Mother’s Day Grief: How to Cope or Even Celebrate After Loss

Whether your mother has died or you’re dealing with loss related to illness, dementia or estrangement, Mother’s Day can bring up a lot of difficult feelings. Grief coach Charlene Lam shares her advice for Mother’s Day grief.

Mother’s Day Grief: 5 Things to Consider Heading Into the Day

Need permission to deal with the holiday in your own way? Struggling with expectations from others? Here are 5 tips from grief coach Charlene Lam to help you cope. Watch the video or read the article below.

Mother’s Day can bring up a lot of mixed feelings when you’re grieving, whether you lost your mother figure months or years ago. Here are 5 tips from grief coach Charlene Lam to help you cope.

1. Give yourself permission to grieve on Mother’s Day

If you need it, I want to give you permission to feel however you feel. Whether you feel angry, whether you feel numb, sad, resentful, jealous, it’s all normal. So feel what you’re going to feel.

I also want to give you permission to do what feels right for you. You can decide how much you want to participate in Mother’s Day. Whether that really is just coping and getting through it, or whether that looks like celebrating.

2. Look at expectations for Mother’s Day

What expectations are there around Mother’s Day? These expectations can come from the outside: Marketing messages, things that people share, the images that are on social media or in popular culture around Mother’s Day.

Are there expectations there about what Mother’s Day should look like? Are there expectations about what you should be feeling or what you should be doing?

Are some of those expectations coming from other people in your life, family members? Or are there expectations coming from other people in your life?

From yourself? Listen for that “should” – should I be doing something differently? 

I find with my clients that a lot of the conflict — a lot of the additional suffering and pain that comes after loss — is from a mismatch in expectations.

If you’re getting messaging that says, “Mother’s Day should look like this” it can be a reminder that your relationship with your mother does not look like that. That mismatch in expectations can be very painful and can be a source of conflict.

So ask yourself: What are the expectations there? And reminder: you have permission. To do it your way, not necessarily according to expectations.

3. Acknowledge what is vs what should be for Mother’s Day when you’re grieving

What was. What should have been. If we have lost someone significant to us, to death-related loss or to dementia or to illness or to estrangement, of course it’s going to hurt.

When we’re really attached to someone and they die or are otherwise not in our lives in the way that we used to have them, that hurts. There is inherent pain in that loss. And we can sometimes add to that pain by trying to focus on what should be instead of what is.

For many clients, some of the most painful moments come from wrestling with the reality that their loved ones are actually gone.

For instance, after my mother died more than 10 years ago, some of the most painful moments were when I was wrestling with the reality that she’s actually gone.

  • What do you mean I’m not going to see her in person again?

  • What do you mean she’s never going to make that trip to Alaska to see the whales?

  • What do you mean she’s not coming back?

And if you’re estranged from your parent, maybe you think:

  • Why didn’t I get the mother figure I wanted?

  • Why do other people get to have a happy, intact family?

  • How can it be that my mom doesn’t remember me who I am?

It’s not fair. It shouldn’t be this way.

A lot of that is very normal part of grieving. And I also noticed that was the most painful part: Resisting the reality of what is vs what I think things should look like, or what my brain thinks things should look like, or what other people think things should look like.

So consider that: Acknowledging what is and grieving those losses versus focusing on what should be.

4. Remember your relationship with your mom was unique. 

For Mother’s Day or any significant occasion, consider what is unique to you and your relationship with your loved one. Your mother or your mother figure, she was unique.

And the relationship that you had with her, is different than the relationship that other people had with her. So acknowledging and honoring the relationship that you actually had with your mother figure or your mother.

And that means, acknowledging, well, okay, maybe it wasn’t the easiest relationship. Maybe it was pretty complicated. Maybe there’s some guilt, regret and resentment there. You don’t have to pretend that there were no cons, conflicts or that your mother was the best mom ever in order for you to acknowledge and honor who she was. And to even celebrate Mother’s Day, if you want to.

Part of acknowledging what is unique to you and your relationship with the person is deciding what kind of support you want.

