Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg on Unsplash

“Ugh, I hate Mother’s Day! There I said it,” my colleague said as she sat across from me in my office. “Me too,” I concurred. Here we were again having our annual conversation about our least favorite Hallmark holiday. When you work for a children’s grief organization, this is just one of the honest conversations that organically happens with a staff of individuals drawn to this cause by their own loss experiences.

My dislike of Mother’s Day began in 1995 when I was 15 years old and suddenly lost my mother. I buried my mom exactly 30 days before my first motherless Mother’s Day. I kept thinking that the way I felt would change, but each year there were reminders. In college, my roommates would call their moms in our dorm room to say Happy Mother’s Day. In my 20s, I would sit at home while my friends had brunch with their moms. Even now when I take my son to soccer on Mother’s Day, I’ll see the other women my age there with their moms, looking on their grandchild with adoration.

Like me, my colleague also lost her mom — in her 20s — and she’s found that this day causes her pain year after year. This is something no one really talks about. Grief lasts a lifetime. It often surprises the griever, as well as their friends and loved ones, how long the wounds linger. Birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions, and Mother’s Day can often act like salt to those wounds.

I remember someone telling me that I would come to like Mother’s Day when I had children. But three children later, I still struggle with the day. Contrary to the advice I was given, I think about how my children will never know my mom or how things they do remind me of her.

Later that day, after my conversation at work, I saw a post on my Facebook feed from Hope Edelman. Hope Edelman gave life to the mother loss movement with her book Motherless Daughters, ironically published the year before my mom died. After years of being a devotee, I’m fortunate to call Hope a friend and colleague these days. In her post, she shared that a young woman had reached out to her seeking advice. The woman’s mom had died two years ago, and she was dreading her upcoming college graduation without her mom, which was made worse by the graduation taking place on Mother’s Day weekend.

This young woman is not alone. This coming Mother’s Day weekend, my undergraduate and law school alma maters are hosting their graduations. And taking at look at the area universities in my city of Philadelphia, virtually all will host graduations starting Mother’s Day weekend and into the following week.

Hope asked her fellow motherless daughter Facebook friends to offer support to this young woman as she faced this graduation and Mother’s Day. Before I could think, I was typing a comment. When all was said and done, 125 people had offered words of encouragement, support, and advice.

But this post made me think of all of the motherless people out there, facing Mother’s Day, graduation, or just another year without their mom. Maybe it’s been 2 years, 10 years, 24 years, or more. As a motherless mom who runs a children’s bereavement organization, what words of encouragement, support, and advice would I offer on Mother’s Day?

  • Whatever you are feeling is ok. This is your journey, and no one else defines this for you.
  • You’re not alone. There is a community of people that has gone through this, whether it’s your best friend, your colleague, or the grocery store cashier.
  • Seek out your people — the ones you can call on if you have a tough time on Mother’s Day and who also will understand if you want to be alone.
  • Wear or carry linking objects on Mother’s Day, such as a ring of your mom’s or a favorite photo.
  • Do something for yourself — buy flowers, get a massage, or have a nice meal. Or do something for others, like donating to your favorite charity or giving an unexpected gift to a friend.
  • Find moments of gratitude on Mother’s Day, which often helps to reframe the moment.
  • Make a plan that helps you get through the day. And then feel free to scrap it if you don’t feel up to it.

Do what you need to do. Feel what you need to feel. What you need in this moment is the gift you can give to yourself.