First Mother’s Day Without Mom: How to Cope

Published By Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP
May 7, 2024

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In her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, author Joan Didion touches on the depth of her loss with a powerful observation: “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.”

Grief is a unique and solitary journey that reshapes our world in ways we cannot anticipate until we experience it ourselves. Those mourning the loss of a mother probably already understand the individual and often isolating path of grief.

“The loss of a mother is the first sorrow wept without her,” writes Hope Edelman in her poignant book, Motherless Daughters. In its pages, she captures the depth of loss experienced by those who have lost their mothers, and the profound and unique pain of mourning a mother’s death. Readers can’t help but understand how deeply the absence is felt, as the person who has traditionally been a source of comfort is no longer there to help bear the grief.

Acknowledging this grief, particularly on emotionally charged days like Mother’s Day, is vital for healing. Understanding that grief can manifest in various forms—sadness, anger, numbness, or even relief—helps us recognize these feelings as part of a natural response to profound loss.

By embracing grief rather than avoiding it, we can begin to find our way through the pain, learning how to carry our memories forward while still nurturing our own emotional wellbeing. This step is crucial, as it allows for a connection to personal experiences and the beginning of crafting a new reality where our mother’s absence is acknowledged but also woven into the fabric of their continuing lives.

Strategies to Help Us Through the Grief Process

No matter how you lose your mother, it’s one of the worst experiences we have to face as humans. Be kind to yourself.

Traditional_Race_689, Grief Support, Reddit.com

The following strategies can be helpful when we are trying to confront and accept grief.

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Verbal Expression

Talking about the loss can be therapeutic. Sharing memories with a family member or talking with a friend with whom we can safely express feelings can be helpful and comforting. Some people also find comfort in sharing special memories online as a way to honor their mothers’ memories.

woman-sitting-at-a-desk-journaling-first-mothers-day-without-mom-port-st-lucie-stuart-fl-iMind-Mental-Health-Solutions

Writing

Keeping a journal or writing letters to the person we lost can help articulate feelings that might be hard to express verbally. This can be a private way to process emotions and commemorate the relationship.

person-painting-first-mothers-day-without-mom-port-st-lucie-stuart-fl-iMind-Mental-Health-Solutions

Artistic Expression

Engaging in creative activities like painting, drawing, or music can provide an outlet for emotions and can be a powerful way to express grief non-verbally.

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Rituals and Ceremonies

Participating in or creating personal rituals can provide a structured way to remember and honor the deceased. This might include lighting a candle, visiting a meaningful place, or performing a specific activity that was enjoyed together.

Support Groups

Joining a grief support group, either in person or online, can help us connect with other people who have lost their mother and understand the enormity of it. Listening to others’ stories and sharing our own can bring us comfort and a sense of community and understanding.

Professional Support

A therapist who specializes in grief counseling can provide guided support through the grieving process, offer coping strategies and help us navigate complex emotions.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to the practice of being completely aware of what we’re thinking, feeling and experiencing on a moment-to-moment basis. Being fully present in the moment and experiencing your feelings without judgement can help manage the intensity of grief and provide a sense of peace.

Mediation

Meditation is a technique for achieving a state of deep peace and mental clarity by focusing our mind on a particular object, thought, or activity. Meditation can help with grief by providing a structured method to calm the mind, reduce stress, and process emotions more deeply and effectively.

Physical Activity

Exercise can be a helpful way to cope with emotional stress. Getting our body moving can provide a mental break from grief and boost levels of mood elevating substances in the brain.

Allow Time for Grief

Grief doesn’t follow a strict timeline. Allowing ourselves to feel sad, angry, or even happy at times is part of the healing process.

By implementing these practices in our lives, we can acknowledge our grief more fully and find a path toward healing that respects our unique relationship with our experiences and emotions.

