Being there for someone who has lost a mother, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Mother Loss, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Offering support to someone who has lost their mother

What Not to Do When Someone You Know Has Lost Their Mother

The following points may seem obvious. At least they do to me, but since we are all human and nobody is perfect I’ve decided to put this list together. Also, the first thing on my list happened to me today bringing to my attention that people need reminders every now and again. In fact, all twelve points have happened to me, many of them on multiple occasions, so if you know all of this already please feel free to share it with somebody who doesn’t. It might prevent an awkward or upsetting situation from happening in the future and we all strive to be better people, right? I, for one, know that I’ve much to learn from others and their personal experiences. That’s one of the reasons I read so many memoirs.

Twelve things NOT to do when someone you know has lost their mother:

  1. DO NOT email a motherless daughter gift advertisements for Mother’s Day. I know, unbelievable right? Wrong. It happened, and the person knows my mother isn’t alive. Just what I didn’t need in the mail. The message on the ad stated “Pamper your mother this Mother’s Day”. Really? Please don’t do this. It’s bad enough that our inboxes are automatically bombarded with these kinds of advertisements leading up to Mother’s Day.
  2. DO NOT invite them to your own Mother’s Day event and expect them to be in a cheerful mood for the entire party when everyone around you is celebrating the wonder of mothers and those who have them. (If the motherless daughter is particularly close to your mother, then this may be a different case, but please ask them sincerely if being at the party is where they want to be). I hear from women all of the time about how hard Mother’s Day events are for them, but they do it to please a partner or keep others happy.
  3. DO NOT post publicly about missing somebody who has died, on a date that is significant and meaningful to that person and their family, without 1. asking permission of the grieving relative or person closest to the deceased 2. referring to the grieving person and their own unique and significant pain and 3. requesting that people connect with the grieving person on her page or privately if they so desire. Posting about missing somebody after a death is a beautiful thing if the family has given you permission. Please be mindful as to how you approach it.
  4. (In connection with above post) DO NOT offer your condolences to somebody for their loss on another person’s page and simply assume, or hope that she’ll see it. A personal message, a kind gesture offered in person or in private rather than on someone else’s post is much more meaningful. Check to see if the person who is grieving has written something of her own, telling her own personal story and offer a genuine response to that.
  5. DO NOT ignore significant dates, in particular death anniversaries, Mother’s Day and birthdays. Make that call. It will be worth it, and often it will only take five minutes. We can’t all remember significant dates for everyone. I get that. But if you have a very close friend or family member who is suffering a loss surely that date is etched in your brain. If not, take note and write it down so that you don’t forget. What do most of us look for in a real long-lasting friendship? I would say we wish to be thought of and remembered on special and tough days. We want to know that friends have not forgotten the most challenging times in our lives. As a friend I want to offer a little light in the dark for those I love when they need it. One way to do this is to offer a kind and sincere thought on the anniversary of a rough day. Believe me, it makes a difference. Here’s a brief story of a time a friend really helped lift my spirits and all it took was a phone call. I was at an all-day Mother’s Day event and the celebrations were wearing on me. Nobody had mentioned the fact that I no longer had my mother, even though several people at the event were aware of this. After many hours surrounded by people I needed to take a breather. I went outside for some fresh air and a walk in a nearby park. Unexpectedly I burst into tears as soon as I was away from the event. Right at that moment my phone rang and it was a friend of mine whose daughter had been in my classroom the previous year. My friend had lost his father a few months prior and so, fresh in his own grief, he understood how I would be missing my mother on Mother’s Day. He said he just wanted to check on me and see how I was doing. This small (but huge in the moment) act of kindness changed the entire trajectory of my day. Even though I’d only known this man less than a year he was the only one who called on Mother’s Day to say he understood how hard it must be for me. To have my loss acknowledged, my mother remembered and my feelings validated meant so much to me at that time. I’ve never forgotten it.
