Mother's Day Grief: Life without a mother's love

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Eleanor Haley

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Most parents with young children have some kind of a nighttime routine. My own household is far from regimented, but we usually operate within the same general framework. Each night there is typically some sort of winding down activity like books or a quiet television show before I shuffle my two daughters off to sleep. Without fail, I have to go back and forth between the girl's beds giving them each a grand total of two goodnight kisses and as I leave the room Ginny always says, “Mama? Can you check on us and send Daddy up?”

The other night I was feeling sentimental, so instead of corralling them into their own beds, I lay down with them in mine. As I lay in the middle with a little girl on each side, they wrapped their arms around me and snuggled their warm bodies in as close as possible. Before long a calm washed over me as their breathing became a rhythmic purr, and in one of those not quite awake but not quite asleep moments, my mind drifted back 25 years to a dim bedroom in my childhood home.

My father traveled often and there were a few decades where my mother had a handful of young children to tuck into bed all on her own. It was not uncommon for her to kill two birds with one stone by laying down with two kids in the same bed. It's a scene I can picture clearly.

There is a sliver of hallway light peeking into a dark bedroom with white walls and blue carpet. I see me, my brother and my mother in a queen-sized bed being lulled to sleep by the ambient night music of a box fan. I can picture the arc of my mother's arm around me as she fell asleep and I prattled on about my 7-year-old thoughts. Every once in a while I would abruptly ask, "Are you still listening? and she would pretend she had been awake all along even though I knew it wasn't true.

Some nights when she had something to do, like prepare her preschool lesson for the next day or fold laundry, she would sit in the hall outside our rooms instead. Her presence in the brightly lit hallway made me feel reassured and safe knowing I’d barely have to yell if I needed her.

She spoiled us this way, which I guess is why I dreaded spending nights away from her until far later than my peers. I failed sleepover attempt after sleepover attempt, the moment of regret settling in right around the time someone else’s mother came to tuck me in. A lump would form in my throat as I realized how far away from home I was. No amount of nurturing from the household’s parent could fill the pit in my stomach; I wanted my mom and there was no suitable replacement.

When you’re lucky enough to have an affectionate and nurturing mother (and I know how lucky I was), you never stop craving her kind of love. She’s the only one who can make you feel it. After she’s gone you futility search to fill her void, but you're trying to solve a riddle without an answer.

I was an independent adult for many years before my mother died. I no longer needed her, but the security of knowing she was alive in the world certainly allowed me to sleep better at night. When she died it was like a meteor hit; my foundation shook, I lost the things that were her, and I was left with a huge un-fillable crater. Motherly love is a story that has no end. As long as there are loving mothers, there will always be children who crave their unique kind of tenderness.

I will never again be on the receiving end of my mother’s motherly love, but I am now the source of my daughters. I try to fill their little world with love and care but sometimes it makes me sad knowing that someday they will likely know what it's like to yearn for me. But as Queen Elizabeth once said, “Grief is the price we pay for love", and frankly – love is worth it.

Mother’s Day can be a pretty painful day for those grieving the death or absence of their mother. Mothers Day Grief can bring up feelings of longing, yearning, sadness, loneliness, depression, anger, bitterness, alienation, and despair. For many, the day becomes about just getting through.

Obviously, there is no replacement for your mother this Mother’s Day, but there are constructive ways to deal with the day that might make you feel closer to her memory and to the people in your life. If you choose to ignore the day altogether, we support you; just try and stay away from methods that would be classified as ‘negative coping’. Also, check out our most recent post on Mother's Day Grief.

If you decide to lay low:

Turn off the TV: Mother's Day themed advertising and programming range from slightly agitating to rage inducing for those grieving the loss of their mother. You probably wouldn't like me if you knew the terrible things I yell at my television when it stupidly airs Mother's Day commercials, just terrible.

Skip the Mother's Day brunch: If you're prone to bitterness on Mother's Day it might be best to avoid places like brunch or the mall, where Mother's Day activities traditionally take place.

Plan a constructive and time-consuming activity: Mother's Day avoidance is the perfect excuse to get your spring gardening done, cook meals for the upcoming week, or clean out your closet. Put on your headphones, get to work and before you know it the day will be almost over.

Plan a self-care day: Pick a few activities from our list of 64 Self Care Ideas for Grievers

If you want to focus on your loved ones:

Spend time with the other fabulous women in your life: Why not take the day to celebrate women in general? Many of the things we celebrate on Mother's Day are in praise of traits, qualities, roles, and responsibilities that many of the women in your life likely posses.

Teach your children something your mother taught you: This Mother's Day activity reaches across three generations and provides you with the perfect opportunity to bring your mother into your relationship with your kids. It provides natural opportunities to talk about your mother with your kids and helps you to feel close to her memory.

Focus on your wife/sister/motherly friends (for the motherless guys): Make this Mother's Day special for another woman in your life.

