother just 18 months before in August 2014. We were suddenly going back through the same horrible motions; it was painful and felt unfair. Suddenly, I found myself grieving yet again but this time for my best friend and my first and greatest teacher.

Mother’s Day 2016 was my first Mother’s Day without my mom and it was a surreal experience. I was a new mom of a two year old and, for the first time in my life, I didn’t have my mom on Mother’s Day. As a kid, I would give my mother a gift for Mother’s Day, and when I got older we would joke about a card being “in the mail” but I always did what I could to send her a card and a gift on time and call her on her special day. Suddenly, at age 32, I didn’t have a mom to call on that day and no card to send.

The loss of my mother is never far from my mind. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about her in one way or another. My kids are still small, there are so many questions I would ask her if I could: did I act like this when I was six? Did my brothers do this when they were two? It’s the little things that bring her to mind more often than not: getting a letter and gift “from Mom” in Animal Crossing, seeing other parents post pictures with grandma on social media: those little reminders that she’s gone forever happen randomly every now and then. The reminders of my loss are always there but, leading up to Mother’s Day, it’s like the “volume” gets turned up and it can get overwhelming if I don’t take care of myself.

Holidays are often often difficult and complicated for many people, even more so when you’ve lost a loved one, especially when that loved one is the focus of the holiday. For those of us who have lost our mothers or are estranged from our mothers, it’s important to recognize the difficulty around this time and give ourselves some space to feel our complicated emotions. We may miss our moms and feel bitterness toward those who still have a mother figure in their lives while at the same time we want that day to still feel like a special celebration. It’s not clean or easy, it’s complicated and we all have to navigate our way through it all.

For me, as a mom myself, Mother’s Day has become a bittersweet mixture of celebration and pain. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree and like my mother I have become a pillar of support for my family and have stepped into a mentorship role in my life, just like she did. Mother’s Day is a day when my family and friends turn to celebrate and thank me for what I do, just as we all did for my mother when she was living. Still, on the very same day, the full weight of our grief is also present, my mother was a central figure in our family. My father often sends me a picture of my mother’s gravestone on that day and, especially in the first year, that was a hard text to get. I had to keep that message closed in order to try and enjoy my day as a mom myself and not get overwhelmed by the loss.

I’ve come to realize that Mother’s Day will always be hard and bittersweet for me and others in my situation. I have many friends now who have lost their mothers: some are sons and daughters who have lost their mom and others are parents themselves. This day is hard for all of us. We all have a few moments, sometimes on the day, sometimes leading up to it when the loss hits us hard. For me this week it was Thursday, just after finishing my morning meditation, looking out at the rhododendron bush in my backyard: the pink flowers and green leaves reminding me of my mother’s AKA sorority colors.

I miss my mom. I’ll miss her for the rest of my life. I’ll never forget her and the example she set for me. For me, Mother’s Day is a day of celebration and remembrance. A day for me to celebrate the family I have and the family I’ve lost. The pain I feel is a testament to the bond between mother and daughter: a bond that ties us together even after death.

I always think that it’s important to remember that holidays can be complicated and difficult times for many. If that happens to be you, do what you can for your self-care on those hard days. It might mean taking a few days away from social media or even canceling plans. Some people may not get it, they may not understand why you need to take time away for your own self-care but those who love you will give you the space you need and they’ll be there when you come back. You have to make the right choices for yourself during a difficult time and that’s not only okay, it’s an important and wise self-care choice.

Happy Mother’s Day to anyone reading this. It’s a hard day for many of us, I know that first hand. I plan to take some time this weekend to honor and remember my mom for the amazing woman she was: a mentor, a teacher, a lover of line dances and good food, an advocate and a fighter for many.

I know she would want me to be happy and enjoy our Mother’s Day.

3 comments

  1. I grew up with an abusive mother who is no longer in my life. It’s amazing to me how similar our feelings of loss and grief are. I can tell you loved her very much. I hope you find the strength you need this year.

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    • Thank you, I have a good friend who is estranged from her mother. It struck me how similar our feeling were around Mother’s Day even though our relationships with our moms were so different. It’s complicated and can be really hard for a lot of us. Wishing you the best as well!

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  2. We lost our mom two days after Mother’s Day 2015. It seemed sudden because we thought her health was improving, but it really wasn’t. She’d had a lifetime of unaddressed issues. Mother’s Days are bittersweet now. I have kids, but they’re too young to really understand the idea. My husband works tomorrow so I planned to just ignore it as much as possible. My dad and his new wife just dropped off some homemade cookies, a fern, and a card, so that was definitely a pick me up. I hope you have a great day tomorrow!

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