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Mental Health

Experts Share How To Handle Grief and Estrangement on Mother’s Day — And Let Joy Back In

If you hadn’t already guessed by the influx of mother-centric gift advertisements, Mother’s Day is fast approaching. But if you aren’t picking out bouquets or trying to wrangle a brunch reservation, you’re not alone — and you’re not broken. Mother’s Day is fraught for so many
reasons, and it’s normal to reel from hurtful or bittersweet memories this time of year. We asked our experts for loving ways to address Mother’s Day grief and feelings of loss or disappointment, so you can reclaim the day on your terms.

Honor your grief on Mother’s Day

Whether you’ve lost your mother, have a difficult relationship or are estranged, it’s not uncommon to feel a sense of grief as Mother’s Day approaches. It’s of shying away from it, here’s how to recognize and work through those feelings.

1. Allow complex emotions

This holiday can churn up conflicting emotions for many women, says Megan Devine, a speaker, psychotherapist, grief advocate and author of It’s OK That You’re Not OK. “We have to remind ourselves that whatever we’re feeling, it’s valid.” She adds this is also a time when old wounds flare. “If you had wanted to be a mom and it didn’t happen, make space for that grief, too.” Letting yourself mourn is the first step to reclaiming joy.

2. Look a little deeper

Many women feel hidden anger, says psychotherapist Diane Barth, author of I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women’s Lives. “You might resent how your stepmother treated you or you may have a combative relationship with your children,” she says. “Anger is often triggered by underlying hurt. Pay attention to what’s making you sad, whether it’s a feeling of abandonment or not being understood.” It’s just as important to grieve what we never had as it is to grieve what we lost.

A woman with short, brown hair sitting on a bed with white sheets looking sad

3. Reflect on ‘invisible’ sorrow

It’s important to recognize that we can feel grief for many reasons other than a physical death, says Stephanie Sarazin, a certified grief educator and author of Soulbroken: A Guidebook for Your Journey Through Ambiguous Grief. “In my research, I found a staggering 94% of survey respondents indicated experiencing ambiguous grief at least once in their lifetime,” she explains. “However, most people didn’t know their grief had a name—or that it’s normal to feel it without a physical death.”

Sarazin adds that we may grieve when a loved one is still living, but there has been a significant change in or a death of the relationship, such as an estrangement. We may even experience grief over our own behaviors — what we did or didn’t do; things we said or didn’t say. This kind of grief can easily become “invisible” as we approach Mother’s Day, compounding our loss. “Without societal rituals or norms to engage in, such as a funeral, grievers feeling ambiguous loss often isolate themselves.” Instead, she encourages reaching out to someone you trust and expressing how you feel.

4. Take the pressure off

Release expectations of what this day “should” look like, urges Barth, recalling the difficult dynamic she had with her mother. Rather than put pressure on herself to fake a perfect Mother’s Day, she decided one simple gesture would be enough. “I knew it was important to send a card. I wasn’t being dishonest with my feelings, because I loved my mother, but it was a tough relationship,” she says. How much you want to engage with this holiday is up to you.

Related: Valerie Bertinelli Shares Lifelong Lessons for Feeling Loved on Mother’s Day

Seek out joy to ease Mother’s Day grief

Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings of loss, anger or grief surrounding Mother’s Day, you can start to let joy back in. Here’s how.

1. Celebrate your big heart

From supporting our friends to mentoring young people to being kind to ourselves, “mothering” takes many forms. “Ask yourself how you can ‘mother’ yourself,” encourages Devine. “A key aspect of nurturance is growth — how can you express this?” That may mean volunteering or learning something new to honor the part of you that yearns to evolve. “There are so many facets of ‘mothering’ that we can embrace to make this day something to celebrate on our terms.”

Two women sitting together and laughing, supporting each other through Mother's Day grief

Related: “Quilting Eased The Grief of Losing My Daughter — Now I Feel Hopeful Again!”

2. Share genuine gratitude

Acknowledge that we can grieve and feel joy at the same time, urges Nancy Berns, author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us. “One way to do that is to focus on the women in your life who came along and filled that caring role, be it a teacher, an aunt, or a dear friend,” say Berns, who also teaches classes on death and grief at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Simply letting them know that you’re thinking of them makes room for gratitude in your heart that starts a ripple effect of compassion.

3. Fill your heart with loving kindness

Opening to more joy (and less grief) during Mother’s Day can start with holding others in your thoughts, says Sherry Cormier, PhD, a psychologist, certified bereavement trauma specialist and author of Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness after Loss and Grief. To do this, she encourages a loving-kindness meditation.

“Imagine yourself bathed in a golden light, then place your hand over your heart and feel it full of love and compassion for others, because there is a lot of collective grief out there,” Cormier says. She adds that simply looking beyond ourselves can soothe our own pain and grief and help us feel more connected to everyone from acquaintances to neighbors to strangers on Mother’s Day. (See more loving-kindness mediation prompts.)

4. Create your own rituals

“When we experience loss, it leaves us with so much love we don’t know what to do with, even years later,” says Berns. She explains that finding tangible ways to channel these feelings helps us be open to and rediscover joy. “Whether you honor your late mother by cooking her favorite meal or simply share joyful memories with loved ones, connecting with your feelings will help this holiday become what you need it to be.”

For more ways to handle grief and loss with grace:

Exclusive: Wynonna Judd Reveals She Still Talks To Naomi, And How She Deals With Grief: “I’m Between Hell and Hallelujah”

Surgeon’s Near-Death Experience Eased Her Grief After the Death of Her Son: “I Know Without a Doubt Heaven Is Real”

“Quilting Eased The Grief of Losing My Daughter — Now I Feel Hopeful Again!”

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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