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Mourning mom

How to cope with Mother’s Day after a loss.

Article Author: Julie Dubin

Article Date:

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Mother’s Day without your mother. It’s the holiday you’re not ready for.

You want to find the strength to smile when your kids present you with their sweet ceramic handprints, but you fear you’ll burst into tears thinking about how much you miss your own mom.

Mother’s Day after the death of a beloved mother, mother figure or child is a holiday some merely endure, rather than celebrate. This year, let a little emotional preparation help you through.

The day is rooted in our attachments, experiences and memories said Julia “Jill” Garrett, PsyD, a psychologist with Baptist Behavioral Health. “There is the potential for symbolic holidays, like Mother’s Day, to be emotionally triggering, particularly for those who have endured loss as a mother or have lost their own mother or mother-like figure.”

Accept your feelings

If you’re facing Mother’s Day after loss, know you are not alone. Though this time has the potential for heightened anxiety, sadness and pain, you can get through it.

“Everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way, and any feeling you have is OK and normal,” said Dr. Garrett.

Instead of avoiding uncomfortable emotions or beating yourself up for being sad or anxious, remind yourself that it is fine to feel.

Avoid negative triggers

Since the holiday may be emotionally challenging, try to avoid activities that could cause more pain.

For example, Dr. Garrett recommended giving yourself a break from social media for the weekend, where people are posting idyllic photos and messages about their mothers and families. Consider limiting alcohol or unhealthy foods and focus on positive choices instead.

What you can do

Whether you were invited to a small outdoor gathering with family members or you plan to spend the weekend on your own, Dr. Garrett suggested the following healthy coping activities:

  • Prioritize yourself: eat well, exercise (or simply move your body), or go outside and bask in the sunshine.
  • Plan a day that includes an activity you enjoy.
  • Surround yourself with people who are supportive.
  • Plan a way to memorialize your mother or child by lighting a candle, planting a tree or donating to an organization close to your heart.
  • Create new family traditions like a beach day or picnic while looking at old picture albums together.
  • Get together with other people who have experienced loss.
  • Set up a virtual appointment with a therapist or have a crisis phone number, support group or friend on standby.
  • Turn to an app or website with messaging around self-compassion or relaxation.

What not to say

The way you interact with a person who is mourning can lift his or her spirits or can make grief even harder. Phrases to avoid include:

  • “You’re crying about this again.” This is not helpful. There is no timetable for grief.
  • “Everything happens for a reason.” Sayings things like this can invalidate a person’s feelings or experience.

You should also try not to offer solutions to problems or unsolicited advice. Simply acknowledge the person’s feelings.

Helping others heal

If you don’t know what words of support are appropriate for a friend or family member who is mourning, you can simply say, “I’m so sorry about your loss,” or “I am here for you,” Dr. Garrett suggested. If words don’t seem right, just be present and let that person feel.

“It may mean giving a hug while they cry or sitting together in silence,” Dr. Garrett added.

Instead of asking how to help, just take care of a need: drop off a meal, pick up their kids for a park visit or deliver groceries.

Finding support

Dr. Garrett acknowledged it may be difficult to cope with your emotions while others around you are joyful and celebrating.

“If you are at a celebration, seek out a person who can just sit with you and let you talk – or not talk – and just feel without judgment,” said Dr. Garrett. “If you don’t have a person like that in the room, step away or call someone.”

If you need to excuse yourself early, do so.

“You don’t have to show up if it is too tough for you. You get to decide how you are going to do things,” Dr. Garrett added. “Listen to your body and how you feel.”

If you are feeling depressed, anxious or struggling with emotions related to the loss of a loved one, Baptist Behavioral Health providers are here to help. Call 904.376.3800 to make an appointment with a mental health professional. If you need to speak with someone immediately, call the 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 904.202.7900 or text LIFE to 741741.

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