Coping with Loss on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is usually filled with Hallmark cards, flowers and family gatherings as we celebrate moms who selflessly do their best to care for others. However, I often think about the people who are grieving a loss on this holiday. Trying to move through the day without their mom, grandma or child.

The emotions leading to this holiday are heavy and complex, but you aren’t alone. I see your pain, others see your pain and we want to help. We can acknowledge and witness your feelings and find ways to honor the ones who are no longer here in a special way.

iStock_000004601924XSmall

  • Planting a tree or flowers
  • Letting a balloon go with a message attached
  • Wearing the loved one’s favorite color
  • Eating at their favorite restaurant or cooking their favorite meal
  • Going to a place that you often went with them
  • Engaging in their favorite activity
  • Creating a memory box and filling it with things that remind you of them
  • Making a stepping stone
  • Writing a letter to them
  • Drawing a picture
  • On a table cloth- have family and friends write stories or draw pictures
  • Playing their favorite music
  • Sharing stories about them

Maybe this year you create a new tradition and help your heart heal. Remind yourself that you don’t have to walk this journey of grief alone.

Related Articles

I am a Statistic: Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Remembrance Day

“I Wish That Mommy Never Dies” Helping My Preschooler Cope with Grief and Loss

Butterflies, Hope and My Rainbow Baby

“I Wish That Mommy Never Dies” Helping My Preschooler Cope with Grief and Loss

"I Wish That Mommy Never Dies" Helping My Preschooler Cope with Grief and Loss.jpg

While visiting family during Christmas break, we decided to grab a bite to eat. I saw a fountain that would be a great distraction for my impatient 4 and a half-year old, while we waited to be seated. As I handed my son pennies to toss into the water, I had no idea that he would have such a powerful wish.

“I wish that Mommy never dies.”

His words took my breath away, as I just stood there with a handful of copper pennies that were meant for garbage trucks, police cars and Legos.

Our family had experienced 4 deaths in just a short ten months and my son was realizing the permanence of these deaths.

As a child life specialist that works to support children’s grief, I was witnessing my own son’s emotional torture of understanding death, coping with his fear of loss and trying to understand why his French Bulldog couldn’t come back from heaven.

When we returned home from vacation, his grief began to manifest and triggered some separation anxiety. His transition back to school was challenging, bedtime was a struggle and I noticed that he was constantly following me around the house.

One night before bed he asked me if I was going to die. Part of me wanted to say, “No, never. Don’t think like that.” However, I took the alternative route of responding with empathy.

“You are so worried that something will happen to me. You love me so much and don’t want me to leave.”

He knew that I understood his fears and I was giving him permission to express them.

Our conversation continued with lots of reassurance on how I take good care of my body and will hopefully live to be 100. We ended our talk with lots of giggles, cuddles and reminders that no matter where we are in the world, we are always connected.

After I put him to bed I had a plan in my head to help him work through his grief and cope with the separation issues. So this is what I did:

Lots of validation-  As soon as he began to get slightly upset about going to school, I named and validated his feelings. “You really don’t want to leave Mommy. You miss me so much when you are at school. I miss you too.”

Normalize his emotions- I try to then follow up the validation with normalizing his thoughts and feelings. “It is so hard to go back to school after such a long break. Lots of kids feel the same way.”

One on one time- I make sure to spend some extra time with him each day. We sit and eat lunch together, I hold his hand and carry him around while I smother him with kisses.

Play- I get on the floor and play with him using a child-centered approach. I let him lead the play, choose the activity and give him as much control as possible. I narrate what he is doing, name feelings and just stay present in the moment. It is a nice way for us to both feel reconnected.

Communication- I don’t want his teachers to become frustrated with him as he struggles to separate from me at school. I am very honest about the deaths and let them know that  we are helping him work through it.

Activities– I provide him with a variety of activities that promote self-expression, coping strategies and memory making around the losses.

The other day he was getting worked up about going to school, so I introduced him to an  activity about staying connected.

First I read him the beautifully written and illustrated children’s book, The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst. It instantly resonated with him. Then using construction paper, markers and lanyard, I helped him create his own invisible string.

invisible-string

He had lots of choices during the activity of what color paper, markers, freedom to draw whatever he liked, and the length of the string (which ended up being 8 feet). He then practiced  pulling on the string, as I acted out the tug from my heart. His face lit up with a  smile and I knew that he was beginning to feel a bit more safe.

Grief is hard to deal with, but if you allow kids to feel and express the unpleasant emotions through empathy, play and patience, they will develop healthy coping strategies and resilience.

Related Posts:

Helping Kids Understand Death

How We Helped Our Kids Cope with a Pet Loss

DIY Fingerprint Mold

How to Help a Parent Cope with the Loss of a Baby

how-to-help-a-parent-cope-with-the-loss-of-a-baby

I’ll never forget the day that a dear friend of mine had faced her worst nightmare. She was pregnant with twins and working as a child life specialist at her hospital. Her water broke and she went into labor at 25 weeks gestation. She delivered both her babies, Benjamin and Scarlet with the help of her husband and doctors. Unfortunately, Benjamin passed away and Scarlet fought for her life in the NICU for 130 days.

Jen and her husband were surrounded by love and support as they grieved the loss of their beautiful son and kept hope for their daughter’s life.

Here is their story:

I don’t talk about loss too much, I just try to  focus on the positive. I have a beautiful daughter named Scarlet and she has an angel in heaven, Benjamin that looks down on her. He is always in my heart.

These are the phrases I stick with. I don’t say, it hurts, becasue it sucks. It always sucks. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish something could be different.

Today, I had to have an ultrasound. (Status post: I’m not pregnant). I cried. I wept through the entire thing. See, the last time I sat in that little room, I was watching two babies bump into each other on the screen. I was wondering which double stroller I should buy and how I was going to take care of two infants.

Fast forward to two years later and I’m different. I’ve known the greatest love one can ever know and the greatest loss one should ever have. No parent should have to bury their child.

As a child life specialist, we are always trying to help families through difficult times, but helping people through grief is different. In an effort to always keep learning and growing, I suggest a few things you can do when someone is clearly having a tough time.

  •  Offer them a tissue, or some water, but skip the platitudes. “Oh you’ll get pregnant again.” “Oh, you still have one.” “It’ll all be fine.” Or, as I recently was told, “Don’t worry, your bad luck streak will end soon.” Skip it; it doesn’t help the grieving parent feel better.
  • Say you’re sorry. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “I’m so sorry you had to go through that.” Even, “Wow, the last year sucked” (okay, maybe not that last one, but it would have been honestly better than half of what I got).
  • Offer a hug (if you know the person). Sometimes physical contact is what a person really needs at that moment.
  •  Just be with them. In the present moment of their grief, just allow them to be and breathe. Maybe they need to cry and maybe you’ll cry too, that’s okay. Just let them keep doing what they’re doing, and be with them while they do it.
  • Ask them what they need. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Mostly, no, but just asking can help the person to feel like they’ve been cared for.

Grief isn’t linear; it’s a twisted ball of emotions that affects people differently. Just remember to think before you speak and to always acknowledge the loss.
Here is a list of additional resources:

Related Posts:

How to Help During a Hospitalization 

The Things People Say to Parents of Preemies: Cheering on Charlie

Perinatal Hospice

From NICU to Home