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Grief is…Mother’s Day

October 30, 20234 min read

Grief is…Mother’s Day

I write this on the 2nd Mother’s Day since Ben died. It’s not what I had planned to write about but it’s what is present and calling for expression.

I don’t remember the first Mother’s Day. I suspect I set the goal to just breathe and survive it. This year is different. This year I didn’t really see it coming somehow. My daughter is still living with me so we planned our day. We arranged to video chat with my mom and to order brunch. That seemed good. I was ok. I managed to rapid delete all the email marketing for Mother’s Day. One email list I’m on offered an opt out which I immediately took. That felt so thoughtful. The grief accounts I follow all posted things about Mother’s Day which I just couldn’t connect with and scrolled by. It was all just strange. 

Then this morning messages started to circulate in my groups of friends who are also moms. Groups of friends I met through my kids. Group communication is a challenge for me and I often just consume and don’t really participate. Grief shuffles your circles of friendship and for me, that makes group communication tricky. Everyone in the group has a different relationship with me in my grief and I have less capacity for social pleasantries. 

The reality of this day is that it is just weird. I am still a mom of two. My daughter is still here so when people ask if I have kids I can opt for the easy answer and just say yes and talk about her. I’ve come to see that not as a denial or dismissal of my son, but as a self-preservation tool with those that have not earned their way into my personal life on a deeper level. I’m very open about my loss but I know not everyone wants to hear about it. There are people I know and love that don’t want to hear about it so I don’t presume for strangers. The fact remains though that I am the mother of two. 

That led me to thinking about mothers who no longer have living children. How much more complicated must navigating this day, and the world generally, be when you don’t have the easy answer I do- when the only answer to questions about whether you have kids sucks the air out of the room or denies a fundamental part of your identity? I send so much love and compassion to those of you navigating that path. You are now and will always be mothers. You will always have a mother’s love for your child. Their death doesn’t change that. 

Mother’s Day is complicated also because it is a celebration of being a “good” mother. There is so much judgement around motherhood in our society and so many people who want to tell you how to do it. For parents who have lost a child to suicide, that judgement feels heavy whether it is coming at us externally or is internalized based on cultural messaging. I have comfort in knowing I was a great mom for Ben. I did everything I could. And it wasn’t enough. I don’t feel guilt about that but it is so very sad. That also links to all our cultural baggage around poor mental wellness. If Ben had died of cancer, no one would expect me to have cured him. But he died of depression and anxiety which, with our limited understanding and acceptance of mental illness, some perceive as being a weakness in him or me. It’s not. We need to continue our path of acceptance and understanding of poor mental wellness and fund research and services so they are readily available and plentiful. 

People ask me all the time what they can do to help grievers. I want to include practical suggestions for how you can support a griever and help normalize grief and talking about it. Here’s what could help for Mother’s Day (and likely Father’s Day too):

·      Message your griever. Let them know that you are thinking of them and that you can imagine this day must be complicated. They are already thinking of their loved one whether they’ve lost a parent or child. You aren’t reminding them. Don’t expect a reply. Just send love. 

·      If your griever is alone, ask if you can send a meal. Or meet them for one. Or a walk. Offer something tangible they can say yes or no to. Open ended questions are not helpful to grievers. Don’t take it personally if they say no. 

·      If you run a marketing email list, offer an opt out for marketing related to Mother’s and Father’s Day. If you receive marketing emails from companies you know want to do better, suggest to them they offer an opt out. 

If you are a mother missing the person today that made you one, please know I see you. And just breathe. 

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