My patient Ann* has spent the last seven months dreading Mother’s Day. Her mother died last October after a sudden heart attack and Ann, mother of a six-year- old, was and is devastated. She told me in session, “Sherry, I know I can’t ignore the day because my daughter is excited about it, but I don’t know how to get through it.”

Ann is certainly not alone in the motherless-and-I-dread-Mother’s-Day Club.

Andrea, who blogs at NoParentsNoProblem.com, confides, “My mother passed in 2004 when I was in my early thirties. She was my sole surviving parent. Also I have no kids so that adds to the grief… For example my sister has her kids to celebrate her as a mother and they also celebrate with her mother-in-law. I have tried celebrating Mother’s Day with them…but it almost makes me feel the loss in a more pronounced way. I know the tag-along feeling is self-induced but I can’t help it.”

Paige shares, “My mom died 8 years ago and her funeral was on Mother’s Day which also happened to be her birthday weekend that year so it is always a bittersweet time for me now…”

The Best Ways to Get Through a Difficult Day

1. Don’t suppress your sorrow or your memories

Whether or not you had a positive relationship with your mother, it was likely the most profound relationship of your life. The deep emotions her passing has caused are normal and nothing to be afraid of. People often run from strong feelings because they fear getting trapped in them. Don’t run from the grief but try not to wear it like a smothering blanket. The ability to mourn shows your ability to love.

Share your feelings with those you care about such as spouse, friends and family. Your siblings will connect with your emotions about your mother most of all.

2. Don’t torture yourself with triggers you know will cause pain

In other words, stay away from surefire grief instigators. These include walking through the greeting card aisle and seeing all the Mother’s Day cards, scrolling through Facebook or Instagram and seeing all the pictures of happy families, and going to restaurants at the height of Mother’s Day family gatherings.

Article continues below

Worried you may be suffering from complicated grief disorder?

Take our 2-minute Complicated Grief quiz to see if you may benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

Take Complicated Grief Quiz

3. Do have specific plans for the day

Don’t spend the day with your head under the covers, avoiding the world because it feels like a non-stop Hallmark card. Plan beforehand how you will spend this Motherless Mother’s Day.

Treat yourself with self-compassion and acceptance. If you decide to spend the time alone, practice self-care versus pigging out on junk food and watching sad movies. Rather nourish your body and soul and with good, healthy food and get some exercise. Perhaps listen to some meditation tapes, focus on work or look at some old pictures or videos that conjure up good memories. Read a fabulous book you’ve been meaning to get to.

The point is to do what feels good to you, not activities that will accentuate your loss. Maybe you can go for a hike or another pastime that feeds your soul. Have a back up plan if you decide you don’t want to be alone. Make a pre-arranged agreement with a friend or family member who will welcome your call or company.

4. Do something to honor your mother

This can take a variety of forms. For instance you can make a charitable contribution in her name to organizations such as Save The Children, Develop Africa, or any non-profit organization she cared about.

Stepping outside yourself and doing something for others in need is a lovely way to both pay tribute to your mother and help yourself feel better. Sandy, whose mother died in 1988 from metastatic breast cancer suggests volunteering, perhaps at a shelter for battered women. “You can serve a meal, give manicures, style hair, tell stories or listen to stories.”

Another helpful idea, especially for the first Mother’s Day without your beloved parent, is to get together with your family and share stories – try to keep the stories on the funny or happy side though!

5. Create new traditions 

While your mother was alive, the tradition for the second Sunday in May was likely to spend time with her. Now that she’s gone you can create new traditions to make the day a special one. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Motherless Daughters Lunches Hope Edelman, author of the book Motherless Daughters lost her mother in 1982. A cornerstone of her organization Motherless Daughters are Mother’s Day lunches for women without mothers.

Naturally you don’t have to join one of Edelman’s chapters. You can set up an annual get-together with friends who have lost their mothers. This Mother’s Day will mark six months since Jill, author of The Fab Mom’s Guide: How to Get Over the Bump and Bounce Back Fast After Baby, lost her mother to cancer. She will mark the sad anniversary with a happy event. “I am inviting all my husband’s family – a total of 17 people – over for a late lunch at our house. I’m going to make mom’s best recipes and serve everything on her fancy dishes.” Even though Jill cries when she thinks about preparing for the party, she believes it’s the best way to keep alive the spirit of the most important woman in her life.

While there are no shortcuts to grieving the loss of a beloved mother, there are ways to make the day that is so publically devoted to happy looking families showering love on their matriarch something that brings you if not happiness – satisfaction and community.

*Editor’s note: Patients’ names have been changed for privacy reasons. 

Last Updated: Apr 30, 2018