Coping with loss on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

Two adults and two children stand looking out at ocean during sunset.Holidays can be agonizing for many who have experienced loss. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may create immense feelings of sadness for those who have lost a parent, whether it’s the first holiday without them or decades later. A Baylor Medicine psychologist provides tips to fill that void during these difficult days.

“It can be very painful to go through the first Mother’s Day without a mother, and even years after that can be tough,” said Dr. Karen Lawson, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s important to not hide from those feelings. Try to reflect on the relationship and reflect on the things you loved doing with that person.”

Lawson emphasizes not avoiding activities or memories associated with the loved one who has died and recommends different coping mechanisms:

Do an activity you did with that person: This can make you feel like you’re still carrying on certain activities, such as thrift shopping, cooking a favorite meal or staying home to enjoy quiet time. Anything that makes you feel comfortable thinking about that person, and the enjoyable times you had together, can be helpful.

Reach out to a friend: Let a loved one know you might be feeling down ahead of the holiday and make a plan to spend the day with them. Asking for company can be a good distraction.

Journal: Write your late parent a note or letter to express your feelings. People benefit from journaling and getting their feelings off a heavy heart and onto paper.

Donate to a cause: Donating to a cause or activity that was special to the person can bring positive feelings.

Mind the calendar: Understand that the holiday is near instead of trying to forget about it. Think through how you might want to spend that day. You don’t have to make a plan, but planning for a difficult date will be helpful.

If you spend the holiday with the rest of the family who are also missing your parent, remember to set boundaries and limits. Family time can be enjoyable and fulfilling while grieving, but it might feel too overwhelming at times. Everyone has a different feeling and reaction to the situation, so take care of yourself.

Those who were estranged from their parents might feel regret or remorse for not trying to mend the relationship before the parent died. Lawson said everyone is entitled to their feelings and Mother’s or Father’s Day might provoke those thoughts more than other days. Recognize the upcoming holiday and know that all feelings are normal and should be acknowledged.

By Homa Warren

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