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Bereavement on Mother's Day

Friday, 12 March 2010

We speak to Breffni McGuinness about bereavement on Mother's Day.

Breffni McGuinness
Bereavement Development and Training Officer, the Irish Hospice Foundation.

People will be seeing a lot about Mother's Day on the news and on television, and in the shops which might be difficult for those who have lost a mother. What can they do about this?

Acknowledge that it is normal to be upset when grieving over a mother and that these things take time. It is ok and entirely normal to feel upset and it can be good to have someone you trust who just accepts you as you are to be able to share this with. Also accept invitations if you are up to it and you can always say that look I might not stay for the whole event or again I may get a bit upset and want to leave - please don't be surprised or offended by this.

Allow yourself to be the way you are and also plan some treats for yourself. A good walk or a film that you like or whatever works for you - (avoid drugs and alcohol). It is important to take care of yourself.

The loss of a mother can be difficult, and it can be more difficult on Mothers day, why is this?

All losses can be difficult depending on the significance of the loss for the person. This is the case with mothers. Mothers can play a very significant role in a person's life in which case the loss of a mother can be felt very keenly. A day such as mother's day can bring home to a person that their mother is no longer with them and can be very painful. It also points up that others still have their mother, and while it is good to celebrate this, it does mean that the absence of a mother can be felt more keenly on this day.

However, it very much depends on the person and the relationship that they had with their mother. In a family, different siblings can experience their mother's death differently because of the different relationship that each of them had with her. A mother son relationship is different to a mother daughter relationship. Also, people differ in how they cope. Some people like to talk about their loss while others prefer to be more private - both are acceptable and you can be sure that in both ways people are really feeling the loss.

We understand that there are different stages in bereavement, what can people expect on Mothers Day if they're at different stages of bereavement, i.e., if it has been 1 year since their mother passed away, or it has been 5 years, and 20 years?

We do not use the idea of stages so much now as we recognise that grief is more about moving in cycles rather than stages. However, we do know some of the places that a person will visit on their grief journey and these include:

Some people describe grief as being like waves on a beach - sometimes the waves are small and we can manage them, at other times we can feel overwhelmed, and at still other times it can feel like the tide has gone out and we can manage fine. However, it can be helpful to know that we will experience waves of grief again from time to time. Key dates like Mothers Day can sometimes trigger these waves of grief for people. People can still experience what we call 'Grief Bursts' many years after their mother's death - this is where something triggers the memory of their loss such as mothers day - and people can find themselves right back in the middle of the grief of losing their mother. However, as time goes on, these bursts become less frequent and do not last as long. They never fully go away, but this is part of the grieving process and is completely normal. The idea of grieving is to learn to live with a loss rather than getting over it.

What tips can you give to people to cope with the actual day itself?

Plan ahead. Acknowledge that the day is coming up and that you might be affected. Let people around you know if you would like to talk about the person or not. If in a family, planning some kind of simple ritual as a way of remembering your mother can be helpful. For example, visiting the grave, lighting a candle etc., and then doing something nice as well - for example going for a meal or some kind of treat that you and others may enjoy. It can be helpful to include others in your plans - by saying something like "Mothers Day is coming up and I would like to remember Mum in some way - what could we do? Also, build in some time alone for yourself - where you don't have to do anything and can just be with yourself and your feelings as they are.

Allow yourself to be the way you are and say to others that you might be a bit off on the day and ask for people to be understanding around this. Also, if you are in good humor and want to do something enjoyable - that is good too.

Also, be very gentle with yourself.

What can we do to help other people who are missing their mum on Mother's Day??

Be sensitive - acknowledge that this could be a difficult day for them and ask is there some way that you could support them. Give some examples: would you like to go for a coffee? Would you like me to take your kids for an hour so that you could have a break etc? Would you like to chat? Or - ask would they like you to cook a dinner for them?

Ask the person what would be helpful and don't be afraid of not having the right answer or the right words.

You talk about hidden grief on Mother's Day?
Yes, many people carry hidden grief which they find hard to talk about because the loss may make others uncomfortable - examples would be abortion, suicide, giving a child for adoption etc. It is important to be kind and sensitive to people if we know that they have experienced a loss like this and to let them know that we would like to support them.

Do people sometimes feel guilty for having a good time on Mother's Day?

Yes and its important to enjoy the good times when you have them. Your mother would want you to enjoy yourself and to celebrate her - so if and when you get a good day - take it and enjoy it!!