Wooden heart with adhesive plasters in darkness on table

Coping with Grief on Mother’s Day

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Article by Maria T. Aranda, PhD

This coming Mother’s Day will be, for many, a day of celebration, flowers and spring-like weather that beckons contentment and merriment. However, for many others, it will not be. Those many others include sons, daughters and spouses who are grieving the loss of their own mother, wife, or any other beloved maternal figure. It is a day that perhaps would rather be spent under the covers with the shades drawn.

But Shakespeare encourages us to speak of our loved ones. And this we should do on Mother’s Day. For to speak of our grief is to give voice to our pain as well as to allow love to live on. To speak allows us to remember, to share, to reminisce and to find meaning in the sorrowful loss that unfortunately accompanies love—for love and loss are two sides of the same experience.

Indeed, to find meaning in the loss is one of the tasks of grief. Grief is not simply feeling sad for a period of time and then moving on. Grief is not something that will just passively go away on its own with time. To work through grief is to engage in a process that can allow a person to experience acceptance, peace and meaningfulness. Working through grief allows an individual to adapt to their new reality, to move forward and not feel stuck in a mournful past. What used to be thought of as stages of grief is now reframed as tasks of grieving. There is no particular order to these tasks, and no specific timeframe to complete them. Some tasks are easier than others, while some are more difficult. To further complicate matters, tasks sometimes need to be reworked at certain junctures in life.

After a loved one has died—or after any loss (grief is a natural response to many types of losses), the first task is for an individual to initially accept the reality of the loss. While denial serves a short-term purpose to protect the person from overwhelming emotions, eventually one is served by accepting that their loved one is no longer alive—accepting that the house will feel different, that the morning routine will feel odd for some time. All involve accepting the reality as it is.

With acceptance, what flows after is the reality of the pain. And the pain is real and can be intense. Here lies the second task: It is necessary to allow yourself to feel these emotions, to allow them into your consciousness and awareness and to not suppress and avoid them. In all truthfulness, this can be one of the most difficult tasks, as to feel pain is to sit with discomfort and difficult emotions, which can feel overwhelming at times. This is where we can benefit from support from others, who can allow their presence to be a witness to our pain. Here is where I would encourage the grieving individual to talk, write, journal, paint or cry, whatever feels most natural to you to allow yourself to feel your sorrow. And beware as this is where many may turn to alcohol to numb everything that they want to avoid. Avoidance also serves a short-term purpose with a long-term consequence.

While feeling all this pain, an individual also has to adjust to a world where their loved one is no longer present. This constitutes the third task of grieving. Adjusting is not a betrayal to the deceased, and it allows us to move forward and not remain stuck in a reality of what was. These adjustments can be internal and external. Internal adjustments often involve issues of identity: Who am I now, now that my mother or wife has died? Examples of external adjustments are slowly sorting the loved one’s belongings or eventually being open to dating. Both types of adjustment are needed to move forward.

And finally, the last task involves finding an enduring connection to the loved one as you continue living.  This task involves making meaning in the face of loss. Perhaps you take on a charity favored by your loved one or begin to embody some characteristic that was associated with the person lost. When my own father passed away three years ago, my meaningful connection with him that surfaced was to continue, through my own work, his legacy of caring for others, as his own work as a physician was always one of the most important facets of his life. I carry his title—Dr. Aranda – with me, so I can carry his commitment to be present to clients in their time of need. His legacy lives on in me, as does my love for him.

Happy Mother’s Day to all, and to those grieving, I wish you peace and compassion in the midst of your sorrow.

Mother’s Day Grief: A Free Online Series

Grief specialist David Kessler is hosting two free sessions on grief this May:

  • When You’re Grieving Mom: Saturday, May 4, 2024 at 3 p.m. EST
  • A Mother’s Grief: when a child dies: Sunday, May 5, 2024 at 3 p.m. EST.
    Learn more and register here. 


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