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