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As a bereaved mother who has, as well, three healthy children, I am here to issue forth a dispatch from the department of brutal truth: Many bereaved moms (with or without living children) have decidedly mixed feelings about Mother’s Day.
I was going to say we “hate” the day but that’s not true. It’s more nuanced than that. Mother’s Day breaks us because it celebrates (in overly simple terms) the joy of motherhood. There is no wiggle room. It can feel oppressive.
If you know a woman who has lost a child it can be difficult to know how to acknowledge a day that celebrates motherhood in such amplified ways. Flowers and chocolate and indulgent massages - these are all part of the festive nature of the day.
But how to mark and celebrate the beauty of what was, along with the devastation of what was lost? This is hard. For women coping with loss, the contrast is both stark and crazy-making.
My mother has a friend whose daughter was killed in an accident when she was eighteen and on her way to study abroad. Once, while speaking on Mother’s Day, this woman wished my mother a happy Mother’s Day. My mother wished her the same. There was a pause.
My mother’s friend said, “But I’m not a mother anymore.”
This was, of course, not true. This woman ached (and aches still) for her daughter. She was not disavowing her daughter – she was punishing herself.
On Mother’s day, friends don’t let bereaved mother friends punish themselves.
Here are five ways to comfort a broken heart on Mother’s Day.
- Send them flowers. Flowers are appropriate for any occasion. If you feel that an overt wish for a Happy Mother’s Day makes no sense, you are probably right. (This may be less true if she has living children too, but still). Your card can be more nuanced than is generally permitted on Mother’s Day – a day traditionally and frustratingly celebrated without any nuance.Try something like: “I am thinking of you today and of your entire family. You know so well the joys and the heartbreak of motherhood. You are an inspiration and I just wanted to celebrate you. I’m here if you want to talk.”
- Send them a gift certificate that allows them to hide. Spa gift certificates can backfire on Mother’s Day because you don’t want your recipient to be surrounded by moms grousing about how much they have to do. You don't want her in with the ladies wearing spa robes and sipping bubbly from a champagne flute. Instead, send a subscription to Amazon Prime and tell her that The Americans rock. Then, go and watch with her.
- Call/Facetime. It is often appreciated when people overcome the awkwardness of the day to just ask how someone is doing. So overcome the shy - and just open the conversation.
- Send them something decadent. Send them chocolate truffles. Write a note about giving permission to oneself to just go ahead and indulge.
- Let them know you understand their mixed feelings about Mother’s Day. As a bereaved mother with living children I can’t say that I hate Mother’s day. I don't. But I can say that I like to treat it more as a reciprocal holiday wherein the kids honor me and I honor them. (It's not my favorite day, though). And I usually think mostly of the moms I know who don't have living children. It is they who I honor on this day. They are the women I remember.
A little validation goes a long way.
Photographs courtesy of I-Stock. Used with Permission.
This post was originally published in May, 2017.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.