Coping with Mother’s Day if you’ve lost your mum, and how to help those going through it

Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate someone special in our lives, but if you’ve lost your mum or mother figure it can be extremely painful, adding to your existing grief. From email subject lines to card displays in shops, you’re reminded more than ever of the person you’re missing, and it can feel bitterly painful to be able to join in the festivities at this time of year.

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‘The marketing of Mothers Day is unavoidable and starts well before the day, and this catch us off guard’ says Dr Nilu Ahmed, a psychologist at the University of Bristol. ‘It can be overwhelming for people who have lost their mum or do not have a positive relationship with their mothers. It can feel like everyone will be having a wonderful day, while you are alone. Dates like this can trigger grief and feelings of loss and loneliness in those who have lost their mum, especially if they are already feeling tired and isolated.’

Linda Gask, a psychiatrist and author of Finding True North, agrees that Mother’s Day can trigger grief, even if it’s years since your mum died. ‘Like birthdays, and other key dates and anniversaries, Mother’s Day can bring back memories and reawaken grief that may have, over time, been gradually lessening in intensity’ she says. These moments can feel like a real punch in the gut, particularly when they catch you off guard.

It’s not just people whose mothers have died either – those who have difficult relationships with their mothers or are estranged from them can also struggle with the idea of Mother’s Day. Linda explains: ‘Mother’s Day is often full of assumptions that our mother was loving and caring to us. It may be very painful to have missed out on this and have only painful memories, yet be surrounded with images of flowers and sugary, sweet messages about ‘perfect mums’ on Mother’s Day.’

How to cope with Mother’s Day when you’re grieving

When it comes to Mother’s Day itself, Dr Nilu suggests using the day to reflect on warm memories, if possible. ‘You can plan a trip to where your mum is buried, where their ashes were scattered, or a favourite walk or place you share. It could be an opportunity to get together with siblings to reminisce and share stories.’

Writing things down can also help. ‘You might want to journal some memories; over time, this will become a valuable resource to come back to when you are struggling with grief’ she adds.

Remember, Mother’s Day is only a day, and whilst it might feel like everyone is having a wonderful time with their mums, it is worth reminding yourself that social media is not a real representation of life.

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‘If you are feeling like you would like to be with others, you can consider volunteering – you could visit or call someone who will be alone on the day’ says Dr Nilu. ‘Volunteering is an excellent way of connecting with others and is rewarding for everyone involved.’

Above all, remember to look after yourself. ‘Treat yourself to something you enjoy, pamper yourself – you are a special person in your own right too – take care of “you”’ says Linda.

‘Remember that if you begin to feel very distressed and unable to cope with your feelings, Samaritans are always there to listen.’ You can call the Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

How to support someone who has lost their mum on Mother’s Day

If you’re close to someone who is struggling at this time of year, then being there to listen is the most important thing you can do. ‘People who are grieving need to talk, cry, be comforted and supported. Be there for them’ says Linda. ‘Suggest things you can do together on the day – such as visiting their mother’s grave – but don’t push. We all grieve at our own pace’.

Dr Nilu suggests encouraging your loved one to do something nice to mark the occasion and honour their mum. ‘You can ask them to share stories of their mum if they would like to. Be present and do what they want to do – this could be catching up on a box set, or going for a walk, or even helping do some dishes. Grief can really stagnate people’s lives and practical help is always very useful.’

Above all, it’s about making sure that person knows they are not alone. ‘When people do not have a mum to share Mother’s Day with it magnifies thoughts of being alone. Being with a loved one can break through that negative thought pattern’ says Dr Nilu.

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