Anniversary, Death, Grief, Moments, Mother's Day, Motherless Daughter, Offering support to someone who has lost their mother

Five Ways to be Present for Someone Who Has Lost Their Mother

I lost my mother to ovarian cancer when I was 11 years old. I’m 39 now. I’ve lived more years without my mother than with her. And I’ve been through countless experiences without her by my side. When I was little people outside of my family didn’t speak to me about Mam. I’m sure they didn’t want to upset me, or themselves. They figured it was better to ignore the topic and move along. They didn’t know what to say. After so many years as a motherless daughter I’ve come to understand the ways in which we can be there for others who have lost. There are triggers that are upsetting to us, and there are ways in which a person can make a profound difference in our day. Recently somebody wrote to me and asked me how they could support a friend who had lost their mother. I responded immediately. I didn’t need to think about it because I’ve lived it.

1.Someone you know has lost their mother. There is nothing you or anybody can do to bring their mother back. What you can do is ask them how they are doing and be ready to listen. If your friend or loved one has recently lost their mother and isn’t ready to speak about it try again in a few days or a few weeks. It might take months for them to be ready but it makes a world of difference to know that there is someone who genuinely wants to be present for them. And when they are ready to talk give them your full attention, take their hand if you feel inclined, and let them talk or cry. You don’t need to say anything. Just hear them out. Sometimes we think that we need to offer people answers but we don’t. Being heard is the key here.

I’m not suggesting you need to be a therapist for this person, or that you should neglect your own life or your own self-care. In some cases a person might need encouragement to see a therapist. Often all we need is a quick release or just the knowing that we can talk to a close friend when we need to. Some women have never had the chance to talk about losing their mothers. One of the most special things you can do for them is encourage them to talk about their moms. Just watch as their eyes light up!

2.Be aware of what you are saying. Over the years I’ve been reminded time and again what I’m missing out on when I’m with friends and they are talking about going for pedicures with their mothers or taking vacation with their moms. It always sparks a little something, but it’s unavoidable really, because so many women still have their mothers and like to do things with them. Honestly, it brings me joy to witness the blessings of others, even when I feel that twinge of sadness for myself.

And when I’m in the company of strangers, people don’t know my circumstances. Maybe if people stopped assuming we all had mothers, that would be a start. Even my teachers in school would tell us “Bring this note home to your mothers!” and they knew my mother had died! They never seemed to think! When I was a teacher I made a very conscious decision to always say to my children “Give this to your mom or dad or whoever is taking care of you!” According to the children’s personal circumstances I changed how I spoke.

If somebody in your circle has lost their mother, it might not be the best thing to start up a conversation about the blessings of having a mother, in their company. That might sound obvious, but it has happened to me. In college I had two friends discuss the joys of having mothers who cared for them while I bit my lip and looked away. And I know I’m not the only one who has had this experience.

3.Pay attention to dates. That person’s mother had a birthday. When was it? What date did that person’s mother die? This is huge! Mam died on March 2nd. That date is ingrained in my brain. I go to bed the night before in anticipation of the day ahead and I wake up with thoughts of Mam, how she died, how little I was, how uncertain everything was and my mind is just spinning. Some women spend the day in bed, unwilling to get up and face the day because it’s too hard for them. Imagine the difference it would make to receive a text message or a kind phone call letting that person know that you are thinking of them. Send them a bunch of flowers. Flowers brighten everyone’s world. Perhaps ask what their mother’s favorite flowers were and send those.

The same goes for your friend’s mother’s birthday. What should be a celebration is now just a memory of past celebrations. Ask your friend if there is anything they would like to do on that date to help celebrate or remember their mother.

Mother’s Day is very tough. Please understand that while you might be celebrating your mother (and this is a wonderful thing) she is mourning hers. And if you are very close to that person, please don’t remain silent on the day, hoping nobody will remember. A motherless daughter never forgets those dates. Help her know that she is not alone.

4.Introduce her to other friends who have lost their mothers. This is another huge one! I wish I had known other motherless daughters growing up. I didn’t know any. I felt very alone in this. I felt different from everybody else. I was very fortunate to have a fantastic father and I got on very well with my older brother but if I had been introduced to another little girl like me it would have made a tremendous difference in my life.

Recently, through my author’s page  I heard from a lady of similar age to me, who lost her mother around the same time as I did and lived in the same town. I remember the girl though I didn’t know her at the time and had no idea that she was motherless too. When she reached out to me I wanted to do a time travel back into my past and throw my arms around that little girl. We could’ve been a team, the two of us, without our mothers but together, hand in hand.

It wasn’t until I moved to Portland, Oregon and discovered the Motherless Daughters group here, at the same time as I discovered Hope Edelman’s book, that I began to meet and form connections with other women who had lost their mothers. What a gift it has been!

