A Widow’s Thoughts about Mother’s Day

What should you say to a widow or widower on Mother’s Day? In my last post*, I shared reasons the day can be difficult for many people. I told how my Mom’s death “still” impacts the way I feel about Mother’s Day, but I avoided expressing how I feel about it as a widow.

To be blunt, most widows and widowers don’t look forward to Mother’s Day — we dread it.** And yet, we still want it acknowledged.

I became a wife before I became a mother, so Mother’s Day was — for me — as much about being my husband’s wife as it was about being my children’s mother. My no-longer-little girls were in their teens and twenties when their dad died. For 24 years he’d honored me as his wife every Mother’s Day, over and above the way he honored me as the mother of his children. Suddenly, half the “wife and mother” adulation was wrenched from that day’s annual pampering.

Mother’s Day is confusing now — and painful. I’m still my husband’s wife, but as a widow — his widow — I have no husband. I’m still our children’s mother, but with their father deceased I’m no longer the “wife and mother” I was for more than half my life. Honoring my motherhood is interwoven with recognizing my severed wife-hood. Mother’s Day reminds me of what I had … and of what I’ve lost … and of what I still have. As I said, it’s confusing.

Handmade Mother's Day Card

My husband made this Mother’s Day card for me just a few months before his unexpected death.

How can you help a widow or widower through Mother’s Day? Here are a few practical tips:

  • If the loss is recent, saying “I’m thinking of you this Mother’s Day” shows more sensitivity than saying “Happy Mother’s Day.”
  • For a widow with children: Let her know you realize that Mother’s Day will be difficult without her spouse. Ask her if you can take the kids shopping or create an art project or craft or make a card with them. It’s not about the gift. It’s about having someone show her children that she’s appreciated — and that her kids should also express appreciation for her — without her having to prompt it. She’s no longer “just” their mother; she’s got to handle all the responsibilities that were once shouldered by both parents.
  • For a widower with children: Let him know you realize that Mother’s Day will be difficult without his spouse. Offer to help him in the same way you might help a widow with kids. He’s now handling all the responsibilities of both father and mother. Remember: He’s still grieving the loss of the mother of his children and he’s facing the lifelong pain of helping his children (no matter their ages) as they grieve their mom’s absence.
  • For widows and widowers without children: Let them know you’re aware of them, and, if it’s appropriate, let them know you realize that Mother’s Day may be more difficult without their spouses. Exercise discretion. Some may have wanted children but been unable to have them. Others may have chosen to remain childless. Don’t base your interaction on assumptions.
  • It’s better to say something than to say nothing. You won’t “make” your friends feel sadder by speaking of their lost loved ones or “remind” them of their pain. (The sadness always exists, simmering below calm exteriors even when time and “healing” have taken place.) Even hearing “I don’t know what to say” can comfort and uplift a mourning heart.

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*Mother’s Day Mourning

**I recognize that everyone reacts differently. Some widows and widowers may still look forward to the day. More of the ones I’ve spoken with, though,  view days like this the way I do.

Here’s one fantastic alternate (but overlapping) view by my widowed friend Julie Toone: Appreciation for Mother’s Day…

If you have other suggestions that might be helpful, please share them in the comments below.

LISTEN without Judgment

To “listen without judgment” requires two actions on behalf of grieving friends, coworkers, relatives, or even strangers.

  1. L-I-S-T-E-N.
  2. Be quiet. (I would have said, “Shut up!” but thought that seemed too impolite.)

When you learn that someone you know has lost a loved one, among the most helpful things you can do is to “be there” for them. In many social settings silence is an awkward intruder, but when comforting the bereaved it can be a welcome participant.

In my post about grieving children, I mentioned the importance of asking kids if they’d like to talk about their deceased loved ones or about their feelings.  The same principle applies to adults mourning significant losses as well.

I was blessed with some friends who did this beautifully.

One day a few months after my husband died, a friend invited me to lunch. I remember sitting at the table with tears streaming down my face as I vented about my pain and loneliness, expressed my anxiety over my daughters’ grief, and confided regarding the physical toll mourning had taken on my body. Our poor waitress (and a few fellow diners) appeared alarmed by my waterworks, but when I apologized my friend shook her head and assured me she didn’t care what they thought.

The few words she spoke during that meal were supportive, encouraging phrases that allowed me to share my honest feelings. She validated my experience by reminding me that my grief was all about me. She said things like:

  • “That sounds really hard.”
  • “I’m so sorry.”
  • “I appreciate you sharing this with me.”
  • “What are your feelings about that?”

Because she encouraged me to share my true feelings and never expressed how she thought I “should” feel, I was able to relay and process sometimes conflicting thoughts and emotions that would have festered inside me otherwise. Her willingness to listen nurtured my healing.