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Navigating Mother’s Day After the Loss of a Child

28 APR 2021

Mother’s Day in Australia initially began as a day to promote peace and the support of women in the 1920s. Despite the day now being considered more of a Hallmark holiday, many still value the opportunity to come together to celebrate the important mothers in their lives. Today, Mother’s Day might consist of handmade cards, breakfast in bed, or perhaps a family brunch.

Sadly, not all mothers are able to celebrate their special day with their children. While some mothers must make do with a scheduled phone call with children separated by distance, others will face the day with greater difficulty being surrounded by reminders of their loss. Whether these mothers have lived through the occasion over and over or are preparing to experience it for the first time, Mother’s Day for mothers who have lost a child can be a painful experience. Lifeline WA’s Grief and Bereavement Counsellor Joyce De Haas explains that Mother’s Day after the loss of a child is often a day filled with sadness but can eventually become a healthy combination of grief and joy.

Mother’s Day Grieving and Self Care

During the days leading up to Mother’s Day, Joyce recommends taking a moment to prepare mentally and emotionally. “It may be helpful to make a plan to treat yourself with extra care that day,” she suggests. “That way you might be able to avoid feeling unprepared.” On the day itself, Joyce emphasises the importance of validating feelings, rather than pushing them aside. “It’s important to give yourself permission to feel sad and normalise grieving. It’s ok to be feeling this, even though it might be five or ten years since a child has passed away.”

Joyce also highlights that grieving and self-care can take many forms and will look different for everyone. “It will be different things for different people, and it will change over time,” she explains, “Mother’s Day might be the day you pull out the photo album and have a cry over photos, or maybe it’s the day you have a wine with that friend that you usually chat to. It’s all about finding what works for you at this time.”

Collette Wright is a mother of four and a special friend to Lifeline WA, who sadly lost her son Nathan to suicide twelve years ago. Collette shares what she has found helpful navigating Mother’s Day since Nathan’s passing and encourages mothers to take a little time for themselves. “It might be a peaceful soak in the bath, a walk in the park or on the beach. Go to a day spa, whatever you need to do, do it. Just take some time for you.”

Acknowledging and Including Your Child

Aside from taking time for self-care, another helpful activity for Mother’s Day can be to acknowledge a child that has passed and include them in the day. Joyce explains, “it can be lovely to connect with your child and be allowed to say I miss you today and do something in their honour.”

Collette advises that “it’s never easy being a mum who has lost a child, especially on special days. I have learned to focus on the good times I had with Nathan and to never leave him out of everyday life.” She shares a special Mother’s Day memory and tradition, “one of my Mother’s Day gifts from Nathan was a bag of veggies. He said to me I’ve bought dinner Mum and proceeded to tell me that I just needed to cook the veggie curry, his favourite meal.” Collette adds that Nathan’s cheeky grin is something she can always see clearly and gives her strength. She also adds that she still cooks veggie curry on Mother’s Day. Another way Collette and her family choose to include Nathan in family occasions is to write messages on balloons and release them into the sky. "We watch them til we can’t see them anymore, and when they disappear, they’ve reached Nathan.”

Joyce reminds grieving mothers that although Mother’s Day can be hard, “mothers also need to remember to give themselves permission to experience joy, because that is important too.” Joyce adds, “we should never feel guilty about feeling joy, even when we are grieving. There can be enough room in our hearts for both.”

Joyce and Collette discuss sharing Mother’s Day with the rest of the family in Part Two of our Mother’s Day article next week.

If you are feeling anxious about Mother’s Day, for any reason, please call 13 11 14. We are here for you 24/7.