An empty wooden bench sits in a mulch patch on a green area. There are three trees surrounding the bench
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Coping with Mother’s Day when grieving the loss of your own

By Athina Bohner

Content Warning: grief, death, loss.

“Happy Mother’s Day!”, the grocery store display exclaims cheerfully in a large, cursive font. Instantaneously, I freeze in my tracks, staring blindly at the obnoxious cardboard cutout of a photogenic mother-daughter duo grinning cluelessly at passing customers. I feel my heartbeat pounding through my chest as the assortment of peony bouquets and heart-shaped coffee mugs turns into a tearful blur of pale pink.

Standing all alone in the brightly-lit aisle, the world around me seems to pass by in slow-motion and I am reminded of a time when I used to browse such tacky cards display stands with child-like delight. I remember watching my mother’s eyes light up with surprise at the Mother’s Day presents I used to make for her – but now, I briskly walk out of the store, numb and empty-handed.

“I remember watching my mother’s eyes light up with surprise at the Mother’s Day presents I used to make for her – but now, I briskly walk out of the store, numb and empty-handed.”

Ever since I lost my mother two years ago, I have dreaded the annual arrival of the commercialised holiday of Mother’s Day. It feels as though the bottled-up grief I have tried my hardest to avoid throughout the year is forced into the spotlight by society’s pressure to idealise mother-child relationships. 

In the weeks leading up to Sunday, 27 March 2022 – Mother’s Day in the UK – my email inbox has gradually filled with an exasperating swarm of advertisements urging me to “treat your mum!” by purchasing a range of on-sale products. Whilst most marketing teams seem blissfully unaware of the harmful impact they may have on many individuals, I was impressed to receive the option to “opt-out” of receiving Marks and Spencer emails regarding Mother’s Day this year. Nevertheless, two weeks later, the “ping” on my phone alerted me to a pink notification from M&S: “Mum, you are so huggable”.

Who knew that reading five simple words can shatter a heart? I was rendered speechless, yet I wanted to scream. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to feel my mother’s safe embrace one last time. The devastating trauma of suddenly losing my favourite person in the world will reside in the hidden corners of my mind forevermore, but Mother’s Day emails such as this one forcibly push the pain to occupy centre-stage.

Worst of all is social media: the relentless flood of Instagram stories posted on Mother’s Day, featuring stylised snapshots of happy families, form an anxious lump in the back of my throat. For me personally, these Instagram stories are a piercing reminder of what I once had too – a visual portrayal of the irreplaceable, which I regretfully took for granted. As much as I wish these unsupportive feelings away, I am deeply embarrassed to admit that I feel a gnawing pang of jealousy. Why on Earth can’t I just be happy for my friends who still have mothers in their lives?

This year, I made myself a pragmatic list of ways to cope. Early that Sunday morning, I will delete the Instagram app in an effort to pre-emptively shield myself from any unintentional triggers. I will spend time in my happy place (Mother Nature!) and engage in long-distance calls with the closest people in my life.

I will light a scented candle in her memory – the dancing flame eerily reminiscent of my mother’s selfless sense of pure warmth. As I watch it flicker, I will reflect on how my mother’s unconditional love has shaped me into the young woman I am today.

I am standing in front of the supermarket Mother’s Day display. Shakily, I force myself to take a deep breath and close my tired eyes. Childhood memories of carefree joy engulf me: the beautiful melody of my mother’s voice, playing UNO on the sandy Black Sea beach, singing nursery rhymes on the sunny walk to kindergarten with her precious hand enlaced in mine. It is always the little things you miss most. Seconds pass, maybe months, years. I open my eyes in a state of dazed melancholy and exit the store. Exhale.

***To all of you struggling on Mother’s Day, I am sending you a big virtual hug. Please feel free to visit Childline’s support page on Mother’s Day here.


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