Grieving Mother’s Day: My Story

Grieving Mother’s Day: My Story

By Mary Ellen Miller PhD, RN, APHN-BC

The early weeks of May continue to be bittersweet for me. During this time, Mother’s Day is celebrated. For me, this time frame brings both joy and sadness. My joy comes from sharing Mother’s Day, or the time leading up to this, with my husband, daughters and granddaughter. My sadness comes from my heavy heart because I lost an infant child, had a pregnancy loss, lost a desired grandchild and the loss of my mom.

Four decades ago, our firstborn daughter died when she was 8 days old due to complications of prematurity. My first Mother’s Day was 6 months after Marissa died. We had to leave church right after the sermon as the well-meaning priest asked the mothers to stand as he said a special blessing. What should I do? Should I sit or stand? I decided to stand up and to this day I am proud that I had the courage to do so. To be totally honest, I just couldn’t stand being around all the mothers and their children in church. I cried the entire car ride home. Sessions with a behavioral health counselor were immensely helpful for me. I learned how to explore my feelings and found coping mechanisms that worked for me. Two more Mother’s Days and an early pregnancy loss occurred before my next baby girl was born. My first Mother’s Day with a child in my arms was filled with both profound joy and great sadness. As elated as I was to finally get to “mother” a child, I grieved because I realized I should have been filled with my Mother’s Day joy for years now. I was blessed with another daughter 18 months later. My beautiful, healthy girls don’t negate the fact that there should be 2 other children in our family. I love my angel children and wonder who they would have become. On Mother’s Day this intense longing comes back to the surface.

Ten years ago, our daughter and her husband had a pregnancy loss. I grieved for my unborn grandchild but felt intense sorrow for my daughter and son-in-law because I walked in their shoes when I was about their age. I did not know the exact feelings my daughter had on Mother’s Day, but based upon my conversations with her, I knew she was hurting…..her wounds were raw and deep. I listened to her and was there for her when she needed me during her grief journey.

Five years ago, my mom passed away. Many people don’t have the gift of their mothers for as long as I did. I was in my early 60’s and for the years with my mom I am forever grateful. The first year overall without my mom was difficult for me. Mother’s Day was particularly hard to get through. For me, reminiscing about how we spent our Mother’s Day time together, many times not on the actual day itself, is something I do that comforts me. Memories of how past Mother’s Days were celebrated can either be touching to reminisce about, or can stir up additional sadness as special outings or times spent together will never occur again.

Mother’s Day may be a time of sorrow, not joy for you also. Maybe you have lost a child. Maybe the child you lost was your only child. Maybe you lost a grandchild or an anticipated grandchild. Maybe you experienced a pregnancy loss. Maybe you are going through infertility. Maybe you are estranged from your child, which may mean you are also estranged from grandchildren. Maybe your mother, grandmother or god-mother is no longer living. There are other reasons that Mother’s Day can be a time of grieving, not celebrating. Maybe your child is serving in the military and for yet another Mother’s Day you won’t be together. Maybe you have a serious illness with an uncertain outcome and wonder if this Mother’s Day will be your last. Maybe this is the situation your mother, grandmother or god-mother is in currently and you believe this may be your last Mother’s Day with her. Maybe there is another reason why Mother’s Day is a time of sorrow for you. If I have not included your reason I sincerely apologize.

I want you to know that your feelings are real and justified. You are not alone in your sorrow.

The weeks leading up to Mother’s Day can be hurtful seeing all the commercials on television with ideas for cards, flowers and gifts for mom. Sections of grocery and other stores abound with these gift ideas. “Happy Mother’s Day” is a phrase that is pure pain, actually torture, for many to hear. I repeat, you are not alone.

I found some things were particularly helpful to me before I had my first child that lived and could feel happiness on Mother’s Day. Maybe some of the suggestions I offer will be helpful to you.

What really helped me during my early Mother’s Day grief was talking to my sisters about my feelings. I found immense support from them. Gather the courage to tell just one person you are close to how hard Mother’s Day is for you, or how hard you anticipate it to be if it is your first experience. If they are a close family member or a true friend, they will listen to you and give you the support you are yearning for.

If you feel comfortable, accept an invitation from someone who reaches out to you and spend time with them on Mother’s Day. Turn down invitations to go out if you think you can’t do it this year. It might be helpful to do something different, something you don’t usually do on Mother’s Day. Go to a movie. Volunteer to serve in a soup kitchen. Visit a historical museum. Stay away from restaurants that cater to families. Skip church. I’m Catholic and was taught that missing Mass is a mortal sin. I believe God is forgiving and I am not going to burn in hell because I didn’t go to Mass on Mother’s Day for 2 years after my initial painful experience.

Social media was not present 40 years ago. Now it is an everyday reality. Refrain from social media postings on the days leading up to Mother’s Day or on that weekend. If you are on social media during this time, quickly scroll through the family gathering postings. You don’t need to read this! If you are up to this later, you can do this in June.

Be kind to yourself on Mother’s Day and the time leading up to this date. You deserve happiness in May and throughout the year.

With sincere hope for healing,

Mary Ellen

It is important to state that grief can cause profound feelings of sadness and hopelessness. If you have feelings of harming yourself or another person, go to the nearest emergency room or call the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988.

About the Author

Mary Ellen Miller PhD, RN, PHNA-BC

 Retired director of the internship. Director Lehigh Valley Affiliate Bridging the Gaps Internship (Retired)

May 10th 2024 Mary Ellen Miller

Recent Posts