Focus on your children: Truthfully, the only reason I really participate in Mother's Day is for my kids. I don't want them to forever associate this day with me bitterly moping around. This doesn't mean that I don't tell them Mother's Day makes me sad, I am very open about this. But I also let them know the joy being their mother brings and I don't even need to fake it when I gush over whatever trinket they've made for me.

Say thank you to your dad or another role model in your life: Mother's Day is about showing appreciation for those who have sacrificed for us and molded us. So your mother isn't here, why not take this opportunity to thank others who have guided you. In a family, the father or the eldest sibling often takes on motherly roles and responsibilities after the mother dies. You might never have thought to thank this someone for their willingness to step into very large shoes, let Mother's Day be your reason to speak up.

Send a card to another mother: Are there other mothers who you admire? A friend, aunt, in-law, or neighbor? Send them a Mother's Day card and let them know you think they're doing a great job.

Band together with those who are grieving your mother: Misery loves company and, better yet, maybe you'll end up having fun and sharing meaningful memories.

Find gratitude:In last years Mother's Day post I challenged our readers to find simple things to be grateful for. This is always a beneficial exercise when you're feeling low, so look around and acknowledge that which is good.

If you want to spend time with your mother's memory:

Spend time in a place where you feel close to your mother's memory: This could be anywhere - at church, her grave, the ocean - it doesn't matter.

Spend time looking at photos or items from your mother: Most of us have a 'mom box' of sorts where we keep old cards, letters, photos, and other items. Spend a little time reminiscing and going through these things.

Have a 'mom' movie marathon: I would watch old musicals and Tammy and Bachelor movies. What were your mother's favorite movies? Which movies did you see together? Rent two or three movies, get some snacks and invite someone over to watch with you.

Write a letter to your mother and update her on all that's happened since her death: Obviously, you won't be able to send this letter, but sometimes writing to deceased loved ones can be therapeutic and help to continue your bond with them.

Do something that would have made your mother smile: Ride a roller-coaster, eat an ice cream sundae, volunteer your time, or read a book. Whatever you do, allow yourself to enjoy it just as your mother would have.

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We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

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After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

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22 Comments on "Mother's Day Grief: Life without a mother's love"

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  1. Chris Albe  May 11, 2023 at 5:39 pm Reply

    My grief this Mother’s Day is for my 12 yr old granddaughter, her mom my daughter passed from cancer this past June. She is not doing well at all. Kate’s birthday just past, Mother’s Day and then the date she passed is way to much. She began cutting last Nov., in Feb she went to a 3 week all day program. She stopped cutting 3 months ago but has started again and as I’m typing this she in in a hospital for evaluation for over night treatment. My heart is broken for her. Mother’s Day without your mom at the beginning of adolescence is so traumatic.

  2. lizz  May 9, 2020 at 2:25 pm Reply

    I don’t know a lot of people that have gone through all the awful things I have gone through this is not life this is due to being adopted and adoption

  3. lizz  May 9, 2020 at 2:14 pm Reply

    well I am adopted and mothers day has always been lonely and awful my adopted mom and me never had the greatest closet situation and I never had a birth mom . a lot of people cant relate to me so I am always alone this isnot life this is due to adoption being adopted can suck big time and a lot of people don’t relaise that or care I have no friends either I am completely alone in life with no family I will be adopted forever with no I cant cope with it either plus I have become poor due to being adopted and the hard life you get being adopted the non adoptees never have empathy for what I go through plus the non adoptees think I am rich just because I am adopted

  4. Lynn Oatman  May 4, 2020 at 1:21 pm Reply

    This is my fourth Mother’s Day without my mother and I miss her much more this year than I ever have. I was the oldest, and the only daughter and we were very close, but after she died I needed to step in and take care of my father(and, as it turns out, protect him from my youngest brother). Dad passed awhile ago and the dust is settled in my life- but I feel so very alone.

  5. Craig Parrish  May 9, 2018 at 2:35 pm Reply

    Memories of a “Mother” kneeling by my
    hospital bedside for five weeks while
    being treated with experimental Sulphate
    Drugs for Spinal Meningitis!!!! The
    Doctors credited their experimental
    drugs; I credited my Mother’s Prayers
    as I was healed without crippling
    results……. at 13 in 1941!!!!

  6. Karen  May 4, 2018 at 2:59 pm Reply

    My mother, father and husband are all deceased and I miss them all terribly. I treasure my memories and feel so grateful to have had such a wonderful childhood and a loving partner in marriage. Birthdays and anniversaries are difficult and my siblings and good friends are the angels that help me get through these difficult moments. Your website is such a tremendous help to me and I don’t feel so alone. Thank you for all your support.

  7. Barb  April 27, 2018 at 3:49 pm Reply

    In the not too distant future I will face the first mother’s day without my daughter and her children have to face the first mothers day without their mom. I am trying to figure out a way to honor her. But the boys are 10 and 12 and I’m not sure I have the right plan in mind. I thought maybe we could write letters to their mom and tie them to helium balloons and send them up to Heaven.

