I’ve seen a trend in my inbox these past few weeks; subject lines that read, “option to opt out of Mother’s Day emails.” When I open the message, there’s text inside that reads something along the lines of ‘this day can bring up a lot’ or ‘We get it, Mother’s Day is tough.’

And while I’m suspicious that any email from a corporation is ultimately just another attempt to win my loyalty, these emails are not wrong: Mother’s Day can be very hard. It is hard for people who want to be mothers and haven’t been able to (I’ve been there). It is hard for people who have complicated relationships with their mothers. It is hard for mothers with complicated relationships with their children. And it is hard for all those who have lost their mothers.

Sometimes that loss is gradual, a parent suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, who lose memories of their children. My childhood friend whose mother suffered from dementia commented that when her mother couldn’t remember who she was last Thanksgiving it hurt more than she expected, even knowing it was coming. Sometimes the loss is sudden and you’re left longing for more time. Sometimes you simply see your mother aging and know that someday, in the not so distant future, she won’t be with you anymore. You wonder every year whether this is your last Mother’s Day together and if you’ve done enough to honor her.

These are heavy thoughts. It is understandable to want to banish them from your mind or pretend they aren’t there. This Mother’s Day, however, I invite you to consider how to sit with these hard emotions and use even a small part of your day to allow yourself to feel them. It helps to name the feeling: grief, which is an ongoing process, and not a set period of mourning that you get through and emerge from on the other side. Here are five thoughts on how to grieve well and take care of yourself this Mother’s Day:

  1. Prepare yourself for the day: If you know Mother’s Day might be difficult for you, think about what might get you through it. Could you plan something that celebrates or honors your mother’s memory, something that you would enjoy doing? Can you arrange to be with friends or family members who will get it and meet you where you are with your feelings? Think ahead about what might be helpful for you.

  2. Reminisce: Take some time to intentionally remember your mother. It could feel good to make a recipe she gave you or one of her favorite foods. Fragrances often bring up memories so you could spray that bottle she kept on her nightstand for special occasions. Or perhaps you could go through old photos of your mother or wear a piece of jewelry she gave you. Remember and celebrate the good times and stories, but be kind to yourself and allow yourself to put things away if you ever feel overwhelmed.

  3. Spend time with your grief: Unprocessed grief is actually detrimental to your health. The death of a loved one is one of the biggest life stresses we face; it raises cortisol levels and contributes to a variety of health risks. Taking time to process, whether with a therapist, a trusted friend, a religious counselor or by writing down your feelings, can help alleviate some of the stress and pain.

  4. Be kind to yourself and others: Know that it is not wrong for this day to be difficult for you. You don’t have to feel the same way as the other people around you. In fact, if you look around, you might find other people who are also having a hard time. Reaching out to someone else who is struggling might be just what you need to get through it as well. Remember that you are not alone. 

  5. Look for ways to celebrate other women in your life who care for you and who you care for on this day. Our mothers hold a particular place in our hearts, but there are many other people who play a significant role in our lives by nurturing us, listening to us, teaching us, and loving us. Celebrating someone like this can fill Mother’s Day with unexpected joy for them and for you.

I know this day isn’t always easy. I know it isn’t always easy for me. I hope these thoughts help, even just a little, as Mother’s Day approaches this year and maybe they help start some new Mother’s Day tradition that you can lean on in the years to come.   

-- Laura Plaster, LifeBio Writer