Real Women Tell Us How They Cope With a Complicated Mother’s Day

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It would be easy to think of Mothers Day as simply a day of celebration, but for many, Mothers and Fathers Day represents something much more difficult than securing the best brunch reservation. Whether you’ve lost your parent, have a strained relationship with them, or are dealing with the sadness and disappointment that comes with not being a mom yet when you desperately want to, we know that so many don’t look forward to this holiday with the joy and happiness that is portrayed on social media or the Hallmark section of your drugstore.

We reached out to our readers to ask for their personal stories on coping when you don’t have a mother or father to celebrate with, and it’s no surprise that we received so many beautiful stories of strength and support.


“There are so many wonderful people in my life because of my mom and they should all be celebrated too.”

“This upcoming Mother’s Day will be the second one that I can’t physically celebrate with my mom. My mom passed away two months before my wedding, so I had no choice but to learn to celebrate life’s milestones and holidays without her.

Daily, I have my mom’s voice in my head, I sometimes talk to myself in my car hoping she can hear me, wear something of hers or do something that she loved. She is with me in everything I do and I am motivated to live a better life in her honor, which in my opinion is living by the rules of inheritance.

Last Mother’s Day, I put on the brightest floral dress I owned (to channel my mom), indulged in a delicious brunch with family and soaked up what was a sunny Chicago day. At the end of the day, my brothers and I group texted each other that we felt relief that the day was over and I remember we all stayed off social media that day.

Often with holidays and milestones, I have realized that the anticipation of something is often worse than the day. As I move through grief, the healing can bring you closer to the personal we loved and lost. A new relationship begins and we have to learn to live with the loved one we lost in a different light. I worry that as I get older and have a family of my own, the way I love and miss my mom will take on its own form. Grief to me is an ever changing feeling that you can never quite pinpoint.

Mother’s Day has a new meaning to me. I still celebrate my mom but also celebrate my mother-in-law, aunt, godmother, my mom’s friends who have stepped in to be my friends too. There are so many wonderful people in my life because of my mom and they should all be celebrated too.”

Katie Cassman


“If your soul needs a good cleansing cry then have patience with yourself and allow yourself to experience those emotions.”

“Mentally, you can imagine a traumatic experience like a bomb going off in the ocean. Your mind is the ocean and the waters there, once calm, erupt high into the sky and slam back to the earth. With the initial blast there’s a tsunami wave that demolishes everything inside and you go numb. The person you used to be is changed forever. You move robotically through colorless days, dull and guessing what you know and should do. Then the next wave hits you. You remember – it’s real. It actually happened. She’s dead.

For some time the waves hit hard and frequently. After a while the breaks get longer. During each lull you try to put your life back together, try to make sense of death, and try to remember the version of yourself you were before that dark day. The wave attacks continue to get slightly softer, slightly further apart. Your foundation gets stronger. Then as years go by the waves fade to ripples that are easier to handle. But one of the hardest things for me to learn and accept was that the ripples never end.

This is all a metaphor for what post-traumatic stress disorder has been like for me since my mom died. She was 38 and it was less than two weeks after my 17th birthday.  No one knew she had heart disease. It’s the memory of how I found her that haunts me. I struggled for years wanting to be able to say I had recovered, to feel “normal” again, but what I wish someone could have told me sooner was is that, you never will. 

The ripples never end. 

You never forget. You never completely get over it. Even 13 years later I still think about her every day. What changed, and what I want to share as a message of hope and how to get through tough times, is that I learned to live with my loss. I finally accepted that it’s part of my identity now. There will always be difficult times. Annual reminders like her birthday, her death day, and especially Mother’s Day will test your patience with yourself. When everyone you know is celebrating the love and bond they share with their mom, try not to be jealous. Close your eyes and remember the happy and beautiful times you shared with your mom. Yes! Let yourself remember. Stuffing down memories to be ok for a day only leads to forgetting, and that you may regret. If remembering makes you sad this Mother’s Day, then please know that it’s ok to be sad. You have every right, and if your soul needs a good cleansing cry then have patience with yourself and allow yourself to experience those emotions. Take deep breaths, and find comfort in knowing that you’re strong, and next time it will be easier. Time and patience, friends.”

– Brittney Michelle


“Allow yourself to be sad, to cry, to wallow if needed. But you must then find some happiness in the day.”

“One of the most difficult parts of dealing with my father’s death is the sense that every happy event in my life will be darkened by him not being there. Knowing that my wedding day will have a sense of sadness or the birth of my first child will be marked by missing my father is something I deal with on an almost daily basis. I’ve had to ask myself ‘will I ever feel true, pure happiness again?’ Sadly, at this point in my life….I think the answer is ‘no’. 

