How do you get through Mother’s Day without Mom?

How do you get through Mother’s Day without Mom?

I’ve dreaded Mother’s Day for eight months.

On her 65th birthday last year, after six unbearable days of inpatient hospice, my funny, selfless, patient, beautiful mom passed away. Scleroderma ravaged her body for nearly 20 years before eventually leaving her in desperate need of a double lung transplant. But she was too weak to receive one. I watched her slip out of our grasp, promised her our family would take care of each other and it was okay for her to go.

But I struggle through life every day without my mom — even with small things. I want to call her and ask what flowers I should plant this year. Or ask her what she thought of the last book of hers I read. More than anything, I want to hug her.

Instead, my sister and I, and so many others, are facing the reality of a holiday celebrating moms without ours.

This Mother’s Day will look different for many people because of COVID-19. Staying six feet apart or not visiting mom entirely will be tough.

For those of us at home, avoiding social media and its constant reminder of what was taken from us will likely feel especially isolating, leaving us with our grief, whether it’s our first Mother’s Day without mom or years have passed.

“Grief comes in waves just like the ocean,” says Nisa Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker with Advocate Medical Group. “Sometimes, it’s intense. Sometimes it’s calm, and there’s a lot of in between. Name and feel your feelings. When you do, you’re better able to manage them and may even find some meaning in them. You might avoid your feelings from fear of being flooded with negative emotions. But just like the ocean waves, allow yourself to move through your feelings, experience them and keep going.”

“Focus on what you can control. Make room for some tears, but make room for joy, too,” she says. “You can hold on to both.”

Dr. Judy Ronan Woodburn, a licensed clinical psychologist with Advocate Medical Group: “If this is your first year without your mother, be gentle with yourself. How you grieve this year may not be the same next year, and it may be different from others. Grief is especially triggered by ‘special days’ – like Mother’s Day.”

“Allow yourself options for coping so you can adjust as needed, depending on how you’re feeling,” she says. “You might take the day as an opportunity to reminisce about your mother with other people who knew and loved her, listen to music she loved, watch a show she liked or read a book she enjoyed. Allow yourself to cry if you feel like it. Write a letter to your mother telling her how much you miss her and filling her in on your life since her death. Read it to yourself or others. Look at photos and just reminisce. If she liked a particular flower, food or game, indulge yourself in her memory. If she liked to walk, take a walk in her memory. Pray, if that is meaningful to you.”

“Give yourself space or allow distractions if needed. Do something you enjoy,” Dr. Woodburn says. “Remember, your mother is gone physically, but she leaves a legacy, and she remains in your heart and in all she taught you.”

“Although society seems to tell us we should be over our grief or have closure around the one-year mark, that isn’t reality,” she says. “Some might contend, as I do, that we continue to miss our loved ones. The longer we are apart, the more, not less, we miss them. The challenge is to integrate loss into our lives, allowing ourselves to grieve, while also continuing to live our lives as fully as possible. Your grief is evidence of your love for your mother.”

I hope my mom knows how hard I’m working on that.

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  1. Lisa Parro

    Oh, Holly. My heart breaks for you this Mother’s Day. I’m sure your mom was so proud of you. What a beautiful story — it will go a long way toward helping others in your situation. xoxo

  2. LeeAnn Atwood
    LeeAnn Atwood May 8, 2020 at 10:43 am · Reply

    This article has so much good to offer and I will be sharing it with friends and family who are feeling similarly this Mother’s Day and really, beyond. Thinking of you Holly – always.

  3. Holly, I am so sorry for your loss. I empathize. It has now been 9 Mother’s Days for me. The first 3 yrs. I spent crying uncontrollably under my blanket shut down for a few days before & after. The next ones I turned into honoring my Mom & I plant all my flowers in “Mom’s Garden” in my yard every year. (something I look forward to.) I remember her every time I look out my window. She loved planting her flowers. I shared this tradition with my BFF who also lost her Mom. She said it was a beautiful way for us to spend honoring our Mother’s and that it really helped her too. Unfortunately, Covid isn’t allowing it this year. Try to do something she liked to do to Honor her memory on Mother’s Day and make it your tradition.

  4. Thank you for writing and sharing, Holly. Praying for you this Mother’s Day.

  5. I just lost mom in March. She had cancer which had spread and was in pain. Although she is missed, I’m glad she didn’t suffer long. I try to focus on the good times. At funeral memorials it is customary to focus on celebrating the life of a loved one. I choose to do that. It helps to lighten the grief. Those memories are to be cherished. God bless.

  6. Holly, thank you for sharing your beautiful story, I am so sorry for your loss. I hope both you and your sister manage to get through Mother’s Day reminiscing through old photos and recapping your childhood memories. Sending virtual hugs.

  7. Thank you, Holly. This article is very helpful for everyone missing their mom right now. Thinking of you and yours – she is beautiful – I can see the resemblance!

  8. Holly, your words comforted me at my time of sadness. I just lost my Mom weeks ago. She missed her birthday and now Mother’s day. I called her everyday over everything and nothing at all. I am sad, but I do have beautiful memories of Mom. Thanks for sharing.

  9. This is a beautiful article. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Holly thanks for sharing. I lost my mom and best friend 11 years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Not only was she my mom but my best friend I could tell her anything. And like you said we talked every day. I miss her dearly but remember every wonderful funny happy sad time we shared and I cherish them. Virtual hugs to you. Happy Mother’s Day to our awesome moms.

  11. john obudzinski May 9, 2020 at 1:26 pm · Reply

    lost my father sudden cardiac death when I was just 13 and dad was 47 mom was 45 at the time. Mom lived a full life and eventually died at age 95 due to heart failure. she was always loving and encouraging. after i served our country during the vietnam conflict she not only encouraged me but did her best to financially help me thru college 4 years of medical school as well as 4 years of residency. Her last 3 years she lived me my wife and I.My children learned how to make apple and lemon cream pies from scratch. she also taught them all how to make all of the Polish food traditional recepies. I too learned about her family and her life during the depression.
    When she passed I took it exceptionally hard as she was living with us and was part of our family. i always looked forward to seeing her when i came home from a long day at the office. she was so proud of me as i was the only one in our family to go beyond a college degree. she kept telling everyone that her son was a doctor. That made me very happy as now with 4 grown up children all with college degrees or higher youngest in a veterinarian , though distance keeps us from seeing each other frequently the pride i have for all of their achievements is with me daily and will be my legacy. I still very much miss Mom. miss the talks and advice she would always give me. its been 11 years since Mom passed. First few years were rough, but I think of her on special days like Mother’s Day, which seems like yesterday. where did all time go by. so much has happened since her passing like the birth of my daughter’s triplet girls. Mom saw US of first child before her passing. Mom’s are so special they love you in spite of your imperfections.Their love is eternal and unconditional. i was confomforted that my wife and I had to privilege of having her live with us her final 3 years. She was happy, in no pain and enjoyed her life until she developed septicemia from a rare Staph infection acquired at St Anne’s where she looked forward to spending the day their twice weekly.

  12. Holly, I know how you feel, as I lost my mom nearly four years ago. It doesn’t go away, but you will find, eventually, you laugh and smile with memories of various things. You celebrate her more, with joy. It’s a gift that comes with time. You will notice that she lives on in you. You’ll see it, for example, in the way you laugh, your mannerisms, and sense of humor. I’ll pray for you and your mother’s beautiful soul.

About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.