When Mother’s Day hurts
Mother’s Day is often a bittersweet holiday for the many of us who struggle with mother loss. And mother loss wears many hats. Just recently, 36-year-old Lara came into my office in tears.
“I went to buy a card for my mother,” Lara said, and proceeded to describe her frustration. After 20 minutes of browsing through the store’s Mother’s Day cards she had remained undecided, so she left and walked into the bakery next store where she bought herself two of her favorite chocolate cupcakes.
“Why is it always so hard to find the right card for my mom?” Lara asked. “I love my mother but … why couldn’t I find a card? And why did I have to fall into a pothole and go to the bakery?”
In the many years I’ve been a therapist, I’ve heard the words, “I love my mother, but….” more times than I can count. And now, since publishing The Girl in the Red Boots: Making Peace with My Mother, my inbox is filled with people yearning to resolve issues with their mothers.
There’s no simple answer to the question of making peace with our mothers, because even in the best of circumstances, our relationships with our moms are complicated. In addition, there are many difficult situations, each posing different questions requiring different solutions. Look at the list below and think about your own relationship with your mother and with Mother’s Day:
- My mother and I have a close relationship.
- My mother and I are not really close, but we get along.
- I lost my mother when I was a small child—I will miss her forever.
- I wasn’t a child when I lost my mom, but she was too young to die.
- I ‘m watching my mother succumb to a slow, debilitating disease.
- My mother is in a nursing home.
- My mother lives far away and we have lost touch.
- My mother lives nearby but we are emotionally distant.
- My mother and I are estranged.
- I am a mother who has lost a child and I will never get over this pain.
- I am struggling with infertility.
- My childbearing years are over and I have had only miscarriages.
- My mother is dead and my childrenlive far away.
- If I grieved my lost relationship with my mother, I’d never stop crying.
What did you notice as you read this list? How did you feel inside? If you have a happy relationship with your mom, congratulate yourself and count your blessings. You may, however, recognize that your situation brings you face to face with grief. Unfortunately, we live in a fast-paced world where we are often encouraged to move away from difficult emotions and “get on with life,” rather than face and work through our pain.
I’ve learned that the first step in getting over anything is accepting it. Learning to be with our pain, disappointment, regret and life’s unfairness is never easy, which is why often we flee from facing this first and most crucial task.
If you are wondering how to face your grief, first, know that by anticipating a difficult situation you have the opportunity to make a plan to care for yourself. Instead of falling into a predictable pothole– binging or drinking to distract yourself, here are some suggestions:
Take inventory of who you really are
Ask yourself: Who am I when no one is looking over my shoulder? What brings me pleasure ? Staying in bed sleeping? Reading? Watching a movie? Playing tennis or taking a bike ride? Connecting with old friends on the phone? Hanging out on my phone, playing games?
Give yourself permission to do what you want to do. No judgment.
Find a quiet place to write
Bring something to write with: a computer or a pen and paper- even a scrap of paper or the back of an envelope will do. Befriend your feelings. Write a simple sentence that expresses your pain. Here are some examples:
Mom, I miss you.
Why did I have to get gypped?
I hate to see other happy people when I’m feeling so awful/angry/devastated.
Write your sentence over again three times. See if another sentence pops up for you. Allow your pen to flow. I love this saying: “Name it to tame it.” Naming our dark feelings helps us accept them. Allow yourself to be with whatever happens.
Go to your favourite online book site
Explore the website for a book you have been wanting to read — or feel curious about. Buy it and read as much as you like. If you don’t enjoy it, stop reading and move on.
Ultimately, growing up means learning to mother ourselves, and each of us needs to find what actually nourishes us. I want to share an excerpt from one of my favorite poems that nourishes me:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.