It's hard to avoid all the commercials for last-minute gifts and flower bouquets, the drugstore aisles overflowing with greeting cards, but I've become an expert at looking away. Now an email stares out from my inbox touting "Mother's Day must-haves" and I squeeze my eyes to prevent tears from coming out so my coworkers won't see. The only thing I want is for my mom to just be here. But she's gone.
My mom passed away completely unexpectedly last summer, and while I feel stronger and more together than I thought was possible, most days I wake up in shock that my new reality is a life without my mom. I've learned how to navigate that deep pain a bit, having some control over when and how I want to think about it and experience it, but I have my triggers. It hurts when I hear people complaining about how their moms are "so annoying." It stings when I see a little girl and her mom holding hands. But tackling Mother's Day alone? Nothing prepared me for this.
This holiday always felt completely innocuous till now. In fact, my mom never liked us making a big deal over it. So I'm trying to remind myself that it's just a day, and not everyone is experiencing it like I am. But then it occurred to me — some are. And so, for those of you out there who have lost their mom, or are curious what this type of loss feels like, I feel compelled to share a voice that's not really heard. Mother's Day doesn't have to be just for celebrating, it can be for remembering. Here's how I've been getting through it so far.
Remembering the kind of mom she was
The weirdest thing about losing your mom suddenly at a young age is that you never, not for a minute, thought she wouldn't be there. As a kid I'd call out her name in the darkness from my bedroom if I ever felt scared or ill. Sometimes I could only get out a whisper, but she'd appear instantly, as if she already knew. She taught me everything. How to draw, how to paint my nails, how to cram for a geography test, how to identify the coolest bands on the radio, how to believe in myself, and how to express myself. Rather than focus on what I've lost, I think about how lucky I am for all that I've gained. In the moment, when something I'm doing reminds me of my mom, I send her a smile and sort of thank her in my head. Even though she's not here, she's still a guiding light.
Reaching out to fellow grievers
Thanks in part to my journalistic instincts, I felt weirdly compelled to reach out to a few friends who had also lost their parents. My mission was two-fold: one, to tell them how sorry I was for not even remotely understanding how devastating their loss was at the time, and two, to uncover where they found their strength. If you've lost someone yourself or know someone who has, I can't express how helpful reaching out can be. My friends didn't really have advice about how they got through it, but they all revealed the same thing that gave me hope: whether their mom or dad had been gone for one year or 20, they still felt like they were there, and when they thought about them it was more often with a smile instead of just tears. That became my new goal.
Doing what makes me feel good
Sometimes it's hard to figure out what this is, especially in the early stages of grieving. At first I couldn't eat for days, so if I felt like donuts I got them. I swapped watching dramas and thrillers for a pretty steady diet of comedies, and sitcom reruns before bed (I find night time is the hardest). As a natural nurturer, I found myself worrying more about others, so I stepped up to the plate to help my family, organizing arrangements, checking in daily with my dad and brother, and doing my best to make sure we were all moving forward in a healthy way. I decided to go back to work soon after my mom passed, because I felt I needed it. In part because it was a helpful distraction, but also because doing a good job at something I had control over made me feel really strong. Some days the only thing that felt good was binge-watching Netflix under a big blanket, and I told myself that was OK, too.
Asking for what I need
When coping with loss, you may want time for quiet reflection, you may want a hug from a friend, or you may want to be really social — and all of this may change depending on the day. Don't expect those around you to be mind readers or you might be disappointed. Sometimes I randomly want to talk about my mom or feel overwhelmed with sadness and it feels weird to bring it up. I still struggle with this one, to be honest. My boyfriend and I have developed a routine where I'll sniffle a bit, he'll ask what's wrong, I'll say nothing, he'll ask if it's about my mom, I'll nod, and he'll ask if I wanna talk about it. Sometimes I'll share a memory, and other times I opt out, but it feels so good just knowing he gets it.
If you're feeling like you need support on Mother's Day — or any time — you may just need to text a friend and say, "hey, I'm having a rough day." And if you know someone may be down, but you don't know what to say, you can always reach out and say, "hey, I'm thinking of you today." You can't go wrong with opening the door and letting your friend know you are there.
Honing in on what's important
While I didn't change my lifestyle, you could say my priorities changed by truly learning the meaning of "life is too short." I may not be able to experience major life milestones with my mom, but I am determined to live a happy and fulfilling life with my loved ones. That translates to giving those I care about as much time and attention as possible. I wish I'd had more time with my mom to make just one more wonderful memory, but I'm so lucky that I have decades of them to conjure up whenever I please. Especially on Mother's Day.