Mother’s Day, Minus Mom

Originally published May 2010.

Most of you probably know that May 12 is Mother’s Day.  (If you didn’t know, you’re welcome for the reminder.) I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know, until my husband reminded me while we were at my in-law’s house this past weekend. Somehow the volumes of junk mail, commercials, and radio ads for discount roses hadn’t tipped me off to the exact date.

When your Mom’s dead, Mother’s Day is a little…different.

It’s not that Mother’s Day is a bad day for me now. In fact, I do take a little pleasure in no longer wrestling with anxiety surrounding the need to find a gift for Mom that somehow expresses my appreciation for her changing my diapers, combing my unmanageable hair, calming my nerves before prom, teaching me the difference between my weight and my worth, and helping me pack to move away to college, then California, then back to Richmond again.

I have to admit, there are times that I feel a bit smug about that. While the rest of the world is making hectic last-minute phone calls in a desperate attempt to get a vase full of wilted, overpriced flowers delivered for exorbitant last minute rush-shipping fees, I am calmly purchasing a card for my mother-in-law while doing my usual weekly Target run.

Don’t get me wrong, it stinks to not have a Mom on Mother’s day, but I’m usually the type to look for the silver lining in situations. I may be stretching a bit to find this particular silver lining, but I feel that I owe it to myself to do that.

It is hard each year to watch the endless commercials, and see the huge rows of Mother’s Day cards in the stores. It is beyond ridiculous to have well-intentioned people ask me what I plan to do with my Mom that day:

“I bet your Mom misses you!”  (Yes, I’m sure she does.)

“Are you going for a visit? I’m sure she’d really love to see you.”  (Actually, I’m pretty sure she’s thrilled that I’m here and not “there” right now.)

“What did you get your Mom for Mother’s Day?” (Umm…nothing.  She’s, well, dead.)

Needless to say, I always squirm, and try to answer these questions as delicately as possible. If it’s a stranger in a grocery store, I generally smile, and lie through my teeth. Why would I ever try to explain Mom’s death to a polite woman trying to buy milk, and leave her wondering what she will do on Mother’s Day when her mom dies, or what her own kids will do when she dies?

When it’s someone I know I will see again, I usually take a deep breath, and try to gently and carefully answer. “We’re getting a necklace for my mother-in-law, and I’m planting some flowers in memory of my Mom. She died a few years ago, and doing something that she loved is a great way for me to feel connected to her. Are you planning anything special that day?”

I’ve found that it’s always a little easier for people to take in the information if I start and end on a positive note, and give them an easy out by asking them a question about their family. And in the end, that’s really what’s important to me – that it’s easier on them.

I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I’m going to have awkward conversations, and speechless moments when I tell an unsuspecting acquaintance about Mom. But the other people, the innocent individuals who are just making conversation, it’s just so hard for them to handle the information I have to hand over to them. (I bet my Mom would have known exactly what to do in these situations, but that’s not something you think to ask before someone dies.)

So, as Mother’s Day comes and goes again this year, I will go through the same series of events I go through every year. I will absent-mindedly watch the jewelry store commercials, and ignore the junk mail flower solicitations. I will purchase cards for my amazing mother-in-law, and the other amazing mother-figures in my life. I will try not to make eye contact in the check-out line of any store, and I will plant something pretty for Mom.

It might not be what most people do on Mother’s day, but it works for me. And really, that’s all we need to do when we’re grieving – find what works for us.

Comment on this article, and tell us what works for you on Mother’s Day, or any holiday without your loved one. Sometimes, sharing and hearing how other people face their holidays can be a great way to find the strength and grace to face your own.

Alisha writes about her personal experiences with loss and healing. You can read more of her work here.

Photo Credit.


  1. Elizabeth said on April 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm ... #

    I lost my mom in 1997 only four months after my father died. I lost my brother to suicide 5 years ago. Needless to say all holidays are tough year after year and it’s difficult not to spoil special days for others. My mother in law is not a fan of mine, nor me hers. I never had children.

    Some years don’t bother me so much while others will invoke deep depression. There are years that I feel the need to celebrate others special day and there are years that I despise everyone else for having what I don’t. Sometimes I ignore Mother’s Day altogether, some years I acknowledge it with a slight sadness but a memorable smile, some years I protest this holiday with venomous attacks on flower and greeting card companies.

    No matter the reason for being without ones mother on Mother’s Day, some years are hard and some not as hard. Grieve in whatever way helps you get through the day, there are no instructions you must follow. If you don’t feel you can be with others, politely tell them you aren’t available and if they don’t understand, it’s ok. They’ll figure it out. Those of us that have little or no family have to take care of ourselves emotionally and unfortunately, it’s slightly more difficult. For those of you whose grief is newer, it never gets easier, I guess it just becomes more bearable and you do learn to work around it. There’s no magic mile marker at which point you’ll be normal again. Your life is forever changed but you CAN still have a good and fulfilling life.

