Orphaned. That’s the word my sister and I used to describe how we felt after our mother died. It didn’t matter that we were both fully grown mature women, or that our mother had been in her late eighties when she died. What stood out on the horizon of our emotions was the fact that we now existed in a world without parents. And even at our age, it somehow made us feel like trees whose roots had been cut out from underneath us.
The first everything is hard after a loved one dies. I knew my first Mother’s Day without a mom to celebrate would be especially difficult. Seeing cards in the card shop, tributes on Facebook, things I would have bought to give my mom had she been here all brought a sweet mixture of nostalgia and pain. But I especially dreaded going to church that Sunday. Seeing other women with their mothers and grandmothers, hearing a sermon that somehow involved moms and remembering all of the years I had relished in my mother’s love would, I knew, be difficult.
Even at our age, it somehow made us feel like trees whose roots had been cut out from underneath us.
I asked my husband if we could sit near the back of the church that day because I didn’t want to make a spectacle by the crying that was sure to come. After the service I walked to our car, purse filled with used tissues, mascara running down my face and throat clogged with a lump of emotions that made it hard to swallow. Having no mother on Mother’s Day was not an easy thing.
The following year my sister and I made arrangements to take a trip together and spent Mother’s Day on a beach enjoying each other’s company, remembering the woman who had given us life. We breathed in the salt air and found comfort in our shared memories. We even found joy on a day that the year before we had found to be so hard. This year my sister is flying to my home town and once again we will be together to share our memories, our love and our loss.
The mother-child bond is a deep and primal part of who we are and I find that even those who did not feel especially close to their mothers while they were alive often feel some deep sense of loss almost on a cellular level once their mothers are no longer on this earth.
Three thousand miles apart from my mom when we were living in Anchorage, Alaska, I wrote her a poem one Mother’s Day called “Heart Strings”. It went like this:
I am a part of the heart
I heard before I was born
I still return to the space in that heart
That my days in it have worn
Wherever I go I take with me
A part of the heart of my mother
And leave behind a part of me
In a place that can be filled by no other
I had written it on a handmade card I found with strings across a heart on its front. With it I sent a ceramic piece of art by a local artist, a small heart nestled into a larger one. It seemed to visually represent what I was saying with my words.
While each mother-child bond shares certain similarities, each is unique in its own way. Grieving that loss is unique and individual as well. And if this is your first year to have no mother on Mother’s Day I want you to know how sorry I am for your loss, for your pain and for the inevitable void that is left in that space she once occupied. I am no expert in grief or in recovery but here are a few suggestions I have to offer. Take what you think might be helpful then perhaps offer the rest to someone else who might need it.
- Love the ones you’re with. After my dad’s death it occurred to me one day that the best way I could honor him and his memory was to give the love he had given me to my own child. Loving those around you doesn’t replace the one you’ve lost, but it’s a beautiful way to repurpose that love into something useful and life giving. Siblings, spouses, children and friends all benefit from channeling your love for the deceased in this way.
- Acknowledge your mom in whatever way feels right for you. The first Easter after Mom’s death, I set the table with her yellow rose china, the ones I had grown up seeing on the table for every special occasion and company meal. It was my way of including her in the day. You might want to contribute to a charitable cause for which your mother felt passionately or visit with one of her friends or buy her favorite flower or make her favorite dish. You may even want to visit her burial site and speak words that you wish she could hear. Whatever it is, make it your own way to connect and make no apologies if it feels right to you.
- Allow yourself to grieve on your own timetable. There is no set formula for healing the wound of grief. Your loss and your pain should be acknowledged and honored, if not by others, then certainly by you. Cry when you need to, be strong when you can but always be honest with your feelings and know that grief recovery is a process that can’t be rushed. Go at your own pace.
- Spend time reflecting on your mother’s life. Think about all the things your mom did right, all of her characteristics you admire, the qualities you’d like to emulate and the lessons she helped you learn. Bringing those things to mind helps us to incorporate them into our own lives as we move forward.
- Ask the Holy Spirit for comfort. Jesus told His disciples that after He went away, He would send the Holy Spirit to comfort them. This Third Person of the Trinity specializes in the art of comforting. The symbol for the Holy Spirit is the dove of peace and His peace can soothe even those deep wounds of the heart that we believe will never heal.
- Look beyond yourself. Missing your mom as this Mother’s Day approaches? I understand that, I really do, but sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to look outside of ourselves. Look around you. Do you know a single mom who is struggling and could use some help this Mother’s Day? How about a child whose mom is incarcerated? Or perhaps you know an older woman who is childless or will be alone on Mother’s Day. You could brighten her day just by spending some quality time with her. When we focus on the needs of others we tend to think less about our own pain and suffering.
- Do something different. Sometimes continuing traditions we’ve held in the past is simply too painful as it holds years of memories of the ones we have lost and merely seems to highlight their absence. If that is the case, it might be good to consider creating a brand new tradition for yourself or your family. It doesn’t matter how you choose to celebrate a special day. What matters is that the day brings you joy, peace and gratitude for the gifts you’ve been given. Do what seems right for you so Mother’s Day is a day you look forward to and not something you dread.
It’s lovely to know our mothers are missed and that their absence has created a shift in our world but any mother with a genuine love for her child would want that child to be happy, even in her absence. So perhaps the best thing we can do to honor our moms is to go forward in our lives with joy and confidence. Celebrate all that she has given you and all she has helped you become then let your life be a brilliant light that reflects the beautiful woman you called “Mom”.