  6. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter that you wish you didn’t have to spend the day with your annoying, cranky mother. Just don’t.
  7. DO NOT compare your loss with somebody else’s. Grief is one of the hardest things life will ever throw our way. Losing a loved one changes us, and our lives forever. I feel deeply for any person who is grieving. For motherless daughters Mother’s Day is a wretched day. The bombardment of advertisements telling us how we should pamper and celebrate our mothers when we no longer have them is heart-wrenching. For women whose babies/children have died it is a cruel reminder of a massive loss. The day is tough on widowed parents, terminally ill mothers and families where a terminally ill mother is fighting for her life. Let’s not compare one loss to another. This has happened to me, on several occasions. I recall one occasion here. Pain is pain. Nobody wants to lose the person they love. We are all in this life together.
  8. DO NOT, if you are a teacher or a grown up, assume that a child has their mother at home. I still can’t believe how insensitive my teachers were following my mother’s death. “Take this home to your mother!” they would say, handing me a note for home. I would look them straight in the eye in disbelief but they would continue on down the classroom aisle with no thought given to what they had said. These teachers were well aware of my loss. We were from a small town and my school was relatively small. They just didn’t think about what they were saying. It didn’t matter to them enough to choose their powerful words with more care.
  9. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter they should be over their loss by now. It doesn’t matter if it’s a year, twenty years or fifty years, we never ‘get over’ losing our mothers. I have dear friends who lost their mothers forty and fifty years ago and they still miss and long for them. I lost my mother thirty years ago and although the passage of time heals in some ways I’ve never stopped missing Mam. I’ve longed for her throughout my life at different periods such as when shopping for my wedding dress and other seemingly insignificant times such as strolling down the street and spotting a flower she would love or catching the scent of a perfume she wore.
  10. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter that she really should wear jewelry (or clothes or use her mother’s things) belonging to her mother in order to honor her mother’s memory. This is laying an unnecessary guilt-trip on the shoulders of that woman. She isn’t wearing them for her own personal reasons, or perhaps she is, in private enjoying these things. Bottom line is that she doesn’t need somebody else telling her what she should or shouldn’t do in regards to her mother’s things.
  11. DO NOT talk in a group about the blessing of having a nurturing, loving mother while a friend who is motherless sits listening. I am in no way suggesting to daughters (or sons) not to celebrate and cheer on their mothers because any love expressed is a beautiful thing. It warms my heart deeply to see mothers and daughters interact in loving ways. I wrote about the beautiful mother-daughter bond here and here. Be considerate and mindful, is what I’m saying. Two of my college friends gushed about their mothers in front of me one day. We had just returned to campus after a weekend at home with our families. They described everything their mothers did for them, how nurturing they were and how much they loved them. Both said “Where would we be without our mothers?” Granted I was blessed with a gem of a father so I could have shot back ”Where would we be without our fathers?” but my heart hung heavy by that point, not only as a result of being reminded of what I was missing, but because my two lovely friends were so completely clueless about my feelings.
  12. DO NOT overthink this list, tell me to chill out and decide that it’s all too much to consider. Really, is any of this that difficult? If we are more mindful in our interactions with friends, if we take the time to consider how we would feel in a particular situation and if we make the effort to learn from those who have gone through challenges then we’ll do just fine. I promise. And sincerely I appreciate all the love I receive on a regular basis since beginning this very personal journey of sharing.

Previously I wrote a piece on how to be present for someone who has lost their mother. If I can help comfort another woman or give ideas to those who want to do better for a grieving friend then I’m doing my work. I saw this picture on Instagram recently by Mari Andrew, a writer and illustrator based in NYC. I relate.

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If you want further tips or advice on how to help a grieving friend or someone going through a really tough time pick up a copy of this book by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell. It’s packed with great advice.