  2. Angela said on May 2, 2013 at 3:05 pm ... #

    Sorry to all who lost their mother .
    Just know their with us in Spirit always !!

  3. Missy said on May 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm ... #

    My mom died July 7th of last year. This is my first Mother’s Day without her and so far everything has been hard. I just got married and have 3 step kids. I already got my very first mother’s day gift. I don’t have kids so that was special. But it just got me to thinking about my mom. what do i do for that day?

  4. Andi said on May 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm ... #

    Advice needed. A friend lost his wife to cancer less than 3 weeks ago and left 2 children, 6 and 11. With Mother’s Day fast approaching, this will be a very difficult time for both kids and their grieving father. The most pressing issue involves this Friday at school when the day will be focused on making gifts for mom. Is it wise to send them or to let them sit this one out? Anyone out there have any experience with this dilemna that can offer any suggestions?

  5. Tim said on May 6, 2013 at 10:28 pm ... #

    My wife lost her mother in november and she is having a hard time, even harder because mother’s day is approaching, she doesn’t want to do anything for mother’s day, which I don’t blame her, I would be the same way. But I just can’t sit back and do nothing, we have a one year old daughter and I would love to do something special to honor her mom, and to make mother’s day a little better for her, any suggestions please???? thanks

  6. Heather said on May 6, 2013 at 11:27 pm ... #

    For the first time in a very long time I’ve finally found an article about mothers day i can relate to. Ans as mothers day approaches I wrestle with it also. wishing i could do something to honor my mom and instead i do something in memory OF. I miss her dearly every day but I know she’s in a better place. this year, i will buy a balloon and write my thoughts to her on it and let it go while I visit her resting place. I love you mom!!

  7. Cathy said on May 9, 2013 at 6:46 pm ... #

    My Mom died in September of 2002. We scattered her ashes off her favorite pier in the Ocean. Every year on Mother’s Day, and on her birthday in June (and the anniversary of her death), I drive to the spot and talk to her .. I find it so relaxing and majestic to be able to “visit” my Mom at the magnificent Ocean!… for me that’s much more serene than at a Grave-site. I am very fortunate that we live within driving distance to the Ocean .. I hope in the future my children will find the same serenity and love when they “visit” me with the Ocean waves.

  8. Patsy said on May 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm ... #

    Mother’s Day alway in the past meant trying to find the perfect gift. This year there will be no gift perfect or otherwise as my mother passed away in February 27, 2013. I know that she is in Heaven with God and many family members but that doesn’t make it any easier for us here on earth. I just found this poem and I would like to share it:

    If Roses Grow In Heaven, Author Unknown

    If Roses grow in Heaven, Lord,
    please pick a bunch for me,
    Place them in my Mother’s arms
    and tell her they’re from me.

    Tell her, I love her and I miss her,
    and when she turns to smile,
    place a kiss upon her cheek
    and hold her for awhile.

    Remembering her is easy,
    I do it every day,
    but there’s an ache within my heart
    that will never go away.

    Love you Mom.

  9. Anonymous said on May 11, 2013 at 2:49 pm ... #

    Each and every post is touching for me. But it was Elizabeth’s post that I identified with. Recently I lost my mother on Nov. 19, 2013 and my dad in 1991 then my only sibling Richie in 2005 from a heart-attack. My only child was killed by a drunk driver April 5, 2010. Gee even, my first husband died a month after my son Joe. When I’m mindful of my physical respiratory issues I try not to cry. After reading and feeling the loss and pain of others I’ve lost control. Today I had a plan but it fell through due to the weather. I’m feeling rather weird and now know it’s because it’s the day before Mother’s Day.
    I felt so bad to have read the post written by Beth in 2010, who never received one card from her mom on Mother’s Day. It’s funny but last year I purchased a couple cards and I’d be glad to send it to you Beth. You are a worthwhile and measure up as a good mother. It’s evident based on your words and love that you feel. I can understand where you’re coming from but I do believe your mother knew you to be a good mother. Happy Mother’s Day you were a loving daughter and you will always measure up! Sending Love, Barbara

  10. Jamie said on May 11, 2013 at 8:39 pm ... #

    i dont know what i will do tomorrow in honor of my Mom. This is my first year without her. I lost my mom in September 2012 and my husband lost his mom in April 2013. It is the first mothers day for us both without the most important women in our lives. We have plans with our children and our grandchildren and i plan on going to my moms grave as well after church. God please get us through. Happy mothers day!

  11. Cari Sim said on May 12, 2013 at 5:03 am ... #

    Thank you for this blog. It’s comforted me on a very difficult day. Not only did I lose my mom, but also my grandma, within one year of each other (grandma died first, then mom), one in May, one in June. It nearly killed. A decade later it’s never easy. I’m not able to have children because I suffer from endometriosis and adenomyosis and as a result have had a complete hysterectomy. It’s never easy. I often think, if I had kids of my own, it would be easier. But that’s likely not true..I’ll never know.

