How to cope on Mother’s Day if you are grieving your mum

Mother’s Day is a time to show appreciation and love for mums, but it can also be tremendously painful for those who have lost theirs.

Our mothers are with us from the beginning of our lives, and often know us better than anyone else – which is why losing them can be incredibly difficult.

“To have them taken away from our day-to-day lives can be heartbreaking because they’re literally a part of us,” says psychologist Dr Marny Lishman.

And with coronavirus lockdowns leaving us largely isolated from others, Mother’s Day may be particularly hard for people grieving their mums this year.

Mother’s Day can be a trigger for grief

Danielle Snelling was just 23 when her mum died.

“I was in the midst of my university studies and struggled with the grief – not just because I was incredibly close with my mum, but also because all my friends still had their parents. I didn’t know anyone my age who was facing a similar experience,” she says.

Grief counselling and support services helped, but Danielle wanted to talk to someone her own age who was going through a similar ordeal.

She found Eloise Baker-Hughes via a Facebook callout, and the pair spoke “for hours” when they met in person.

They launched Motherless Daughters Australia in 2017, to help other grieving women connect with and support each other.

That peer support is vital during big celebrations or occasions, says Danielle.

“Birthdays and anniversaries are known trigger points when grieving, but events like Mother’s Day can be just as devastating,” says Danielle.

“A lot of the women in our support group miss out on the milestones many take for granted, like having your mum at your wedding or their children or future children getting to know their grandmother, and it is days like Mother’s Day where this can really come to a head.”

Tips for dealing with grief

There’s no miracle fix for grief and as tough as it may be, time and patience are an unavoidable part of the healing process.

Know that there is no ‘normal way to grieve’

Dr Lishman says there is no “textbook” way to grieve.

“It’s just about honouring how you feel, holding space for it and being kind to yourself,” she says.

Remember that the pain of loss will subside

“When someone passes, it’s usually so raw and painful in the present and at the time it seems like we are going to feel that way forever,” says Dr Lishman.

“Time doesn’t heal us as such. Rather, we slowly start creating new memories in our lives that are attached to new feelings, which can help dilute the pain somewhat.”

Allow yourself to really feel your emotions

“When someone is a part of our life for so many years, they are wired into our brain. They are no longer physically present, but the neural connections in our own minds feel as though they are,” says Dr Lishman.

“This is why giving ourselves time to feel is so important.”

Know that it’s OK to keep living your life

It’s also OK to distract ourselves with the other areas of life, like work, other relationships, hobbies and other self care activities,” says Dr Lishman.

Do things that make you feel better, even if it’s only temporary.

Remember your loved one in a way that feels right for you

“Some people will want to celebrate their special one’s life in some way with family, others will want to sift through nostalgic memories alone and others will want to avoid the pain and distract themselves from the day. Any of these are OK,” says Dr Lishman.

Seek out a support network

Don’t underestimate the healing power of connecting to others in similar circumstances.

Motherless Daughters Australia runs an annual Pre-Mother’s Day High Tea, which aims to help people who have lost their mothers to get through one of the most difficult days of the year.

The event has been postponed this year because of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, but the group does have an online support group on Facebook.

Get professional help if needed

If you or someone you know is experiencing grief, depression or mental health problems, contact Lifeline (13 11 14) or BeyondBlue (1300 224 636).

Written by Charlotte Brundrett.