Grieving on Mother's Day: How to cope after loss
Last weekend, 15 women gathered at Werklab, a co-working space in Vancouver, for a night of light yoga, journaling and candle-making. The women were strangers, but they all had at least one thing in common: they’d each lost a mother.
The event, called Motherless Mother’s Day, was organized by Alica Forneret, whose mother died in 2016. For her, the first Mother’s Day without her mom carried a particular heaviness.
“It was really about solidifying, okay, she’s not here,” Forneret told CTVNews.ca.
Holidays can be difficult for anyone who’s lost a loved one. But Mother’s Day, with the onslaught of social media tributes and reminders to buy flowers everywhere you look, can be especially emotional for those grieving the death of a mother or a child.
After she lost her mom, Forneret, a writer and editor, struggled to find resources online that she could connect with about grief. So she started her own website where she chronicles her personal journey with bereavement, from book recommendations to what to do with a dead loved one’s belongings.
This year, she wanted to organize a face-to-face meet-up for anyone experiencing the same feeling she has around Mother’s Day. And Motherless Mother’s Day was born.
“It was really beautiful,” Forneret said of the event. “The amount of emotional labour and energy people put into that night was just incredible.”
The event wasn’t a group therapy session; Forneret simply wanted to create an open, judgement-free space for people to come together who were going through the same thing. But inevitably, the participants opened up – and their feelings were often complicated.
“There were people who felt comfortable entering this space who had positive, beautiful relationships with their moms, and people who had complicated, negative relationships with their moms. And that was the most important thing for me… even when your mom is dead and it’s a hard holiday, it’s not hard for all the same reasons for all of us,” she said.
“It’s not just about commemorating all the good times, but remembering all the different emotions that come up with grief.”
For Lindsay Beal, Mother’s Day brings a different type of pain. Her newborn son Brandon died in November 2015.
“It’s very hard to put into words other than the word ‘difficult,’” she said. “Really, the words that we want to use, they could scare people. It’s heart wrenching. It’s heartbreaking. It’s soul-crushing, because you know there’s someone missing celebrating with you.”
It’s been nearly four years, and Beal said the loss still feels raw; she continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress. But through counselling and bereavement groups, she’s created her own support network.
She now prepares for Mother’s Day by centering herself in a particular frame of mind: “By not focusing on the fact that he’s not here. By acknowledging the fact that his life has brought more to mine, and still does, even with his physical being gone.”
This year, Beal doesn’t have any particular plans. But she knows who she’ll be spending the day with: her family, including her three children.
“I don’t have a precise plan now. But I will be with the people who love me.”
Beal also volunteers with Baby’s Breath Canada, an organization that offers support for parents after the death of an infant.
Mary Margaret Murphy, executive director of Baby’s Breath Canada, said anyone experiencing grief around Mother’s Day shouldn’t be afraid to discuss how they’re feeling.
“Sometimes we feel we have to hold it all in. But sometimes talking about it can give you that release. I know people who their baby died 23 years ago and they still talk about that baby, and that’s OK,” she said.
For those looking to support someone grieving on Mother’s Day, Beal said the best thing is often just to sit and listen.
“Sometimes someone just needs an ear. They don’t need answers.”
LOSING AN ADULT CHILD
Every April, a group of moms in Nova Scotia meets for a morning of gardening. Armed with bags of mulch and plenty of coffee, they get to work ripping weeds and re-seeding a small plot in Kemptville, N.S. There’s a bench, and a little fence, and a statue of a woman overlooking the flowers.
The garden is tended by a group of parents who’ve lost children. Trish Gallant, who lost her son Daniel in 2007, said the day is surprisingly light-hearted.
“We laugh more times than we cry,” she said. “We always say our boys and our children are looking down saying, ‘Which one is this one, is this mom yours? Oh, please don’t let her say that story.’”
Gallant’s son was 22 years old when he died. For her, the hardest part of Mother’s Day is waiting.
“It’s the anticipation of the day that just about kills you,” she said. “It’s the fear of facing the emotions. And the re-enactment of the day you got the news.”
To cope with those nerves, Gallant tries to calm her mind by colouring or reading. What’s often most helpful, she’s found, is talking about Daniel to a friend and remembering the person he was.
“He was six-foot-six. He had redder-than-red hair and bluer than blue eyes,” she said.
Asked if he played basketball, Gallant laughed.
“No, he hated that question. He’d say, ‘You’re short, are you a jockey?’”
For many people experiencing grief, support groups are a way to talk about what they’re going through. For Gallant, joining the group was her way of giving back.
“The reason for me was to help other mothers and guide them when they go this most horrible time of their life … to let them know that they’re not alone.”
TIPS FOR COPING WITH GRIEF
“One of the things I learned, from my first Mother’s Day to this one, is my body is something that needs to be listened to. I know what it means when my stomach starts to hurt or I start to get headaches or I’m so tired I can’t go to work anymore. And I think listening and being aware of your body at this time of year is important.” -- Alica Forneret, who lost her mother in 2016.
“There is nothing I can say to make any of this time feel better for anyone. But patience is a blessing. And with time, acceptance comes. But not without support.” -- Lindsay Beal, who lost her son in 2015.
“The biggest thing is talk about them. Grieve. Don’t let anybody tell you not to grieve because you are going to get better. Everybody grieves differently.” -- Trish Gallant, who lost her son in 2007.
“It’s okay to remember… We have a grief counsellor who says it’s okay to talk about your baby, to say their name and to talk about the experience.” -- Mary Margaret Murphy, executive director of Baby’s Breath Canada