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Much love,

Carmel X

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

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27 thoughts on “What Not to Do When Someone You Know Has Lost Their Mother

  1. CaroG87 says:

    Yes to all of this. I was lucky to have my mom as long as I did but the ache of losing her is still real and painful. And I hated Mother’s Day even before she passed — it’s exponentially more so now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lucy says:

    Hello, Carmel. First, I am very sorry for the loss of your Mom. I lost my own precious daughter to cancer, almost 4 years ago. She had just turned 40, and left a beautiful, intelligent daughter, not yet 7 years old. She will be 11 in October. She is so resilient, it sometimes scares me. She is my only grandchild, and we are still as close as the day she was born. She truly is my heart. I don’t know how old you were when you lost your mother, but I’d like to follow your page for any insight along this difficult journey. While I mourn for my child, I have to be “up” and positive for her child. I never want to push memories on her to make her sad. But at the same time, I don’t want her to forget her beautiful Mom, since she was so young when she died. She was diagnosed when her little girl was only 2 years old, and fought that evil beast for 5 years. Her radiant smile on her beautiful face throughout until her last day with us. All she wanted was more time with her precious girl. I want to continue her wish until my “breath becomes air.” God bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Lucy, thank you for leaving a comment here. I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter to cancer, and I am so sorry for the loss that your sweet, resilient granddaughter has to carry. Firstly, I am heartened that she has you to love her and care so much for her. She will always count you and your love as a great blessing. My mother got sick when I was five and like your daughter, my mother fought hard to stay alive. She didn’t want to leave her family behind. She died after a long battle with cancer when I was 11 years old, the age of your granddaughter now. Talking to your granddaughter about her mother is a beautiful, important thing. It is good for you both, I believe. I post often on my Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/CarmelBreathnachAuthor/ and I’ve written a book that I hope to have published in the near future, about the loss of my mother when I was a child and the years that followed. Bless you, Lucy for all you have gone through and the love you continue to bring into the world in honor of your daughter and for your beautiful granddaughter. Keep in touch, Carmel X

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  3. Minka says:

    Please don’t call me by my Mother’s name. It’s not funny and it certainly isn’t flattering. I realize that we may look alike, but our names aren’t even close. My brother-in-law did that, I called him on it immediately, at which point he apologized. Many months later, another family situation (naah, he wouldn’t …) and sure enough, he did it again! At which point instead of another apology said, “well, she’s so missed and was such a big part of the family” etc etc. No, just NO!

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  4. Melissa Mayer says:

    Do not avoid your friends or family members who have lost a mother or father-or both (I’ve been an orphan for a year and 9 months). Even if the grieving person is introverted, it helps to have friends and loved ones recognize the grieved and validate their loss. Grief often leads to isolation and depression if there’s not enough support. Any small gesture helps more than others realize. Send a letter, private message, or care package. It makes a difference, a positive gesture, a connection. Sending love to my sisters and brothers in grief, Melissa M.

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    • Melissa, I am sorry that you lost both of your parents. How painful for you! And you are right, grief does often lead to isolation and depression. Perhaps if your friends see this blog post it might remind them to reach out and check in on you. Also, there are motherless daughters’ grief support groups in many cities and these can be helpful. Though for introverted people it isn’t always easy to go this route. Sending you thoughts and hugs as you navigate this difficult journey. X Carmel

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  5. Jean says:

    My mother passed suddenly, right after my engagement. Someone actually said to me “at least this didn’t happen next year right before the wedding”. I responded with “yeah…” out of pure shock and proceeded to go home and cry all night. It’s incredible what some people say, and it’s not meant to be hurtful…it’s just lack of thinking before speaking.

    Anyways, thanks for writing this and making us motherless daughters feel less alone.

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    • Thank you, Jean. My intention when writing these posts are truly to help other motherless daughters feel less alone. I’m grateful my blog post helped you in this way. I’m really sorry for your loss. I missed my mother when I was planning for my wedding. I’m sure this was an extremely difficult time for you. Take care. Hugs, Carmel

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  6. Londa Wilkins says:

    This Wed the 25th of April will be 1 year I lost my Mom . She was a very big part of my life and I miss her so much. My greatest fear is that people will forget her and think I should too and that I should be getting better or over this. I am getting stronger and better but I think I will never get over it I loved my Mama !

