On Mother’s Day, no matter what age we are, we remember our moms. And just like with children, it can be bittersweet for adults whose moms have passed away, no matter how long ago.
Hope Edelman, the author of Motherless Daughters, explains that loss changes over time, but it’s always there. “It’s normal to think about a mom on Mother’s Day, even twenty to thirty years after they’ve passed. Don’t ask, ‘Why aren’t you over it yet?’ The loss is permanent. When your friend loses a parent, the facts don’t change. But their relationship to those facts changes over time. If your friend becomes a parent, they may miss their mom in a different way. Their perspective shifts, and they look at loss differently. Grief is a lifelong process—it doesn’t end, but it evolves.”
How to help
While adults understand that loss is an unavoidable part of life, we all need a little help from our friends on hard days. When someone doesn’t have a mom to call or visit, Mother’s Day can really hurt. Here are a few tips to help your friend:
1. Say their mother’s name. Grieving people often wish that others would say the name of the person who died. It reminds them that others are remembering their mom and missing her too. Try saying, “I’ve been thinking about Lily this Mother’s Day. I miss her a lot.”
2. Share memories, especially if you knew the parent. Our memories are what keep us close to those we love, even after they’ve died. If you’ve known your friend for a while, you may have spent some time with their mother. Share the gift of remembering how much she meant to you. It’ll mean the world to your friend.
3. Remind them that you and others are there. As Hope Edelman says, “We are part of a web of connections, and if your friend lost a parent, one of their main connections is missing. Remind them that they are still connected to others. They still need a community for those moments when grief bubbles up again.”
4. Do something thoughtful. Simple gestures, like a note or text to let your friend know you’re thinking of them this Mother’s Day, can make them feel less alone. Be there to listen if they want to talk.
5. Don’t try to fix things or cheer them up. The bond between a mother and child is one of the strongest relationships there is. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. No matter how long it’s been, your friend may still be very sad. The goal isn’t to help your friend have a “happy” Mother’s Day. It’s perfectly fine if they hate the day or choose to ignore it—they just need to feel supported.
6. Avoid complaining about your family. We can all good-naturedly complain about our mothers, mothers-in-law, or children from time to time. For someone who has lost their mother, those comments can sting, especially on Mother’s Day. And even if your relationships with your family members are strained, if those people are still alive, you have the hope of making things better. Your friend doesn’t get that opportunity. Save any complaints for another time or audience.
Whether you’re a kid or an adult, whether it’s been two months or thirty years, when you’ve lost your mom, Mother’s Day can be hard. Love and simple acknowledgment from friends and family can make a world of difference.
Hope Edelman is the author of seven books, including the best sellers Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers.