“Regardless of what you’re going through, there are others who have felt a similar pain and who have survived.”
Chris Adams Richards, LCSW
Not everyone looks forward to Mother’s Day. For years it was a very painful day for me. I lost my son 12 years ago when he was just 18 months old and since then, holidays have often been a sad reminder of his absence rather than a day to celebrate. My own journey through this loss, and the multiple miscarriages and fertility struggle that followed, has been very personal. I probably made choices you wouldn’t have and maybe some you would. One of the most important decisions I made came two years after he died. I had felt like I was no longer a mother after we lost him and that was incredibly painful! So, I decided that I would reclaim the title of Mother, even though I didn’t have a living child. It felt like a loving gift to give myself and from then on, I have gotten Mother’s Day gifts and cards from my significant other and I have allowed myself the joy of remembering how much being a Mom has meant to me – including how painful it has been to have him gone.
Your own situation may be very different from mine, but if you wish you were going to be included in the celebration of Mother’s Day, then you may be feeling sad, angry, frustrated, triggered, or resentful right now. Because of how commercial the day has become, it’s impossible to go to the store, listen to the radio or watch TV without being bombarded with reminders that it’s supposed to be a happy day, that our own Mothers should have been idyllic and our own lives should include children who adore us and make us macaroni neclaces and breakfast in bed. If this isn’t your reality, then the days leading up to Mother’s Day can be filled with sadness, anxiety and pain as you dread the day coming and wish it was just over with.
Coping during this time and finding ways to manage the bombardment of images and reminders of what you have lost or never had can be challenging! I’ve done a variety of things – avoided stores, listened to CDs instead of the radio, watched movies without ads or fast forwarded them, etc. The fact remained that I still knew it was going to be Mother’s Day and I grieved. As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, the only way through grief is to let it wash over you, feel the feelings and then take a break.
There are also some things you can do to increase your resilience during this time:
Reach out to friends or family who will listen to you nonjudgementally – whether or not they share the same pain.
Not everyone understands what it’s like to grieve deeply for those we’ve lost or for the hopes that haven’t been fulfilled. People offer us platitudes like “This too shall pass”. That one in particular makes me feel like punching someone in the nose. However, it might feel comforting to you. If you have people in your life who really hear you, then tell them what you need. “I just need someone to listen right now”, “I really need to be distracted for a while, can you hang out and make me laugh?”, “It really helps to hear ___, can you please remind me of that when I’m feeling low?”.
Tap into support groups in person, on FaceBook, or on a website/blog.
Regardless of what you’re going through, there are others who have felt a similar pain and who have survived. There are others who also struggle with Mother’s Day, Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries. Begin by doing a Google search for your situation and look for these groups of kindred souls. They’re out there!
Be gentle with yourself!
Grief is one of the most overwhelming, painful feelings I know. Be kind to yourself during the low periods! Surround yourself with comforting people, things, pets, etc. If you feel like lying on the couch and binging on Netflix, I won’t judge you! If you decide to stay in your pajamas all weekend and not answer your phone, that’s ok (as long as you don’t feel isolated and aren’t beating yourself up!). If you decide to go on a long hike in the mountains and then eat comfort food, that is probably just what you need! If you begin telling yourself “I shouldn’t” or “I’m not supposed to” kinds of statements, chances are you’re no longer being gentle with yourself! Nuture yourself, hold yourself in a space of comfort, love and kindness.
Face it, feel it and take a break.
Feeling it is not the same thing as beating yourself up or wallowing. Notice what’s going on for you and if you’re feeling it, then allow yourself to be in that moment – it will pass. If you’re wallowing, or beating yourself up, that has to do with self-talk and keeping yourself in a negative head space. This creates more pain – and you do NOT need any more pain! If these thoughts begin then interrupt them with 10 belly breaths where you focus on the exhale (or more if you need it). Then choose your next thoughts. “This hurts right now, but I’m going to be ok”, “What can I do right now to take a break – just for a moment”. Watch a silly movie, read a trashy novel, pray, watch some silly videos on YouTube, whatever helps.
Reclaim the holiday/anniversary in a way that works for you.
This isn’t something that will happen over night, it will take time to grieve and really feel your losses. But when that intensity has passed, you can begin to find ways to redefine these days in a way that works for you. This is an extremely personal process! Mother’s Day at my house is about my role as a Mom to my son who is gone and to my sweet fur babies who love and charm me on a daily basis. They even get me cards and gifts on Mother’s Day – they’re so thoughtful! For Christmas, we get gifts for another child who would have been the same age as my son and donate them to the homeless shelter, a sub for Santa, or some other orgainzation. This process is filled with tears and is sad, but I also feel that I’ve done something to create some good out of the sadness. That child will have a better Christmas and that brings comfort. Even as an 18 month old my son was generous and I believe he would have loved this idea. That also brings comfort and helps me feel close to him at this time. If your own Mom is gone or you are not close to her, honor the other women in your life who are mentors, supporters, or family of choice. It can give you a sense of purpose rather than feeling on the outside of what we’re told the day is supposed to be. If nothing else, perhaps this day is a day to treat yourself! Pamper and spoil yourself – you’re worth it!
Adjust your expectations.
Somewhere along the way, society got the idea that grief is supposed to last a year and then you’re “over it”. For anyone who has grieved, we know that’s a ridiculous and harmful idea! Grief lasts as long as it lasts. We can’t really speed it up, but we can certainly slow it down! It has a life of it’s own and will want you to pay attention to it on a schedule that usually is very inconvenient for you. No matter how smart you are, you can’t “solve” grief or “fix” it. It’s not a problem to be solved, it’s feelings to experience. Knowing and accepting these things can help you move through the process with less resistance – and therefore less pain and fear.
So, from one who has walked this path, I send you love, peace and hope that you will find ways to love and honor yourself and your loved ones!
If you would like to call for a free consultation or to schedule an appointment with Chris Adams Richards, LCSW call 385-204-6709.