How to Cope When You are Motherless on Mother’s Day

7 Ways to Cope on Mother’s Day

  • Creating New Traditions: Consider creating new ways of honoring the day, which could include celebrating other significant women your life or remembering your mother in a special way that feels personal and meaningful.
  • Self-Care and Reflection: Self-care is especially important on this day. Do things that promote relaxation and comfort. Reflection positive memories and the impact your mother had on your life can also be healing.
  • Memorialize: Spend time doing things that honor the memory of your mother, such as visiting her grave, looking through photo albums, or performing a ritual that holds personal significance.
  • Be Creative: Write a letter to your mother, journal about your feelings, or do some art or play music that makes you feel connected to her.
  • Allow Space for Emotions: It’s important to allow yourself to freely feel everything your feel and to not judging yourself. This might mean having a day of reflection or even using the day to celebrate your mother’s life rather than mourning her absence.
  • Focus on Being a Mother: Mother’s Day is a bidirectional holiday. It’s not just about honoring your mother, but others honoring your place in their lives. Whether it is your own children, your co-workers, or your pets, you likely to be a mother figure to someone. You can celebrate Mother’s Day in your own special way with those cherished loved ones.
  • Connect with Others: You can also spend time with other family members, friends or people in your life who are grieving as well. Whatever feels right and good for you is perfectly appropriate, including not celebrating if it feels too hard or overwhelming.

How Grief Counseling Works

Grief counseling provides a supportive environment where individuals can express their grief without judgment. It is tailored to the individual’s needs and can vary widely in terms of approach and duration, depending on the person’s unique situation and response to loss. If you are grieving your mother this Mother’s Day, grief counseling might be the stepping stone to lead you out of the worst of your grief and on the path to healing.

What Happens in Grief Therapy Sessions?

The counselor first assesses the individual’s current emotional state, grief reactions, and personal history to understand the depth and impact of their loss.

First, people are encouraged to talk about their loved one, the circumstances of their death, and their feelings of loss. This expression helps validate their emotions and begin processing grief. Counselors will then introduce coping mechanisms and strategies to help manage the intense emotions and functional impairments that can arise from grief.

Counseling helps individuals navigate the changes in their life post-loss, aiding in the adjustment to a new normal. They also provide emotional support, educate about the grief process, and help set realistic expectations for recovery.

How Does Grief Therapy Help?

“I started grief counseling. I really didn’t think it would help but it does. I like talking about her to someone objective. Plus my therapist helps me work through all the anger and resentment that was pent up from before her passing (not towards her but towards a her family who basically abandoned her during her cancer treatment).”

-AdMarie25, Grief Support, Reddittcom

Grief counseling helps individuals process complex emotions in a safe space, reducing feelings of isolation and overwhelming sadness. It can also impart cognitive clarity, as it assists in addressing unhelpful thought patterns and beliefs about grief, fostering a healthier perspective on loss and recovery.

Sessions help individuals gradually find ways to reconnect with life and activities without their loved one, supporting the integration of the loss into their life story. By addressing grief proactively, counseling helps prevent more severe complications such as prolonged grief disorder or major depression.

Hold Onto Hope

“Grief is usually erratic in its manifestations, intensity, and course. Yet, looked at from a bird’s-eye perspective, most bereaved people make their way along a road, albeit bumpy and strewn with potholes, that leads to acceptance of the inevitability of the loss, integration of its reality into ongoing life, and reimagining a future with the possibility of joy and satisfaction. During this journey, acute grief, intensely painful and dominant, becomes integrated, muted, and in the background.”

-M. Katherine Shear, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, National Institute of Health

Coping with the loss of a mother on Mother’s Day, brings with it a profoundly difficult type of grief. The journey through loss is deeply personal, often marked by waves of sorrow and moments of reflection. Yet, it’s crucial to remember that grief is indeed a process—one that evolves and changes over time.

While the absence of a mother is an irreplaceable loss, the strength to endure and eventually find peace often emerges gradually. Each step taken to honor her memory, to express your emotions, and to care for yourself, helps pave the way to healing. You are not alone in this journey; support surrounds you, and with each passing day, the weight of grief will get lighter. Hold onto hope, for you have the resilience to move through this, and with time, you will find your way back to joy and fulfillment

  • Didion, J. (2012). The year of magical thinking. London Fourth Estate. (Original work published 2005)
  • ‌Edelman, H. (2018). Motherless daughters : the legacy of loss. Yellow Kite.
  • Shear, M. K. (2012). Grief and mourning gone awry: pathway and course of complicated grief. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience14(2), 119.

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