Managing Mother’s Day without a mom

by Gillian Klawansky
Managing Mother’s Day without a mom
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Whether you and your mother are estranged from one another, or she has passed away, Mother’s Day can become a dreaded date on the calendar. Yet, by acknowledging your feelings, leaning on loved ones and establishing new traditions, you can mark the day in a meaningful way. By Gillian Klawansky.

From a social media barrage of maternal appreciation to massive signs outside stores capitalising on the occasion, it’s hard to avoid the furore surrounding Mother’s Day. For those dealing with fraught mother-child relationships or the loss of a mother, the day can bring up painful emotions.

But, rather than taking to your bed or couch for the day and stuffing your feelings inside, it can be cathartic to confront your emotions and establish a way forward.

Feel your feelings

The emotions brought on by Mother’s Day can vary depending on your unique circumstances. If you’ve lost your mother, days like this can elevate feelings of grief, says Pretoria-based counselling psychologist Mahlatse Mokwena.

“Grief entails a complex blend of emotions, such as profound sadness, yearning, and mourning for the absence of a mother, particularly during moments that emphasise the unique bond between a mother and her child.” Each individual’s experience of grief is specific to them, she adds.

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross delineated five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, Mokwena says. “However, it’s paramount to acknowledge that these stages do not consistently unfold in a predetermined sequence; rather, individuals may find themselves traversing various emotional states, occasionally experiencing conflicting sentiments simultaneously.”

Feelings of resentment or guilt stemming from the circumstances surrounding the estrangement or loss may also arise, she adds. “For instance, one might experience guilt for not cultivating a closer relationship with their mother, for unresolved conflicts, or even for finding moments of happiness amidst their grief. It’s important to recognise that these emotions are normal responses to the loss of a maternal relationship.”

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Getting through Mother’s Day

It’s one thing to acknowledge your emotions on Mother’s Day but how do you practically address them and get through the day as positively as possible?  

  • “It’s essential to recognise and embrace your emotions without passing judgment. Whether you’re feeling sad, confused, numb, or any other emotion, permitting yourself to acknowledge and work through these feelings can contribute to healing and enhanced self-awareness,” says Mokwena.
  • Having a village around you for support is also vital – there is comfort in community. “Engaging in communication with others and reaching out for assistance is vital, as individuals may not always recall your significant dates or understand how to provide optimal support,” Mokwena continues.

“A community can consist of various types of individuals who offer different forms of support, from those you have a deep connection with to those who can provide distraction or simply listen.”

  • Furthermore, just because you aren’t able to celebrate the day with your mother, doesn’t mean you can’t do something to mark the occasion by creating “new traditions that evoke joy and comfort”, says Mokwena. This can in fact offer a great opportunity for healing.

Whether you engage in self-care activities, pursue hobbies, or volunteer and form ongoing connections, you can honour the memory of your mother or, in cases of estrangement, find a new means of fulfilment on a day that is otherwise difficult.

  • In the case of loss, she also suggests normalising the practice of paying tribute to your late mother on such days through actions such as mentioning her name, sharing cherished memories, visiting her grave, and writing letters.
  • “Lastly, moving beyond accepting your mother’s absence and finding meaning in life is crucial in enabling us to move forward in a manner that is less burdened by sorrow,” Mokwena adds. “Honouring your own pace throughout this journey is imperative.”

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When to consult a professional

When it’s not just Mother’s Day or special occasions that evoke feelings of sorrow or pain and you’re consistently battling with navigating the loss of your mother or of your relationship with her, it may be advisable to consult a therapist. This is especially true if the loss was experienced some time ago.

“While some symptoms may be typical responses to loss, failing to address them can result in considerable distress or disruption in daily life,” Mokwena cautions.

  • “Enduring feelings of intense sadness, loss of interest, hopelessness, or despair persisting for two weeks or more could indicate depression.”
  • Challenges in managing everyday tasks, social withdrawal and disruption in sleep or appetite patterns are also warning signs. “
  • Engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or self-harm, and strained relationships stemming from unresolved grief or anger associated with the loss or estrangement from your mother are also of concern,” she adds.

Self-awareness surrounding your thoughts, emotions and actions when navigating the loss of a mother in any circumstances is key to recognising when seeking professional assistance may be warranted. “Remember to be kind to yourself and honour your journey,” Mokwena concludes. “Treat yourself with the kindness you would offer your closest friend.”

Also read: How to talk to your kids about death

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