With Mother’s Day looming, my grief ratchets up several levels. It’s been over 18 years since Mom died, and I’m dreading this year’s annual event as much as I have each year since her death. It’s a selfish misery — I acknowledge that — because my mom deserved the “World’s Best” title that’s printed in flowery fonts on all kinds of merchandise this time of year. Too many dear friends had opposite relationships with their mothers, so I truly appreciate how lucky I was.
I ought to spend Mother’s Day bathed in a warm glow of gratitude over how incredibly blessed I’ve been that my mom’s heart and hands shaped my life. But I miss her. I miss her.
She was an adoring grandmother, and I wanted my children to grow up with her creative, optimistic, spiritual, fun-loving, nurturing, curious, accepting influence and presence in their day-to-day lives. I feel cheated that they could not. I miss her for their sakes as well as my own.
Mom was my best friend. (She was everybody’s friend. When I was in high school, one boy I dated sometimes called our house to talk to her.) Typing these words about her reopens the rip that began tearing around my heart the moment I heard the word “cancer” over the phone two short years before it took her. I “still” miss her.
My deep longing for Mom’s voice and warmth, for her wisdom and presence, isn’t the only reason I dread the advent of every Mother’s Day. Years ago I attended a church council planning discussion of upcoming tributes and honors for that year’s commemoration of the day. The suggestions were thoughtful and generous, but as I listened I became more and more uncomfortable until I finally blurted, “Lots of women hate Mother’s Day.”
All eyes turned toward me. Other women in the room nodded their heads, but most of the men looked as if they’d been slapped. The first to recover his speech asked what I meant, and as soon as I began explaining, my church sisters’ voices joined mine:
- “We can’t live up to the glowing superlatives on the cards.”
- “Do you know how many women want children but can’t have them?”
- “Some of us had terrible mothers. We don’t get along with them at all.”
- “Some of us have bad relationships with our kids, and Mother’s Day makes it even worse.”
- “I’ve hated the day ever since my mom passed on. It hurts too much.”
- “And it’s agony for the ones who’ve lost a child.”
- “And women who’ve miscarried …”
A few mouths remained open when we’d finished. One by one, all in the room acknowledged that a special sensitivity was needed in planning that particular Sunday’s services.
Men and children also struggle with missing their deceased mothers, or they may feel conflicted about poor relationships with theirs.
In the years following Mom’s death, I dragged myself into the chapel for every Mother’s Day service (though I’d have preferred staying at home to linger over my annual child-poured breakfast in bed, a bowl of Cheerios or Lucky Charms*) because that’s what I felt I needed to do, what a “good mom” should do. All the children in the congregation — including my own — were singing to all the moms, and I did want to experience seeing and hearing my daughters beam as they sang “Mother, I Love You.” That part I didn’t mind — it was always delightful! (You never know what you’ll see and hear where kids are concerned, no matter how well they’ve practiced ahead …)
But it hurt to be there. I knew the shortfalls of how my mothering compared to my mom’s. (Did I mention how great she was?) And I missed her.
What helped make it easier? While it’s true that time eased the sharpest of my grief’s pain (though it’s not true that it “heals all wounds”), eventually, at least in part, there was one thing that comforted me immediately. Whenever someone acknowledged awareness that I mourned Mom’s absence, the weight of my grief lightened enough to keep me going. It still does.
- It always helped to hear, “I’m sure you’re missing your Mom. I’m sorry.”
- It never helped to hear, “Don’t be sad.”
- It never helped to hear, “Are you still upset about your mother?”
- It can be helpful to say, “You’re in my thoughts as Mother’s Day approaches.”
- It’s also appropriate to say, “I’m thinking of you this Mother’s Day weekend.”
As with other aspects of mourning, the best condolence you can offer is the comfort of your presence, the reassurance of your willingness to listen, and the sensitivity of your acknowledgment of the loss.
(*In case you were wondering, I have no affiliation with General Mills — or any cereal-making company. Cheerios and Lucky Charms just happen to be my favorites.)