5.Don’t compare having a bad relationship with your mother to someone whose mother has died. Certainly this is traumatic in its own way. I have friends who are estranged from their mothers and I listen to them speak about the rejection they felt growing up or the abuse they suffered. In some ways I feel that what they’ve been through may even be worse than what I went through because I had a very caring, devoted and nurturing mother. At the same time it’s not the same thing. One friend of mine would say “I may as well go with you to the Motherless Daughters group because all I do is fight with my mom. She may as well be dead!” This was very upsetting to hear. All I wanted was my mother and even though my friend wasn’t on good terms with hers she still had her at the other end of the phone line.

Everyone’s circumstances are different and some situations are so bad that the person’s mother is as good as dead to them. My point is acknowledging the differences. Death means gone forever and no opportunity whatsoever to change that, no chance of ever seeing that person in the flesh again and no possibility to alter the past.

We have the potential to lift others in times of sadness. Often we want to help but we don’t know how.

The round sky goes on minding its business.
Your absence is inconspicuous;
Nobody can tell what I lack.

Parliament Hill Fields –  by Sylvia Plath

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31 thoughts on “Five Ways to be Present for Someone Who Has Lost Their Mother

  1. Della Padnick says:

    This is really, really good advice and very easy to read and understand. It (your advice) is something many, if not most, people need on this subject. Too many people are afraid to say the wrong thing and don’t know how to be present for someone after such a profound loss. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope that by your writing you find the healing you’ve been searching for. You are definitely helping others with your story.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Jessica says:

    Love this article!! I lost my mom May 5th 2015. It’s been a little over a year. It’s been real hard to cope with. What makes it even harder is I am the one that found her dead in her room. She died from cardiac arrest at the age of 53. Never in my life did I think I would have to perform cpr on my own mother and her not make it. This article gives really good advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your article hit the nail on the head. I lost my mom 6 months ago. I’m an only child. (55). My girlfriends have been there for me everyday. So grateful. You always need your mom no matter what your age 💗

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I lost my mom to lung cancer in October 2013. We were not prepared. She died 6 weeks after her diagnosis. I had an infant, and was not prepared for the gaping hole left behind after losing her so fast, and needing to find my way into motherhood without my own mom. It took me some time, and I eventually found my voice, but I would be lying if I said things wouldn’t be different if she was still here with us. I miss her every waking moment of every single day.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. James says:

    Great article. I really appreciated it. I lost my mother when I was 3 to a car accident. One thing I want to say is that this article really focuses on how it feels to be a female and have lost your mom. I can tell you it is no easier if you are a male. I often am disregarded when it comes to things like this because people just assume I am supposed to handle it better. A lot of what you have said applies directly to me as a male as well. This article was very touching. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you James. As a motherless daughter I can only write about what I know. I appreciate your feedback. I don’t hear from many males who have lost their moms. I’m sorry for your loss. You were so young and it was so sudden. Hugs, Carmel

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  6. ikan56 says:

    Like you, my mom has been gone longer than I knew her. She will have been gone 40 years this December. I was not as young as some of you, but I had just turned 20. I remember going back to college and saying to my best friend, what am I going to do now. Unfortunately my twin sister and I never talked about our mother’s death back then, and it is hard to do so now. We are sisters, but not friends. And it is only the two of us. I think I have an easier time bonding with older women because of not having my mother around. I enjoyed your article, and other’s comments. Hugs to all.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Adrienne says:

    This was beautifully said and perfectly described. My Mom died when I was 18, and I thought for such a long time that no one would ever understand. Thank you for expressing what we have each experienced.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comment Adrienne. Sharing our experiences with others is the way towards healing and understanding. I’m sorry for your loss! Hugs, Cx

      Like

  8. Stylist28 says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. I lost my mom when I was 8 to cancer at 34yrs old. She will always be in my heart as my “mommy”. Gratefully I am a mother to a boy and a girl.
    Besides dates…acknowledging important moments like when you get engaged/married or have your children etc.
    Talking/mentioning things about them is important too!
    Learning who my mom was as a young girl/teen/young woman was something I needed to know as I grew up.
    Finding author Hope Eddlmans books were a life savor in my 20’s. Wish I had known about them earlier.
    I do find my self feeling sad when others talk about or spend time with there mothers.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was 12 when my mom lost her battle with colon cancer. When I turned 39, it struck me that as I approached “middle age,” my mom’s middle age passed in her in her 20s. It was sobering, but it made me all the more determined to savor each day.

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    • Thank you for your comment Ginny. I am so sorry for your loss. You and I were close to the same ages when we lost our moms. It’s not an easy road to travel without our mothers but we get through and as you said we learn to savor every day we are given, when we can. Hugs.

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