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May 2, 2022

Motherless on Mother’s Day

Linda Hopkins

Photography By

Dreamstime Images
It was a warm summer day in June, and I was high on wedding plans. With less than 48 hours until my walk down the aisle to say “I do” to the love of my life, I got the call that would shake the rafters of my soul. My mother has been gone now for […]

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It was a warm summer day in June, and I was high on wedding plans. With less than 48 hours until my walk down the aisle to say “I do” to the love of my life, I got the call that would shake the rafters of my soul.

My mother has been gone now for more years than I knew her. She died unexpectedly of a heart condition two days before my scheduled wedding date. While I knew she wasn’t feeling well enough to travel to Hilton Head for the ceremony (she had called two days earlier to say that her blood pressure was low and she didn’t think she could make the trip), I had accepted the disappointment and planned to stop by her house in Atlanta during a flight layover on the way to Hawaii. I even arranged to take her the corsage I had ordered for her to wear in the wedding along with a birthday gift, as she would be celebrating while I was away on my honeymoon.

I had no inkling that my 57-year-old mother was anywhere near death until my aunt phoned to say that she was in the hospital. Within 15 minutes of that first call came the second: she was gone. No words can describe the shock, disbelief, and sheer devastation I felt in that singular moment. I remember falling to the floor, beating my fists on the carpet and wailing, “God must hate me.” In that moment, nothing seemed less fair as I dipped from the highest high to the lowest low, unpacking my colorful resort wear in exchange for a black funeral dress.

In the days and weeks that followed, the anvil on my chest was so heavy, I could barely breathe. My heart pounded and my throat closed as myriad emotions came together as one—the most profound sadness I had ever known. Life was a fog, consuming me with guilt for not being there to hold her hand or say goodbye. Then came deep regret over words both said and unsaid. (She and I had our differences over the years.) Fear came into play as I contemplated my own mortality: If it could happen to her, what would stop it from happening to me? There was a bit of anger and resentment, too—how could she do this to me? But at the same time, I was overwhelmed by the clarity and depth of her love, gaining a keen awareness and new appreciation of the many sacrifices she made to provide opportunities for me to live a better life than what she had known.

Looking back, all the emotions I felt and still feel are normal and expected. What’s also normal is feeling fine one minute and the next minute being sucked back into the riptide of grief. Small reminders can still take me there, like a book, a movie, a joke, a poem, a flower, a whiff of her favorite perfume … or a glance at the Mother’s Day card aisle.

The painful truth about mother loss

Losing our mother is among the most emotionally fraught of human experiences. Although we may understand intellectually that the loss is inevitable in the context of life’s circle, that knowledge doesn’t lessen the grief when a mother dies. Regardless of her age (or ours), health status, circumstances of death, or even the closeness of the relationship or lack thereof, it is a traumatic and transformative event that permanently alters us.

If you weren’t particularly close to your mother or even if you were estranged, you may have been surprised by the depth of grief you felt when she died. After all, we only get one mother, and despite her imperfections, no one will ever love us in quite the same way.

While there’s no way to replace your mother’s presence in your life, there are ways to honor her memory and regain your sense of self. We can honor our mothers every day in the way we conduct our lives, allowing them to live on by perpetuating their example, spring boarding off their love and support to new levels of happiness and success, or, in some cases, striving to break cycles of family dysfunction or put behind us any sense of anger, guilt or regret that may remain. If there were things between you that needed forgiving or healing, now is the time to work towards release. You might write a letter or simply speak your truth out loud. A licensed therapist can also help.

If you are reading this and are fortunate enough to still have a living mother, for your own sake and hers, cherish her, spend time with her, enjoy her, and say the things you need to say while you can. Because someday it will be too late, and nobody knows when someday will come.

Remembering and Honoring Your Mom

Whether it’s been four days or 40 years since your mother died, Mother’s Day can put a squeeze on your heart. The motherless among us may struggle to get past the cheery displays of cards and flowers or to ignore the constant media reminders of a holiday we can no longer celebrate in the traditional sense.

But while the celebration may look different, many people find that taking specific actions offers a measure of comfort. Here are some ideas to help you honor a mother who is no longer here for Sunday brunch:

  • Establish a small home memorial with photos and mementos and/or create a video memorial.
  • Write her a letter or poem.
  • Leave flowers at her gravesite.
  • Light a candle in her memory.
  • Pick out a card for her; leave it at her gravesite, tuck it away in a box of keepsakes, or set it next to her urn or cremains.
  • Talk about her with friends or family; share stories and memories; ask questions and reveal pieces of her that made her unique.
  • Plant her favorite tree or flower in your yard.
  • Recreate one of her favorite meals to share with your loved ones.
  • Use your mom’s dishes to serve food at a Mother’s Day meal with your family. Set a place for her and display her picture.
  • Create a cookbook out of your mom’s recipes.
  • Repurpose her jewelry into something you will wear.
  • Continue work she found meaningful, like volunteering or other community service.
  • Donate to her preferred charity or organization.
  • Celebrate other important female figures in your life: an aunt or grandmother, a teacher, mentor, or friend.

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