When I was in middle school, I became friends with a girl whose mom had died. I remember coming home one day after hanging out with her and sprawling out on the couch in the family room, sobbing about her not having a mother on Mother’s Day. Of course at that point, I had never fully considered how my dad must have felt every Mother’s Day, having lost his own when I was a wee babe. Over the years, I began to know more people who experienced great loss up close, myself included, and thought more about what these holidays mean to different people.
As we near Mother’s Day, I thought I’d compile a few ideas for how we can still celebrate those we love while also being a little more mindful of those around us. Mother’s Day isn’t just difficult for those who’ve lost their mothers. It can also be a tough day for those who might be struggling with infertility, who have experienced a miscarriage, or who have had to bury a child, to name a few. As I have experienced none of these things, I can’t speak directly to those exact struggles, but I can speak from the loss I do know. I hope it helps.
Meet them where they are.
Maybe it’s your friend’s first Mother’s Day after loss. Maybe it’s their second, fifth, tenth. No matter how much time has passed, grief can rear its ugly head in a variety of ways, and very often, holidays like Mother’s Day can become a grief trigger. Don’t set any expectations for how your friend should be feeling or grieving. If your friend feels okay, celebrate that! If your friend feels broken, sit with them in their brokenness. Listen, cry, hug, laugh. Don’t give advice, don’t pass judgement. Wherever they are in their grief, they just need you to be right there with them.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like everyone else has forgotten about the person you’ve lost. If you have a friend who you think Mother’s Day might be a tough day for, it probably is. Don’t let the day go by without acknowledging it. Make a phone call, send a text, and say, “Hey, I’m thinking about it, too. You’re not alone.” You have no idea how much it could mean.
Don’t ask. Just do.
I have a hard time telling people that I need something and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. When people told me after John died that I could come to them if I needed anything, I knew it always came from a genuine place, but I was never going to do that. I was never going to call someone up and say, “Hey, I can’t get out of bed. Can you bring me a cup of coffee?” or “I have no food, but I can’t bear the thought of going outside. Can you bring me a big bowl of cheesy pasta?” Avoid the let-me-know-if-there’s-anything-you-need trap and take it upon yourself to do something tangible to help your friend, no matter how small. Here are some ideas:
- Invite them over for dinner.
- Stop by in the morning with an iced coffee. Or Bloody Mary mix. Or both? (Probably both.)
- Bring them a self-care goody or two. A new book, a nice candle, a new nail polish color, a bath bomb, trashy magazines, a Red Box movie, a box of ice cream, 6-pack of their favorite beer. Something that you know will bring your friend a little joy on a rough day.
- Email them a gift card to their favorite restaurant.
- Bring something over that they can stick in the freezer and heat up on a day when cooking feels extra difficult.
- Pick them up to go on a walk in the evening. A little fresh air and a good friend at the end of the day can do wonders for a hurting heart.
I think it’s important to emphasize here that you are by no means responsible for fixing your friend’s hurt. It’s not up to you to make their pain go away. But you do have an opportunity – a privilege – to help them carry their burden and lighten their load. You know your friend and you know yourself – help in the best way you know how.
I still think about that middle school friend every Mother’s Day, but until now have never reached out because I always think, (1) we haven’t been more than acquaintances in over 10 years, and (2) the people she keeps around her surely love and support her enough – she doesn’t need to hear from me. I’m right about one thing: she doesn’t need to hear from me. But that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t.
From this year forward, I vow to do Mother’s Days, Father’s Days, etc. differently. I will continue to celebrate the wonderful woman who is my own mom (not just on Mother’s Day) while loving, supporting, and being mindful of those who need it a little extra on that day. Think: fewer meaningless social media posts and more action. I hope you can find your own way to do the same.