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How to Survive Mother’s Day Without Your Mother

When you have lost your mom for any reason, Mother's Day can be incredibly painful. Here's how to cope, from women who have been there.

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Give yourself the gift of time

“When I was growing up my mom always made a big deal about wanting to spend time with us instead of getting gifts. For her, that meant spending an afternoon planting flowers together and talking. Now that my mother has passed and I’m a mother myself, I’ve followed her example of asking for gifts of time rather than things. I’m not as much of a gardener so I ask my family to do something outdoors with me. My favorite Mother’s Days have been spent hiking, playing mini golf, and going kayaking. It’s the perfect way to remember her and to stay true to myself as well.” —Mary R., 52, Westerville, OH. To capture the feelings you might have on these day, check out these poems on love, loss, and the meaning of life.

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Remember that mother-child relationships are complicated—and any way you feel about the day is totally appropriate

“There are so many situations that don’t fit into the ‘my mother is amazing and I am so happy to have her’ or the ‘I am so sad she’s no longer here’ scenarios and that can make Mother’s Day very difficult for many women. Plus, on the other side of the equation, mothers themselves are pressured to fit a mold so precise that if they don’t then they feel like failures too. If you have a mom (or are a mom) who is dealing with depression, anxiety, addiction, or other life problems know that it’s okay to feel conflicted, sad, angry or any other emotion on Mother’s Day. Your feelings are legitimate and understandable.” —Karen Anderson, author of The Peaceful Daughter’s Guide to Separating From A Difficult Mother.

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Share your memories of your mom with others

“Unfortunately I lost both my parents at a relatively young age and my children were just 5 and 7 at the time, so they have very few, if any, memories of them. So every year for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day I pull out the family photo albums, sit my kids down, and retell the stories behind all the pictures. As they get older they ask more questions which usually leads to more stories, making for a fun afternoon filled with happy memories. I want to make sure my kids always feel like they know my parents, even if they don’t remember them.” —Robin E., 40, Landenburg, PA. You’ll be moved by this story of “How my mother’s sewing lessons helped me cope with the grief of death.

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Reach out to others who loved your mom

“My mom was beloved my many people and it helps to remember that I’m not the only one who misses her on Mother’s Day. For instance, I always make sure that my Dad has people around him that day as she was the mother of his children and I know he misses her at least as much as I do.” —Joy M., 52, Firth, ID. Don’t miss these beautiful Mother’s Day quotes.

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Let go of guilt

“One of the most insidious things adult daughters do is beat themselves up for not having a ‘great’ relationship with their mothers, especially if their mothers are no longer alive. But there’s no such thing as a perfect mother-daughter relationship, no matter what Hallmark or Facebook tells you. Don’t shame or guilt yourself on Mother’s Day, and take ‘fault’ and ‘blame’ off the table. There’s nothing specific you should or shouldn’t be doing on this day.” —Karen Anderson. Here are pro tips to stop feeling guilty.

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Respect all the changes happening in your life

“My mother died last year on Mother’s Day (May 8, 2016), so this year I’m kind of dreading the holiday. Also, my only son just moved out and is so immersed in his new life that I’m not sure he’ll remember Mother’s Day. He will probably also be working that day so my plan is to keep things low-key, maybe do some gardening or stuff for work, and just kind of ignore the whole thing. A lot has changed in my life recently and I’m going to give myself time to deal with all of it.” —Nicholle C., 55, Edmonton, Canada.

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Surround yourself with loved ones

“This is my first Mother’s Day without my mom, as both she and my Baba (my grandmother) recently died. In the past my sisters and I always got together on Mother’s Day to take Mom and Baba to their favorite Greek restaurant. So this year, in their memory, we will be taking our families to eat at that restaurant. Since my sisters and I do not live in our hometown anymore, this will be a way for all of us to get together with as many of the kids as we could gather—something my mom would have loved. My sisters and I are also making shadow boxes to commemorate mom’s life, so I will work on that as well. Honestly, I think it is going to be the hardest day for me since her death in August; it will be a very bittersweet Mother’s Day.” —Alison M, 53, Dansville, NY. These are some of the best movies to remind you of your mom.

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Don’t worry about doing anything big

“When my mom died, so many people told me that ‘the holidays are the hardest,’ but because I interacted with my mom on a daily basis, and she lived just a mile from me, it was the every days that were the hardest! I try to find little ways to honor her every day but for Mother’s Day, I just take a potted outdoor flower to her grave and then pick it up in a few days and display it outdoors at my home. This was I see it every day as I go in and out and it makes me smile every time, remembering her.” —Joy M., 52, Firth, ID

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Feel free to skip the ‘Mother’s Day’ brunch and do your own thing

“Not having my own mother on Mother’s Day is painful and makes me aware of how short and precious time is, so I want to make the most of the Mother’s Days I have with my own kids. I learned I hate standing in line for those ‘special’ Mother’s Day brunches or other advertised activities and would much rather do something personal. I usually start the weekend working in the garden followed by a nice dinner out with my kids. And there’s usually wine involved!” —Jess S., 47, Chaska, MN

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Stay off social media

“My mother was a narcissist and verbally abusive. She died in 2003 and not only do I not miss her, I actually feel a great deal of relief. Because of the traumatic experiences I had growing up it’s understandably very hard for me to celebrate Mother’s Day in a traditional way. I especially hate the commercial messages that ‘Mothers are wonderful!’ and we owe them so much. Each one feels like another punch in the gut. But rather than feel bad about it I’ve found ways to take care of myself during this holiday. The first thing I do is sign off all social media on Friday night and stay off until Monday morning. It’s too painful to see all the happy messages. Instead I watch my favorite sports shows and PBS. (There are a lot fewer Mother’s Day commercials on those channels!). I also plan some good physical workouts that let me work out my feelings in a healthy way. I used to spend the weekend drunk, so this is all a step up.” —Deb R., 65, Hercules, CA. If you’re struggling with sad feelings, these 50 tiny changes that will make you instantly happier.

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It’s cool to cry

“My mom’s birthday was always the same month as Mother’s Day so I just think of May as her month. When she was alive she would have us kids come out and work on her yard. Most of us would bring plants, saplings, roses, and other flowers to plant—perfect for springtime. She has been gone for 11 years now and all of us have gone our separate ways but we still celebrate her during the month of May, usually by gardening, buying flowers, or reminiscing with other siblings. Well fiddlesticks, now I’m getting teary. Which is fine, sometimes a good cry is exactly what you need on Mother’s Day. I still miss my mom so much.” —Sarah L., 46, Edmonds, WA. Here’s why it’s actually beneficial to cry.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.