For most people, Mother’s Day brings to mind bouquets of sunny flowers in pink hues, often-obligatory brunches, and lingering in the aisles trying to find the perfect greeting card to sum up gratitude for a lifetime of love and care. Mother’s Day is traditionally a celebration honoring mothers, motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers in society.
However for those of us who have suffered the loss of a mother, or a child, Mother’s Day can be a muddle of complex emotions. On the one hand we want to be mindful that it is a celebration, but it is simultaneously a painful reminder of roles and people that we have lost.
The question of the bereaved mother is “What do I say when well-meaning strangers ask how many children I have?” For a bereaved child or adult missing your mother today, you wonder, who will pick you up when you fall? Who will you call when you need a recipe or a favorite uncle’s birth date? Mother’s Day this year may be a day for you to take some time out for contemplation and to explore unresolved issues.
Yes, that is correct. Resolving issues with those who have died is not only possible, but can even improve your attitude and quality of life. As a family therapist, I have found that those who feel that their life has not evolved as imagined often feel blame and anger toward their mothers, in some cases even years after a mother’s death. Also, mothers who have lost children often feel the guilt of not having been able to take care of their child, or not having a chance to say goodbye. I know I felt that way when my 17-year-old son, Scott, was killed.
Another aspect of sorrow at Mother’s Day is that not everyone has had a responsible, reliable, or loving mother into adulthood. For some, the biological mother died during childhood and is thus only a dream of what could have been. For others there was a childhood of neglect with the caregiving (mother role) being taken on by a grandmother, aunt, or foster mother.
I hope that no matter what your circumstances are, you take time this Mother’s Day to reflect on what “Mother” means to you and to write a letter to your mother or your child with the purpose of telling them how you feel. Here are a few sample letters to get you started on your journey to healing.
Letters to Your Mother
I hope somewhere you can read this letter. I would just like to tell you how much I appreciate you and what a great mom you were. I like the way you held your own and how you lived your life with ________. We didn’t always agree on _____, and I am sure that you at times questioned my behavior, but as an adult I always felt your love and respect.
I don’t know why you did _______, but I am sorry that we didn’t have an opportunity to resolve our differences. I have come to realize that my expectations were not always reasonable given your life experiences, and I hope you know that I’ve always felt _________.
I am sorry that you had to leave so early. I have thought of you so often, especially when I am ________, and although I will always miss you I know you would be proud of me and cheering me on. You would be proud to know that since your death, I have ________. I’ve missed you being part of __________.
If you are angry with your deceased mother I challenge you today to find something really special about your mother—after all you are carrying her genes! You need to feel good about yourself and I am sure everyone can find something. Maybe it is only that she had great legs or a sparkling smile. Perhaps she passed on her integrity, wit, strong work ethic, reverence, or love of learning. Look for something good, even if it means asking friends or relatives. You will find a nugget.
I know that you had a sparkling smile, and I remember that you _______. I just wanted to tell you that I am feeling very angry with you, because ________. Even though we only had you for a short while, and things between us were not perfect, I am grateful I inherited your _______.
After you have written the Anger Letter, pen a response from your mother. Take these letters and share them with a friend or therapist, or go to a place that reminds you of your mom and read them aloud.
Letters to Your Child
I hope somewhere you can read this letter. I would just like to tell you how much I love you and what a blessing you were. I smile every time I remember how you would _______. I was so proud of you when you ________. Although our time together was shorter than we wanted, I am grateful that you taught me ________. I miss you with all my heart, especially when I ________. I am forever grateful to be your mother.
I know you were angry with me because I _________, and I hope you know my actions were out of love for you. Although we argued about ________, I hope you know that I’ve always felt _________. We didn’t always agree on the path you chose when you ________, I will always love you and hold you in my heart.
Feel free to write more than one letter and encourage your other siblings and family members, or partner in the case of a child’s death, to do the same. Share stories and memories, including gripes along with the stories of love and laughter. You can end the day by having everyone come to dinner and have everyone bring a dish that reminds them of their mother or your child. Or you could go to your mother’s, or child’s, grave to read the letters. You can then burn the letters and mix them with soil and plant a rose bush, or other special plant, considering colors or names that are important, or leave the letters on the headstone.
However you choose to spend this Mother’s Day, take time to remember not only what was lost, but also the times you shared, and the love that made you who you are today.
Gloria Horsley 2012