Navigating an emotional minefield on Mother’s Day

While the world celebrates Mother’s Day, grieving daughters may experience a flood of emotions. Mother’s Day may trigger painful memories, especially if you felt close to your mother or if her death was recent. Daughters may feel an overwhelming sadness as Mother’s Day reminds them of their loss.  Depending on the circumstances of the death and the complexity of your relationship with your mother, you may find yourself looking at a kaleidoscope of unwanted emotions. How do you cope? How do you Navigate a day such as Mother’s Day? 

Coping Strategies for Grieving Daughters

Mother’s Day can be incredibly lonely as daughters feel isolated and alone in their grief.  You may feel guilty that you didn’t do enough for your mother. You may regret not taking her to one more doctor or specialist. You may feel remorse for not being able to be present when she died. You may judge yourself for not showing her more love or appreciation while she was still alive. You may feel a deep longing to be with your mother, talk to her, or hold her again. These are complicated emotions that are not easy to navigate. But fortunately, grieving daughters who have survived and grown from their losses have some wisdom to share. 

At a grief support group, one grieving daughter shared that her mother made her promise never to cry when she died. When her mother died, the daughter honored her mother by holding back her tears. She found it almost impossible. One of the women in the group described the scene when Martha informed Jesus that her brother Lazarus had died, and  Jesus wept. The woman told the group, “I don’t even try to be holier than Jesus. If Jesus wept, then I can give myself permission to weep too.” Then other women in the group shared how unhelpful it is to hold back the tears. A man in the group agreed, saying, “I was told that real men don’t cry.”  The group concluded that it is not only okay to cry, but it is a healthy way to grieve. Tears are for healing. Allow yourself to grieve.

 One daughter suffered from a strained relationship with her biological mother, who always denied that she had given birth to her. Everyone in the family knew the biological mother, and no one believed her denial. So, when the mother died, the daughter had mixed emotions. The daughter struggled with issues of abandonment and forgiveness, especially after her mother’s death. Grieving daughters who have acquired wisdom are prone to say that forgiveness leads to healing. 

“My mother was my compass, my true north,” said a grieving daughter. “She was the glue in our family system. The family gathered at Mom’s house for every holiday, anniversary, and birthday. Now that she’s gone and we sold the house, it feels like I’ve lost my way.” Mothers are often the emotional center of the family, and when she dies, the center evaporates. Another daughter responded, “We have her recipes, and although she is no longer with us, on special occasions, we cook her favorite foods as a way to remember and honor her.” You may have special foods, events, or memories that you and your family can revive, and thus create a new ritual that honors your mother’s memory.  Creating a ritual is a way to keep your mother’s memory alive. 

Grief sometimes feels like a deep dark quagmire. We get lost in emotions we do not understand, and perhaps we need a navigator to guide us back to our “True North.” Some of us can remember our “True North” through prayer and meditation. Some of us can reawaken our true selves through service to others. It is not a weakness to seek a coach or counselor to help us navigate the emotional minefield of grief.  You may find relief at a chiropractor if you have a pinched nerve. If you have a painful sore on the foot, it is no sign of weakness to see a foot doctor. So too, with the pain associated with losing a loved one. Sitting with a grief counselor, sharing your unique story, and perhaps acquiring stepping stones that will lead you out of the gloomy quagmire is not a weakness. 

Two grieving daughters found solidarity when they shared their stories of grief. Once a month, they would watch the saddest movie they could find. While watching the movie, they would cry their eyes out and go for tea and pastries afterward. They didn’t need to talk much about their losses, but they felt comfort and hope whenever they would go out for a “good cry.” The wisdom of these grieving daughters informs us that we do not have to grieve alone. Instead, we can find comfort and mutual support when we dare to share our pain. 

The School Counselor informed 8-year-old Amy that her mother had passed away. Amy’s first words had nothing to do with her mother’s heart condition or when or how she died. Instead, her immediate response was, “Whose going to take care of me?”  This is a normal reaction of a child that age. The death of a parent provokes anxiety about the future. At any age, the death of a loved one may cause us to ask, “How can I go on living without …..?”  This is when the family gathers, surrounds us, and communicates the assurance we need with their presence, “We will get through this together.” 

Whenever they heard the sound of a plane flying by, Serena and her mother ran to the bomb shelter. On that tragic day, they never made it to the shelter. Her mom threw herself on top of Serena’s fragile body. Her mother died protecting her. Ten years later, every time Serena hears a plane fly overhead, it triggers the horrific memory of that traumatic day. Professionals call it PTSD. When death is mixed with trauma or violence or a natural disaster like an earthquake, the memory, and all the painful emotions can easily be triggered by a sound or a visual image that reminds the bereaved of the tragedy. Parents who have lost children in a mass shooting at school have their emotions triggered every time they see a news report of another mass shooting. The triggering of emotions is normal in traumatic grief. 

An event like Mother’s Day can sometimes trigger a flood of emotions; the best we can do is recognize that it’s part of grief. Grief is love, and sometimes love hurts. Let’s be kind to ourselves. Let’s be patient with each other. We each carry our grief in our own unique way. If you see someone whose grief/love is triggered on Mother’s Day, you don’t have to say anything; but do offer a compassionate embrace. Hugs, like tears,  are for healing.

You may want to give my book as a gift to someone who is grieving: “Comforting those who mourn: Global Stories from the Strange Land of Grief.”