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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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.

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.

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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