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    • Of course you loved her, Londa, and I’m so sorry that you lost your Mama! I understand how you don’t want people to forget her. I keep my mother’s memory alive through sharing stories of her, keeping pictures of her up around our home and talking about her when a memory crosses my mind or if I feel like bringing her name into the conversation. It took me a while to get to this place but I like to encourage others to do all the things they want/need to keep memories of their mothers alive. We need that! Love, Carmel X

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  7. Thelma says:

    I lost my mother when I was only 8 years old. Now I’m 65 and I still miss her. She had been ill and in and out of hospitals since I was 6. I don’t have a lot of memories and did not know her well, but the void her absence left was huge. It colored my entire life. I became a different person than I would have been if she had been in my life. One day when I was in my 20s I saw a mother and daughter out shopping together, talking and laughing, and I started crying. I was seeing what I’d missed. When I had daughters of my own I over indulged them in many ways, hoping they would appreciate me and realize how lucky they were. I was very needy. Luckily, They both grew up to be great women.

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    • Thank you Thelma for sharing your story here. I am so sorry for your loss at the young age of six. My heart goes out to you. I understand the void you speak of and I relate to your story of seeing mother & daughter out shopping. The things most people take for granted are often the things that hurt us deeply. Congratulations on raising strong daughters. Hugs, Carmel x

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  8. Kimberley Edwards says:

    my mam passed away 10.3.15, she would have turned 80 on 12.3.15. my second son shares her birthday. I miss her so much, just to think of her hurts my heart. i havent grieved for her, or rather, i havent allowed myself to, as i believe that if, or when i do, i will forget the sound of her voice in my head, or forget her beautiful face, even though i have photo memories of her. This year was particularly painful, 2nd anniversary of her passing 10.3, mothers day 11.3 and her birthday 12.3, my heart was/is screaming at me to to grieve, but my head wont let me, even though i know its not good for my mental and emotional health. i know i have to let it happen, but i cant/wont.i am sorry, i am rambling, i am even confusing myself, but i had to get it ‘out there’…maybe putting my feelings into words will help in someway?

    Like

    • Hi Kimberley, thank you for leaving a comment. No need to apologize, you are not rambling, you are talking through all of the emotions and thoughts in your head. That is a good thing. Perhaps writing more about this, in a healing letter for example, as I describe here: https://alovelywoman.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/the-healing-letter/ might help. Don’t put pressure on yourself. Your grief will come in time, in stages when you are ready. I know it’s hard. Music can sometimes bring me to tears and I find that crying along with music is more bearable than without. Or crying in a safe, peaceful spot in a garden or in nature. I’m sorry for your loss. It’s not an easy journey. Take care of yourself.

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  9. maria says:

    I lost my mother to breast cancer this January; I am 24, she was 61. At my mother’s funeral, someone told me that my mum’s death should serve me “as a lesson to get checked up regularly from a certain age on”.

    Like

    • Hi Maria, I am so sorry for your loss. And I am sorry to hear that somebody said that to you at your mom’s funeral. How insensitive and hurtful! Sending big hugs to you as you navigate this challenging time. May you meet kind and thoughtful people along the way.
      Much love, Carmel

      Like

  10. Sheri says:

    The teacher bit got me. I remember in first grade having to serve Mothers Day tea to another child’s mom because he was out with chicken pox. Looking back, I don’t know why she was there when her kid was home sick. I guess they figured I needed a stand in so I could participate.

    The same goes for making Mother’s Day gifts. “You can give it to an aunt or someone else” doesn’t make my little heart feel any better.

    Sheri – 33 years missing mom

    Like

  11. Pingback: Getting Through Mother’s Day Without a Mother | Alovelywoman

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