  8. Val  April 24, 2018 at 11:21 pm Reply

    Oh, and I know this is an old article but doesn’t hurt to ask in case anyone sees it. I said “wow, 1st mother’s day without a mother” but have thought since about that wording. I mean I had one and she was pretty great. How would you say it?

  9. Val  April 24, 2018 at 10:52 pm Reply

    I was hit hard today by the reality of the upcoming Mother’s day. Lost mine last summer to suicide. She had a May birthday and every few years it fell on Mother’s day. Yeah, this first year without her it does too. I have 2 beautiful daughters of my own I’ve been focusing on. Really didn’t even think of it until my husband, who has taken a job 8 hours away, said he might not be home. I said “ok, told the youngest I would have to help her anyway and a poptart and milk will totally count as breakfast in bed” then he dropped the bomb. “I wasn’t think about mother’s day as much as it being your mom’s birthday and 1st without her” ugh feels like a gut punch. This article was the beat I’ve read tonight. Thank you for the links too. The whole site is great. More on my level than some.

  10. Annie Barnes  November 11, 2017 at 8:30 pm Reply

    I know what its like living without a mother. Im only 12 and my mom died of aneurism when in was only two. It was a sad experience to look at when i was that little. So my grandmother tried to take my mothers place as best as she can and i know she is. Its just so upsetting. 🙁

  11. isaac  October 20, 2017 at 1:47 am Reply

    Life without MOTHER is just closely similar to life in hell

  12. Linda Kidd  May 8, 2017 at 5:01 pm Reply

    I have had many Mothers Days without my mum. The first only weeks after she died. Its now six months since my son died and will be two weeks since my grandson was born. My daughter now a mother. My first Mother’s Day without my son is screaming at me and yet there’s my daughter and her wish to celebrate this day without grief. How love and pain sit right alongside each other.

  13. Debbie  May 6, 2016 at 12:14 pm Reply

    Thank you,frist mothers day without my best friend,IN fact lost both parents last year,and my job closed as well,mom kept it all together. Then it was all gone.But God has plans for me and a new life,so I must trust him.but the hole in my heart,still hurts,but I have found a good counselor.

  14. Louisa  May 5, 2016 at 1:15 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for your suggestions to honor others in the absence of our mothers on Mother’s Day. I choose to remember my deceased husband who loved me and taught me so much about life.

  15. Julie  May 4, 2016 at 1:58 pm Reply

    Thank you for this, I am weeping, the words in this post touched my inner soul, I lost my lovely Mum four and half months ago…that crater, the void, the hole, it feels so huge, the gap she has left is immense, I miss her soo much, some days are better than others, your posts are so very comforting and reassuring, thank you Eleanor xxx

  16. Beth Marshall  May 4, 2015 at 9:04 pm Reply

    Thanks so much for this post. One of my favorite tips was teaching your kids something your mom taught you. Trying to figure what fun delicious recipe I might teach our kids and grand kids from my mom’s recipe box. What’s Your Grief- keep the encouragement coming!

  17. Leslie  May 11, 2014 at 10:14 am Reply

    This is the 7th year I have had to endure Mother’s Day without my 26 year old son. People’s well intentioned cheery Happy Mother’s Day greetings are painful yet. I have two other loving children, but it is the absence of my son that continues to hurt. I love your site and blogs, recently introduced to them by another grieving mother. Please write sometime on Mother’s Day from our perspective. I looked to your site for some words of comfort. There seemed to be one tweet but you couldn’t access it without a twitter account.

    • Eleanor  May 11, 2014 at 10:54 am Reply

      I’m sorry we haven’t addressed this to a helpful degree. Many of the suggestions we have laid out for coping on Mother’s Day could be applicable but I understand wanting something to address your specific needs.

  18. Nathalie Himmelrich  May 8, 2014 at 9:38 am Reply

    Beautifully said: “When you’re fortunate enough to know what it’s like to have an affectionate and nurturing mother, you never stop craving her kind of love. She’s the only one who can make you feel it and once she’s gone, you search to fill her void until finally realizing you’re trying to solve a riddle with no answer.” Thank you Eleanor 🙂

  19. Suzanne Howard  May 8, 2014 at 7:28 am Reply

    I am a mother who lost a child 5 months ago. Would be nice to see one of your fabulous pieces about mothers who lost children, how do we cope on mothers day. Thank you.

  20. Madelaine Culic  May 7, 2014 at 10:37 pm Reply

    Thank you for posting this. This will be my second Mother’s Day without my mom and my first Mother’s Day as a mother. My mom passed away in an accident last year when I was 5 months pregnant with my first child and while I spend each day indulging in the little love that is my son, I am also constantly missing my mom. I ignored Mother’s Day last year but this year my husband, my father and my brothers all want to celebrate Mother’s Day for me. I am hoping we can reclaim the day as a family. I will always miss my mom and this day may always make me sad, but as you say, I will celebrate it for my son and because my mom believed in family above all else. Thank you again. Your blog helps me in many ways.

  21. Chris  May 7, 2014 at 9:29 pm Reply

    Just beautiful, thank you.

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