  • Do you want to be in community? Do you want to be around family? Do you want to be active in doing something around other people? Great.

  • Do you prefer to be in solitude? Do you prefer to kind of be alone with you and your thoughts? Great.

  • Do you want to be totally distracted in doing something? That’s fine.

Identifying what kind of support you want is part of acknowledging what is unique to you in your relationship with your mother figure.


5.  Mother’s Day Grief: Notice Other People’s Processes (OPP)

Because what if Mother’s Day is not just something that you get to decide on? Maybe there are other people involved, maybe there are siblings, other family members. Maybe you yourself are a parent and are expected by children or by other people in the family to acknowledge Mother’s Day in some way.

Remember how I said that your relationship with your mother figure was unique? Well other people’s relationship with that person was also unique. It might have had a very different dynamic than you did with your mother figure.

So part of this process of grieving is finding compassion for ourselves AND also accessing compassion for other people. They might be experiencing the loss of the person in a very different way than you and they might be expressing their grief in a very different way than you are.

So communicate! Communicate what you’re experiencing. Be willing to hear what they’re experiencing.

And let’s bring that back to expectations: Communicate what expectations you have of Mother’s Day and why. What are their expectations and why? What do you feel up to? Not hiding these expectations and experiences can be a way to dissolve some of that conflict, all that hidden expectations and hurt feelings that come about from not communicating.

Those are 5 things that I would like you to consider as you’re heading into Mother’s Day, as you’re deciding how you want to handle it.

You get to decide how you want to cope. It’s OK to just get through the day and be with the feelings that come up.

  • And if you do want to celebrate, I’ve got suggestions for ways to create rituals, ceremonies or experiences that are unique to you and your relationship with the person who died. Check out my Curating Grief, Capturing Memories resource.

  • Want more grief support? As a grief coach, I work with individuals to unpack grief, process loss, and find new ways to feel connected with their loved ones. Find out more.

I’m wishing you the best for getting through Mother’s Day in whatever way feels most supportive to you.

I’d love to hear from you — how are you navigating grief and loss leading up to Mother’s Day? Connect with me on Instagram @curating_grief or attend The Grief Gallery’s free monthly gathering.

Want grief support for mother loss or parental loss? Find out more about working with me and my Unpacking Grief coaching package.

Additional Mother’s Day Grief Resources:

For Widowed Parents

Advice from the Widowed Parent Podcast
On this episode of Jenny Lisk’s Widowed Parent Podcast, Tamarack’s Dr. Tina Barrett speaks on Mother’s and Father’s Days and outdoor grief support programs

For Bereaved Children on Mother’s Day from Dougy Center

Tips for Acknowledging Mother’s Day and Father’s Day:

Podcast episode – Grief & Mother’s Day – A Teen’s Take:

Podcast episode – Grieving Through Mother’s Day:

For Complicated Relationships

Permission to Live podcast episode
Sometimes it’s complicated — your relationship with your mother figure. Or the circumstances of the loss. Melissa Lyon West grew up in a cult and speaks openly about it on her podcast Permission to Live. I was recently a guest and enjoyed our conversation about our moms, questioning our own grief and how *bizarre* some of the expectations of us are after a significant loss.

grief resource

Capturing Memories

If You Want to Celebrate: Creative Rituals for Mother’s Day

No matter what the marketing messages may imply, you are not required to celebrate Mother’s Day. But if you do want to mark the day, check out this video with tips for creating your own personalized ritual to honor your mother figure.



I'm Charlene

I help grieving people feeling burdened by responsibilities, resentments and regrets after the death of a loved one to feel lighter –– so you can live your own fullest life. 

After the sudden death of my mother Marilyn in 2013, I put my life, work and grief on hold as I struggled to deal with the estate, paperwork and belongings.

Healing took time -- and it took help.

I'm a certified grief coach, and I developed my Curating Grief framework to help people process grief in a creative, accessible way. Learn how to move forward, without leaving your connection to your loved one behind.


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