    Another way this issue is very hard for me to cope with is because I’ve moved to the UK. Here, Mother’s Day is tied with Easter somehow and so it is earlier in the year. I now have TWO days when the card shops, the mail circulars and the emails bombing from 1-800-Flowers comes to get me and remind me “do something wonderful for Mom this Mother’s Day”. I get it from the US and UK.

    I am really happy to know it’s not just me that avoids the conversation with strangers. I have equally awkward chats about not having children. I say “I’ve got two amazing nephews, I get to spoil them and live vicariously through my brother” with a big smile…because it’s true. So on Mother’s Day I not only grieve for my grandma and mom, but for my own lack of children.

    I could go on, but really just wanted to say thank you for this. It helped me smile in spite of myself. I needed that.

    For those here that have just recently lost Mom. It does get easier, but it’s a heartache that never quite goes away. I suggest you do something Mom would love. That’s always my plan. I watch a favorite movie of hers, I plant her favorite flowers, I make a tiny donation to the American Heart Association to help cure what she died of and I make a second donation to an animal charity. She’d love that. That is the best way to honor Moms, by making them happy and by doing what they would have done or loved, a little piece of them lives on.

  12. Troy said on May 12, 2013 at 8:01 am ... #

    My mother passed away April 21st 2013. This is the first Mother’s Day without her. I am still in the process of going through her things which is difficult in and of itself. I haven’t any plans for today as of yet but maybe I’ll visit my sister. What I would like most from today would be just to have a normal day without all of the sadness. My wife and I had planned vacation this week. She’s taking her Mother and Aunt on a trip while I planned to stay at home and spend some extra time with my other, Now I find myself alone. Thank You for the article and sharing.

  13. Lori said on May 12, 2013 at 8:51 am ... #

    My mom died less than 3 months ago after a very long illness and this is my first Mothers Day without her. I am getting married in less than 1 month and will acquire a traditional mother-in-law as well as 2 other mothers-in-law: my fiance John’s late wife’s mom and step mom. I love them all — truly — and we sent each of them a card.

    John has 2 sons who are 7 and 10 and I’ve been living with them for over 1 1/2 years. Last year John’s parents sent me a Mother’s Day card (my very first one) and they sent one again this year. Right now, as I write this, John and his youngest son are up to something in the kitchen and I’ve been ordered to stay here in bed. I can’t wait for my surprise!

    I want to thank you for sharing how you handle questions about Mother’s Day. I will remember this when I am asked the question today and in the future.

  14. Girl said on February 20, 2014 at 9:08 pm ... #

    Oh my gosh that was such a refreshing read! My mum died only a few weeks ago and I have been so lost. We all have. I know Mother’s Day is the next celebration and I’m absolutely dreading it… And the awkward conversations I will inevitably find myself in. Thankyou for your addition of dark humour… It actually made me feel a little more human for a change. Everything i have read recently has been laced with misery and depression, so thankyou for injecting ‘life’ back into my somewhat (current) meaningless existence.
    It’s really unbareable to imagine I will never laugh with her again or cuddle with her on the sofa… Even worse that I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye.
    I’m trying to understand how I will move on… In a way I don’t want to. I’m 27, I’m single and I don’t have my mum 🙁 I know that’s not the way to be thinking… All I can say is, If every cloud does in fact have a silver lining… I shant accept anything but a sky full of tin foil in future! 🙂

  15. Carol Hill said on March 25, 2014 at 7:15 am ... #

    I am trying to think of how to support my son and grandson. My daughter-in-law died on remebrance day last year, aged just 40 years old and leaving her loving husband (my lovely son) and a little boy then aged 4. I just don’t know what we can do to get through the day to be honest. He is talking about his mum a lot this week, saying he wishes she was here for a picnic… life is rubbish sometimes

  16. Debbie said on April 21, 2014 at 11:12 pm ... #

    Thanks so much for this blog and all the comments and sharing.

    Lost my mother in December a week before Christmas. That first was hard enough, but its still April and I am having a terrible time knowing Mother’s Day is coming up. I am so depressed. . . . I’m in the process of moving and you’d think that would be keeping me busy enough. . . but no. Don’t know how I’m going to make it. Thanks for all the ideas, but I just don’t know. Maybe I’m just having a really bad day . . . .

  17. Oedipus said on April 24, 2014 at 11:20 pm ... #

    My beautiful, kind Mother died in my arms one month ago today. Sudden and unexpected. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in this grief. I have no idea how I will deal with Mother’s Day, other than to give thanks that I was so fortunate to have had her as my Mother. I feel as though for the rest of my life every day will be Mother’s Day. I am a man of almost 50 years, and have very close, life-long friends; but I am proud to say that my Mother was the BEST friend I ever had or could ever hope to have had. Thank you to everyone on this site for sharing their thoughts, and we can all count our blessings that we were lucky enough to have been loved by our beautiful Mothers.
    My best wishes to all of you.
    From: Oedipus

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