Special days can be difficult when a loved one has died. With Mother’s Day approaching you may be acutely aware of the cards in shops and adverts depicting pictures of families celebrating their mothers. Families tell us that it can feel very confusing to know how to spend these types of days, particularly in the first year after a death. The sense of wanting to remember your loved one, but at the same time worrying it may be too painful to mark the occasion without them can feel conflicting. Parents also tell us that they struggle to know how best to manage these days for their children – wanting to do the right thing and avoid additional pain.
This year, because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, we are aware that marking the occasion may feel even more complex and painful. Some of the things you might want to do, or have done in the past, may not be possible. In this blog we have explored some advice around managing Mother’s Day alongside shared experiences from bereaved families.
Talking about mothers day
“Talking with the children before Mother’s Day, we talked about what we would like to do. We couldn’t pretend Mother’s Day wasn’t happening so decided to visit her grave and have time to think about her before going on an active cycle ride.”
After a loved one has died, as parents, the desire to protect children from unnecessary pain and upset is very strong. Sometimes it can feel that avoiding talking about potentially upsetting topics is the best option to do this. We know that each family is unique, and parents are the people who know their children best when it comes to making these decisions. What we have learnt from talking with children after the death of a loved one, is that they often really value being given the opportunity to talk in advance about how they are feeling about an approaching event/ day and to discuss options for how they might prefer to spend the day. Communication is a powerful tool, and although it can feel difficult to start certain conversations, we often find that talking openly as a family gives children a space to be heard and can help parents to gain a better understanding of how their child is feeling.
Tips on having conversations about Mother’s Day:
- Find a time to talk when you all have time and don’t need to rush off afterwards.
- Sometimes talking can be easier when you’re side by side rather than facing each other. This can take the pressure off the conversation and make everyone feel more relaxed and open. Good activities for this are walking/ driving/ doing a craft or puzzle
- Acknowledge that Mother’s Day might bring up lots of different feelings and that they’re all ok. Normalising feelings is important for children, so they understand there’s nothing wrong with what they’re experiencing.
- Give options and reassure that whatever they want to do is ok. Children might feel guilty or that people will think they don’t care if they choose not to acknowledge Mother’s Day, so reassuring them that this is not the case is important.
- Give space and time for them to think things over and agree a time to come back and talk further.
- If starting conversations is difficult for your family, you could use something like the ‘Be Right Back’ jar where everyone can write down their thoughts/ feelings/ ideas to look through together.
Remove the pressure
“Not expecting too much of ourselves and not accepting invitations just to please others and to show we are ‘ok’.”
It’s common on special days to feel you have to put on a brave face and do what others expect you to. Some families feel that family and friends may make judgements if they don’t do certain things on Mother’s Day, As we have said before – each family is unique and experience their grief in their own way. It is so important for families to do what feels right for them at that time. Don’t be afraid to say no to things if they don’t feel right this year. However you choose to spend the day, don’t expect too much – it’s ok if on the day you change your mind and feel your original plans are not right for you this year.
The first mother's day
“For the first year we tried not to make such a ‘big thing’ of Mother’s Day – in some ways it was just another day without Mum and we had a quiet day at home. The second year we felt able to be with others in the family and we had a wonderful time looking at pictures and videos.”
If this is the first Mother’s Day without your loved one, you may feel it’s too difficult to mark the day in a significant way. It’s helpful to remember that things change as time goes on, and just because it doesn’t feel right this year, doesn’t mean you will always feel the same.
“We used to go out for lunch on Mother’s Day – we tried this for the first year, but it was so hard seeing everyone else with their Mum at the table. Since then, we have a quiet time together and go for a walk in the woods with marshmallows and a flask of hot chocolate.”
You might want to keep with past traditions, for some families this is a helpful and comforting way to remember their loved one. For others it may feel too difficult and starting new traditions is a more comfortable way to spend the day. However you choose to spend your first Mother’s Day without your loved one, it might be helpful to talk together and acknowledge that it may feel different on the day, and if it does, it’s ok to change it and do something different.
Ideas for how to spend Mother's day
“We cooked Sunday lunch at home, just ourselves, we talked about Mum all the time and agreed she did a much better job. We were able to laugh about my lumpy gravy! We then drew the curtains and snuggled down together to watch a favourite film on TV.”
If you do decide you would like to do something to acknowledge Mother’s Day, we have put together some suggestions below. Words in blue will link you to relevant information.
- Do something your loved one used to enjoy
- Write cards. Writing to a loved one who has died can help facilitate healthy grief by maintaining a connection to their loved one but in a new way. Read more about Continuing Bonds here.
- Cook your loved one’s favourite meal
- Create a memory Salt Jar and share your memories with each other.
- Make a bunch of Memory Flowers
- Go for a walk – this could be somewhere new, or a place where you have happy memories of your loved one
- Visit their grave or a special place you like to remember them.
- Watch a favourite film
- Make an indoor den to snuggle up under. You could fill it with tasty snacks and bring a picture of your loved one into the den with you. You might find it comforting to include sensory objects such as an item of their clothing / fabric sprayed in their perfume.
- Make a Comfort Cushion out of your loved one’s clothing.
Look after yourself
Whatever you choose to do on the day, remember to take time for you and be kind to yourself.
Try to remember:
- It’s ok if you don’t feel able to do anything this year
- Don’t feel guilty for not doing something
- Take things as they come
- It’s ok to have moments of joy and laughter. Young children in particular find it very natural to dip in and out of grief and so it’s natural for them to play and have fun even during a difficult day.
- It’s ok if things don’t go to plan
- It’s ok to cry in front of your children if you feel sad. Children learn what is normal by watching the adults in their life. Being upset in front of them teaches them that it’s ok to feel sad. Try to explain in simple terms why you’re crying so they don’t worry that it is because of something they have done, “I’m crying because I miss mummy. But that’s ok, it’s alright for us to cry when we feel sad.”
- You’re doing a great job!