Mother’s Day Grief


I’ve put off writing about Mother’s Day this year, even though many folks now face this arguably difficult holiday for the first time while grieving loved ones. Within my own community, too many families carry on the best they can while bereaved over children, parents, siblings, spouses, and friends who’ve died in the last year.  

If someone you care about — or even someone you know only as a casual acquaintance — has endured the death of a loved one, please let them know you’re thinking of them. Whether they respond to your outreach or not, they will know they were offered your kindness, which those who mourn sorely need.

Sometimes grieving hearts stand shriveled alongside bright, cheery ones. Please take some time to look around you and see whose sorrowing soul you can help. (photo by Teresa TL Bruce,

I hope these posts I’ve already written about Mother’s Day topics will encourage you with ways you can show tangible support to grieving friends:

While commercials may tout bright, fancy ways to commemorate Mother’s Day, please remember that comfort in grief often comes in the simplest ways. You don’t have to do something big to make a difference, but please do something.


Comfort after Mom’s Funeral

When my mom’s mother died, I was a preteen child. I remember looking up as grandma’s best friend put her arms around my mom and cried along with her. Through her own tears, she told my mom, “I know I’ll never replace your mother, but I’ll try to mother you for her.”

Twenty years later, after my mom’s funeral, that same dear woman (who was then widowed and had long since become Mom’s best friend) embraced me and said, “I know how much it hurt when I lost my mama. It has been years and years, and sometimes it still breaks me up. I won’t tell you it will stop hurting, because you never lose the hurt when you miss the ones you love. But it won’t always hurt as much or as deeply as it does now. One day you’ll feel the sweetness of your love as much as the pain.

I found comfort in her acknowledgement of my grief. Her words validated the pain I felt. They promised I wouldn’t forget the love I’d always felt from my mom. They assured my love for her would remain significant, even in her absence.

In that time and place of acute, agonizing new loss, I didn’t want to hear anything that diminished the significance of my grief.

  • I knew I wasn’t the only person to have had a loved one die, but I didn’t want my grief compared to theirs.
  • It was helpful to hear, “I know how much I hurt when my mom died. I’m here for you,” but it never helped to hear people say, “I know exactly how you feel,” because they didn’t lose my mother.
  • I was grateful that Mom no longer suffered from the cancer that killed her, but I hated hearing other people say, “At least she’s not suffering anymore.” 
  • I fully believed then and continue to believe now that my mother’s soul IS “in a better place,” but it felt hurtful and trite to hear would-be consolers say, “You can take comfort that she’s in a better place now,” because the important, essential fact was that she was gone.

I didn’t want to hear that I would stop hurting, because in that moment of bereavement when my LOSS surrounded me, the pain of mourning preserved my connection to Mom. To think of not missing her or to consider that I might stop mourning her felt like thinking of dismissing the bond between us and dismissing the significance of her role in my life.

I was pregnant with our second daughter when Dad’s mother died, and I was pregnant with our youngest daughter when my mom died. I can’t count how many well-meaning souls attempted to console me by saying, “At least you have the new baby to look forward to,” as if I should be content and ignore my grief because welcoming a new life should “undo” my bereavement over the end of my grandmother’s life — and then over my mother’s. As much as I glowed and grinned in the anticipation of each child’s arrival, I grieved for their yet-unborn losses, too, knowing they’d never get to know their great-grandma who’d nurtured and inspired me as much in my adulthood as she had in my childhood. I mourned for my youngest, that she’d never know the grandmother who’d rejoiced in putting as much loving energy into her too-brief years of grand-mothering as she’d put into decades of mothering me.

The condolences that offered me the greatest comfort in my new, raw grief (as a granddaughter, a daughter, and more recently as a widow) were the simplest, most spontaneous and heartfelt expressions of acknowledgment:

  • I’m sorry. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m so sorry to learn of the death of your mother, your grandmother, your husband.
  • I wish I knew what to say. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.
  • This is awful news. I’m devastated for you.
  • I’m keeping you in my thoughts. You’re in my prayers.

Mother’s Day Mourning

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.

My Mom (from family photos of Teresa TL Bruce)

My Mom (from the family photos of Teresa TL Bruce, 

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.)