As a psychotherapist often working with those in grief, I observe some intricacies of how holidays can be challenging. Mother’s Day can be especially complex. Some folks will celebrate with brunch and flowers, as they enjoy a close or amicable relationship with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts or children.

But there are also those who want to hide in their rooms and stay off the internet where all the Mother’s Day posts flood in, as they can’t stand to see the people celebrating and feeling the love of their mom or a symbolic reminder of what is not…too many emotions…for a mother, father, daughter, or son… Some are saddened this day because they do not have a relationship with their mother, because it is estranged or distant. Some women grieve that they have not had children despite a longing and effort, or that children are far away – too distant to be together, or children who have passed away in an unnatural order. Maybe some won’t give this day a second thought because the pain is easier avoided and the significance minimized.

Vast differences placed aside, we have in common that we come from a female parent; a source; a biological mother. Ideally, this mother embodies the origin of our experience of tenderness, affection and safety.

For those who live with a mother-sized hole in your life, I acknowledge you this Mother’s Day. Since a mother is one of the most important sources of unequivocal love, it is natural enough that her disappearance should interfere with, or prevent, the incorporation of love, and hence make self-esteem (sense of personal worth) more difficult to attain or preserve. William Cowper, an 18th century poet was nearly 6 years old when his beloved mother died, and he wrote this of his loss:  “What peaceful hours I once enjoy’d!  How sweet their mem’ry still! But they have left an aching void, The world can never fill.”

We cannot incorporate a sense of being loved from a parent who is dead; but neither can we from a parent who is rejecting, absent for long periods, or so disturbed as to be incapable of a warm relationship. Certainly, our attachments to our mothers vary in quality and intensity. In considering beareavement, it is important to remember that even loss of a mother is not always considered a tragedy to an individual. Meaning, for some the relationship with a mother was painful, and in these cases the mother herself may not be missed so much as the ideal of what it could or should have been. Some have learned stoic lessons and endured suffering, needing to find one’s own sustaining resources in the absence their ideal mother.

For some woman, having children was not possible physically, and after many painful situations including miscarriages, infertility treatments, fostering children, and more, they choose to move forward in their lives by making a decision not to be a parent. Mother’s Day may be a reminder of a path that life did not take.  Some people who were raised in unhealthy homes choose not to have children for purposes of ending a cycle of abuse. Mother’s Day can be challenging for them, too.

Whatever the case may be, have compassion for yourself and others.  After reading this post, there’s no need to feel guilty or ashamed if you have a loving mother and you’re going to enjoy spending time with her on Mother’s Day.  Notice the gratitude in your heart and let that expand to spread love and kindness to others who may need it.  Gratitude is courageous and healing; expressing it can honor the gravity of a loss.

If it’s a difficult day for you, I hope that you find ways to provide maternal, nurturing care for yourself with actions of self love and kindness this Mother’s Day. Spend time doing something that makes you feel nourished: take a bath, take a walk, eat an ice cream cone, listen to one of your favorite songs, sleep in, dance in the kitchen, re-read a sweet note written to you, write yourself a sweet note of appreciation for coming this far.  Be forgiving to yourself for things that happened to you. You’re a human being, deserving of all the respect in the world. The human spirit is not indestructible; courageously discover that, when in hell, one is often granted a glimpse of heaven.

Mothers who have lost children, those who have lost mothers, those with strained mother relationships, mothers with strained child relationships, those who have chosen not to be mothers, those yearning to be mothers: May your day be sprinkled with transcendent moments of reconciliation, forgiveness, and joy.

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