When your perspective on life changes so drastically each day feels a little bit different – rarely does a simple Tuesday go by without me thinking about and missing my Dad. You can imagine, then, that days like Father’s Day become particularly hard. You are reminded of the day constantly – by every store window or commercial urging you to buy a new circular saw for Father’s Day. It’s nearly impossible to avoid.

I am learning how to navigate these days as they come. I’ve found the most effective coping mechanism is twofold: first, allow yourself to be sad, to cry, to wallow if needed. But you must then find some happiness in the day. Think back to a Father’s day that was memorable and find comfort in that day. It is important that these days don’t become dark and stressful but rather a day to think about the person you lost and remember the best parts of them.  I can’t stress the importance of creating new positive memories to surround these trigger days.

For example, my Dad and I had been to Chicago a few times over the years and it had become a really special place for us! I felt ready to go back for the first time this year so my boyfriend and I started planning a trip. It worked out that we would be in Chicago on the anniversary of my Father’s death. I felt ready and prepared but slightly terrified to be there on that day. As my boyfriend and I strolled through the Art Institute, as my Dad and I had done a few years earlier, I looked at him and said “I feel happy”.  I quickly burst into tears but for a moment a day that had previously been the worst day of my life, all of a sudden, wasn’t as bad.

The loss of a loved one is so profoundly personal but I hope my experience shines some light on what I’ve gone through and how I’m learning to cope.”

– Courtney Allan


“I’ve learned to accept the grief and loss as part of my character, rather than shrinking away from it and hiding it from others.”

“Three years ago, my mother committed suicide, and took with her so many things that I was not prepared to lose, including the typical Mother’s Day experience as I knew it. The first Mother’s Day was just four months after her death, and the sense of grief and loss was mostly replaced disbelief, anger, and confusion. Since then, I’ve learned that grief is not a straight line. The timing, the feelings, the way others react to your grief – it all changes. For an admittedly type-A planner, embracing that change has been difficult. Why can’t I just know how I am going to feel?! There are days that I can expect to feel the loss: My wedding day last year. Her birthday. My birthday. The anniversary of her death. And then there are other days that grief comes and it just sucker punches you. It is triggered by a song, a phrase, a passing thought that you didn’t even realize was in your mind until you feel tears on your cheeks.

But Mother’s Day brings a unique pain, since this is a day that I feel loss and it seems like everyone else is celebrating motherly love. Granted, I am fortunate to be surrounded by incredible women – aunts, friends, and other motherly figures – who care for me and support me. But on Mother’s Day, they have their own daughters to embrace. Their own families. And so, on this holiday in particular, the grief comes with another unwelcome feeling: isolation. In reality, though, I am not alone. In fact, many of the people who’ve been most helpful over the years since my mother’s death are those who have also experienced the loss of a parent.

So, what works? How do you cope? To start, I’ve learned to accept the grief and loss as part of my character, rather than shrinking away from it and hiding it from others. For me, coping can be found in self-care: a run, yoga, curling up with a good book or bad TV, sharing a meal with friends. Grief is different for everyone, but the guiding principle is self-compassion. When you are hurting, be kind to yourself, and surround yourselves with others who will be kind to you. Initially, my first instinct was to push away the sadness and move on. As the years go by, I’ve learned to embrace it and sit with it, especially on days like Mother’s Day. In those moments, I try to think about her – I try to remember the good days and happier times. We had a complex and often confrontational relationship, and we argued shortly before she died. The pain of that can be suffocating. Instead, I try to honor her with generous and loving thoughts that I couldn’t always summon during our conflicts while she was alive.

To those who have lost their mother, or are estranged and feel alone, I hope that you can be kind to yourself this Mother’s Day, and find comfort in that. Everyone grieves differently. Mother’s day may pass easily, and then Monday may feel so heavy it’s inconceivable to get out of bed. And that is okay. There are no rules for grief, no secrets to coping. Honor your memories, both happy and sad. Sit with the emotions that arise. Let your loved ones embrace you and care for you.

And If you know someone who is going through a loss, this Mother’s day or any other day, don’t fade away. Even if you’re not sure what to say, reach out. Acknowledge the loss. Let her know you are thinking of her, that you are there, that she is included.”

– Natalie Karp


Is Mother or Father’s Day a difficult holiday for you to celebrate? Share your personal stories or messages of support in the comments below.