It's Mother's Day: What Do You Do When Your Mother Is Gone?
Your mom died. You really miss her. And here it is, those media-saturated days just before Mother's Day. You are not going to be doing any of the things for her that the TV commercials, newspaper ads, e-mail sales pitches and florist shops tell you to do. What you are going to do instead is miss her. You are going to miss her, and you are also going to miss the experience of being a mother's daughter.
I know what that feels like. Although it has been a dozen years since my mom died, each Mother's Day still needs some variation of "special handling." No matter how many years pass, when the spring violets appear, I always remember how I used to pick Mom a bouquet of them for Mother's Day every year, and how she would put them in a special small pale green glass vase. I see those early violets, and always remember. It never goes away.
If you are a mom yourself, part of your day can be taken up with whatever loving things/events your family has devised to make you feel special. But you may also feel a special poignancy at not being able to share that with your own mother.
What can you do to get through this day better for it, as opposed to having to survive it? Plenty.
Set Aside Some Time To Remember Her
Set aside a designated time and place on Mother's Day to remember your mother who died. This does not have to be gloomy. When you miss your mother, after all, it is the good times that you miss. Now is a good time to call forward those fine memories and revisit what a joy they were.
The Mother's Day Picnic
For the first few years after my mom died, Dad and I created a picnic in her honor. The last place I wanted to be was in a restaurant full of mothers and daughters. Mom had loved the out-of-doors and had always created spontaneous picnics for us at the slightest whim. Dad and I had a couple of rules about those picnics.
1. They must be in a pretty place, preferably a spot that Mom had loved.
2. We ate at least one food that she really enjoyed.
3. We could only share happy memories of her, preferably ones that made us laugh.
Share the Wealth
You must know someone else who is also without his or her mother this year. Call them up, and arrange a get-together on Mother's Day. Go for it head-on. Decide to share your favorite memories about your mother with your motherless friend, and ask her to be prepared to share hers with you. Someone who has been through the loss of a beloved mother will understand your need to share stories, and you will understand hers. Think of it as Mothers' Posthumous Introductions. You may wish to suggest that you and your siblings do this if you are not an only child. Every child in the same family has a different "take" on the same parents. The mom you knew may be different from the way your sibling experienced her. Here are some ways to get this started:
1. Bring a few pictures, or a short bit of video.
2. Think up several memories you want to share and discuss the categories with your friend/sibling in advance. ("I laughed so hard when Mom ... ," "I knew she was a great mom when ...," "My mother surprised me so much when ... ," "The best thing Mom ever cooked was ... .") That way you can each take turns sharing these short stories as a way to get the conversation going.
Write Her a Letter
Maybe you had some unsaid things left over when your mother died. Write them out, saying whatever is in your deepest heart. Say what you need to say in as loving a way as possible. Then, in a safe place, burn the letter and let its ashes free in the breezes and winds. Visualize the ashes finding their way to her spirit. Release the feelings that you had about not saying these things.
The Famous Gratitude List
I have written before that when I feel least inclined to write out a gratitude list is when I am most in a position to benefit by doing so. It is the odd irony of gratitude lists that even when they are written grudgingly, they help. You miss your mom. And when you focus on why, you can come up with a long list of her qualities that you miss. Write a list thanking her for each one. Look at the list and feel how fortunate you are to have had this woman in your life. Some of the people reading this article were not so lucky. They had very hurtful relationships with their mothers. And although you miss your mom, focus on how fortunate you are to have had her. Say "thank you" to God, the Universe, a Higher Power, your mom, or Lady Luck. But say "thank you."
If you have children, they might want to help you make a "Grandmother Scrapbook." Helping them with their grief will help you with your own. You can include memories, pictures, drawings, anything that reminds you all of her.
Make a Corner of the Garden "Hers"
Take a small patch of your flower garden and dedicate it to you mother. Plant things you know she would like. This can become a place you can visit when you need to "be" with her.
Pick an Honorary Mother
Perhaps you have someone in your life that you have always called a "second mother." If she is still living, honor her. Perhaps you have a godmother who would love to spend time with you. Or perhaps some woman has mentored you who would be very moved to hear from you. Your extended family, once you look at it, may yield a variety of "Honorary Mothers."
Fill the Blank
Do you know any mothers whose children are absent from them for some reason, or whose children have died? Perhaps they live too far from them to get together. You are a daughter without a mother, and they are mothers without children present. Make a match, and two people get to have a happier day.
Go Do Something Good
Take the focus off sadness and move it over to generosity. There are lots of things you can do:
1. Work at a soup kitchen or food pantry that day. You'll feel better as you give your time to all these children of God or the world who need your help.
2. Donate to a charity your mom valued or one that expresses her spirit. You can do this every year as a new tradition.
3. Ask a local nursing home which of their residents is not getting visitors. Every nursing home has a few people like that, sadly enough. Pack up some flowers or nursing-home-approved treats and go visiting. Become a "visiting volunteer."
Whatever you choose, be kind to yourself. If you are, as I am, a person of faith, spend some time praying or meditating. Ask God, or the Universe, to send you the strength you need to get through the roughest spots of grief. And help that process along by finding ways to turn the sadness into something else. And what could that "something else" be?
When I asked my normally gruff father how he dealt with his own mother's death, he got very quiet. Then he said to me , "It hurt. It hurt for a long time. But after a while, after a few years, something else started to happen. Something else slipped in next to the sadness."
"What was that?" I asked.
He was quiet again, then looked out of our kitchen window at something he saw maybe a thousand miles away from here and now, as he said, "A certain sweetness comes." Then he turned to me, looked deeply into my eyes and said, "Right next to all the hard things, there it is. A certain sweetness." And he smiled.
And so this is my wish for all of you daughters who, like me, will have at least an occasion to pause on Mother's Day because you are "not like all the other daughters who have their mothers." I wish for you that in the midst of all you feel, in the midst of sadness or sorrow or regret, that you feel the beginning, and then the fullness of "a certain sweetness."
I promise you, it can come.
~~ Contributing Editor, Mata H. also blogs right along at Time's Fool