“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” –Abraham Lincoln
This weekend is Mother’s Day and as a result, restaurants are filling up with reservations, florists are working overtime and jewelers are helping kids and dads pick the perfect piece for mom. But the prospect of this annual holiday can be difficult for some.
Lisa Pennell lost her mother, Dottye Lou Brown, to cancer in 1999 and she said that in the years immediately following her mother’s death, the second Sunday in May was a painful reminder of her mother’s absence.
“Over the years, the celebration of Mother's Day has been an evolution for me,” Pennell said. “Prior to having my own daughter, Mother's Day was extremely difficult to say the least. How does one celebrate Mother's Day when your Mom is no longer around? I feel a variety of emotions on Mother's Day, and everyday, but mostly I just miss sharing life with my mom. I miss my best friend.”
Kathy Bare is the Bereavement Team Leader and a bereavement counselor at Carroll Hospice and she said that Mother’s Day can be painful for people dealing with the loss of a mother, especially a recent loss, because it is such a public display of that relationship.
“It’s one thing to have to get through a birthday of the loved one, or the anniversary of the death of a loved one, but Mother’s Day is a painful and public reminder of that loss,” Bare said. “It can be particularly painful because it’s such a public acknowledgement of a mother’s love. If grieving, it can be hard to escape the day that you used to celebrate with your mom.”
But Pennell said that with time, Mother’s Day has transitioned into a more joyous occasion, partly because she has become a mother herself.
“Now that I have a daughter of my own, I'm able to enjoy Mother's Day with a new, fresh perspective,” Pennell said. “Yes, the day still brings challenges emotionally, but the smile of my Maddy quickly eases that pain and reminds me that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, a mom.”
Carroll Hospice offers several support groups to help those dealing with the loss of a loved one. Bare said that two groups in particular tend to have a number of people dealing with the loss of a mother.
According to Bare, Pathways is a traditional support group that meets the third Wednesday of the month; participation in the group is free and open to anyone. Then there is a bereavement luncheon held the last Tuesday of the month at Bullock’s—an informal sharing of loss through conversation.
“We help people learn to cope with the loss. The reality of losing a mom can be difficult to accept,” Bare said.
“The relationship between a mother and child can be very unique and carries with it a special kind of grief when the mother dies,” Bare said. “We grieve our dads, but there is something different about losing our moms. People tell me that it’s so hard because their moms were there for them their entire lives, from their very first breath.”
Bare said there are many coping strategies that help people get through the loss of a loved one, and special traditions on Mother’s Day can be a part of that.
“There is value in doing things like writing a letter to your mom, saying whatever it is that you would say if you could pick up the phone and call her. These letters can later be shared with your children, to show them how you would have talked to your mom about them, about their milestones. There is then a connection between them,” Bare said.
Bare refers to these coping techniques as “mourning exercises” and shared many more, including visiting a grave, spending time with family, going out for a special meal, participating in a specific memorial activity, or planting in the garden.
Pennell can relate to the peace that comes with planting seeds in honor of her mother.
“I spend time planting flowers and trees each Mother's Day,” Pennell said. “This was a tradition my mom started with me as a child and I'm thrilled to be able to carry the tradition on with my own daughter.”
Pennell said that she also finds solace on Mother’s Day by spending time with her grandmother, who has the challenge of dealing with the loss of a daughter on Mother’s Day.
“I typically spend time with my 87-year-old grandmother on Mother's Day--my mom's mom. We share memories of mom as we laugh and cry all in the same breath. I truly cherish this special time with my grandmother,” Pennell said.