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A mother’s love is unconditional. A mother’s love is the glue that holds us together. What happens when we are forced to endure Mother’s Day without Mom? What happens to the bereaved Moms on Mother’s Day?
Holidays that focus on mom are an emotional roller coaster when you have lost your mom or a child. What do the motherless do on Mother’s Day if they lost Mom? What does a mother do on Mother’s Day if she is a bereaved mom? Even if Mom has surviving children, a day devoted to mothers only can heighten her sense of isolation and loss. Starting as early as April, we are bombarded by the ads for selecting the perfect gift for mom on Mother’s Day. How do we help those that are hurting this Mother’s Day? What do we get the motherless and childless on Mother’s Day?
Unless you are directly in a grieving person’s shoes, it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of loss the person grieving feels. For many, Mother’s Day becomes a day of surviving and struggling to get through the day. Although nothing can relieve the gut wrenching loss and hurt, below are some unofficial rules on speaking to a grieving person this Mother’s Day or pretty much throughout the year.
1. It’s not about you and your feelings.
Grieving isn’t a one size fits all thing. You may have lost your nephew, but your sister lost her son. You may have lost your aunt, but your cousin just lost her mother. Each and everyone of us are grieving in different ways, but all of us are hurting. Countless well-meaning friends and acquaintances have a tendency to discuss how loss has affected them. It is not uncommon for someone who is grieving to encounter endless people who want to share their own grief stories. They believe by doing this it will demonstrate that they understand grief and they know how you feel. But the problem is everyone grieves different. And many times, your newly grieving friend will only end up dredging up emotional energy that they do not have now to comfort you. There are no adequate words for losing a loved one, only the gift of compassion and love.
2. Always think before you speak.
Many grievers endure an onslaught of self-serving remarks making them want to retreat into their bereavement bunker away from the world.
Well-meaning friend: “You are so strong! I could never handle what you are going through!” Actually, you could because you have no choice but to move forward and be strong. An empathetic friend knows how to be there and truly listen without projecting their own insecurities.
Well-meaning friend: “I didn’t call you because I knew you wanted to be alone.” Maybe your friend did want to be alone, but a good friend who is truly compassionate always calls or texts. In today’s tech savvy society, it is not difficult to stay in touch with friends.
To be fair our society pretty much avoids grief. It is an uncomfortable reminder of our mortality and rather than deal with it, we avoid it. Many of us have little or no experience with people who are drowning in grief, so we are not sure if we are helping or hurting the person. Always try to think to yourself, would I want someone to say this to me if my heart was shattered?
3. There is no bright side for someone grieving.
Sometimes the most horrible, unimaginable things happen to most amazing, incredibly loving people on the planet. And guess what? Sometimes life does not make sense. Children should never, ever die before their parents. When we lose someone we love we are inundated with tons of remarks of how there is no more pain and suffering and that our loved one is in a better place. And the truth is deep down many of us know this and believe our loved ones are waiting for us in a better place. But in reality, your grieving friend does not want to hear this. There is no bright side and these comments are never, ever welcome. These comments are only painful reminders of what was taken away too soon. Observations that begin with, “At least he isn’t suffering” or “At least you have other children.” are agonizing for your grieving friend. If you want to support your loved one in the best way possible, keep “as least” out of your conversations with her. Try instead, “I miss him too” or “What’s your favorite memory of her?”
4. Grief is not something we conquer.
Grief is something that is not linear, it is chaotic, messy and complicated. Grief is something we learn how to live with. And we learn this by experiencing the painful ebb and flow of grief. After the funeral is over and the period of grieving that society thinks is “normal” ends, those emotions do not simply disappear. The immediate family returns home to an empty home filled with emotions. A grieving parent learns how to survive in a society that has no idea how to handle them because their grief is inconceivable and an uncomfortable reminder to many of their own mortality. Loved ones return to an empty home of memories. An empty chair at the dinner table that triggers a memory, causing feelings of sadness, longing and loss. All the firsts and life events that will no longer happen. Grief is not about achieving closure, it’s trying to figure out how to handle all the emotional and often painful memories that are triggered throughout a lifetime of mourning all the love we want to give but can no longer give.
5. Let your grieving friend feel their emotions.
Grief knows no boundaries. Whether you are at the grocery store or minding your own business reading a book, the weight of losing someone you love can crush you at a moment’s notice. The emotions of grief come and go just like the waves in the ocean. And when the waves of grief threaten to suck you in, many times your heart is not prepared for the intense pain. Some days and holidays, those waves of grief hit more forcefully, more fiercely that we can ever imagine possible. For many it can feel like a tsunami of sadness all over again. Society has a tendency to put a time limit on grieving and is unable to comprehend how vital it is for the grieving to feel their emotions. Your grieving friend will have stormy days, and that’s okay as a matter of a fact it’s normal. Try to help your friend adjust their sails and work within the waves.
We all grieve differently, but one thing we often need is someone to listen. Whatever you do, try to help your grieving friend believe that she will make it through the day. Try to help your grieving friend believe that she will be okay and give her hope that in the future she will find herself in a place where she can grieve and maybe someday celebrate Mother’s Day all in the same time. There is no guidebook for the loved ones, but we can strive to take care of each other this Mother’s Day.
Lisa Ingrassia is a freelance writer who writes regularly for Beliefnet, Her View From Home, The Mighty and also blogs for the Huffington Post.