When Mother’s Day rolls around, it’s usually pretty easy to find suggestions for fun ways to celebrate the moms in your life. However, motherhood can feel or look many ways, and it’s just as important to know what to say on Mother’s Day to someone who lost a child as it is to celebrate the moms who have not. For these grieving moms, small meaningful gestures are often welcomed and appreciated.
Child loss is much more common than you may realize. Every year in the U.S., there are around 9,000 child deaths and 24,000 stillbirths, according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Additionally, between 10-15% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, reports March of Dimes. In every single one of these situations, there is a an often-painful loss that leaves a grieving mom in its wake.
“Mothers who have suffered a loss often find themselves overcome with grief and sadness on Mother’s Day,” licensed professional counselor and perinatal mental health specialist, Kirsten Brunner, tells Romper. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, how she lost the child, or how many living children she has — Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder of her devastating loss. “A bereaved mom might find herself feeling a wide range of emotions [including] depression, jealousy, anger, or even rage [on Mother’s Day],” Brunner explains. “All of these feelings and emotions are normal.”
Even if you don’t know what to say on Mother’s Day to someone who lost a child, you can still support her and honor her child’s memory. Simply taking time out of your day to acknowledge her, her loss, and her child’s memory may go a long way. “The silence around loss is so painful for mothers,” psychotherapist and perinatal mental health specialist Kellie Wicklund, tells Romper. “Mothers don’t forget; they just feel forgotten.” Here are some ways to let them know you remember.
Don’t make assumptions about what they want
Thoughtfulness is going to go a long way for a mom who has lost a child. “Don’t assume they want to chat or have a visit,” explains Wicklund, instead she suggests opting for a card, text, call, meal gift certificate or even a gift left on the porch. Moran-Obrien agrees, and also suggests doing something more symbolic like making a donation in her and/or her child’s name or planting some flowers for her.
Acknowledge her as a mother
Mother’s Day is all about showing appreciation to moms, and a bereaved mom is still a mom. If you are close to the friend, it can be very validating to simply acknowledge that you know she is a mother, even though her child is not alive. “It can be especially important to go out of your way to acknowledge that she is still a mother [on Mother’s Day],” Moran-Obrien says, “The day can offer an opportunity to honor and remember whatever time she had with her child or the bond they shared as mother and child.”
Validate her feelings
No matter how she’s spending the day or what she’s feeling, Brunner stresses the importance of letting a bereaved mom know that it’s OK, and they’re in your thoughts. “A woman who is battling infertility, a woman who has experienced a miscarriage, or a woman who has lost a child all might experience feelings of grief on Mother’s Day,” she says, “It is important to acknowledge and validate those feelings.” You might not be able to fully understand the pain she’s feeling, but letting her know that you’re willing to listen, and that she’s in your thoughts will go a long way.
Visit the child’s memorial site
Whether it’s a tree the family planted in memory of their child, or a formal headstone, offer to accompany mom to visit her child’s memorial site on Mother’s Day. It’s a heavy activity, though, so if she isn’t feeling up for it, don’t pressure her into going. However, just because she doesn’t have the heart to visit the memorial site, that doesn’t mean you can’t go. Make the trip on your own to lay down some fresh flowers, say hello, and pay your respects to the little one.
Support the surviving siblings
For moms with multiple kids, Mother’s Day may be bittersweet. As much as she likely wants to spend the day soaking up the love of her children, she might also like a little time to herself to mourn the child she lost. You can support her need for this by taking her other kids out for an ice cream cone or to go play in the park for a while. Ask what she needs, and how much time she could use to herself on Mother’s Day, and do what you can to give it to her.
Talk about and remember her child
Moran-Obrien says she appreciates any time someone acknowledges her daughter. “[A bereaved mom] may feel that they and their child have been forgotten as the world celebrates,” she says, so taking the time to remember their child on Mother’s Day (or any day) can make a big impact. Moran-Obrien explains that it doesn’t have to be an elaborate message, just something small like “I’m missing your child today,” “I was remembering what a wonderful mother you were to your child,” or “I’m thinking of you this Mother’s Day.”
Skip social media shout-outs
“Being bombarded by Mother’s Day-related ads and baby-filled social media posts can trigger intense feelings of loss and emptiness,” says Brunner, so sharing a special post for a bereaved mom probably isn’t the way to go. “I find that [bereaved moms] likely want to hide from social media [on Mother’s Day],” Wicklund says, so chances are high she wouldn’t even see the post anyway.
Plan a visit or an outing (if she’s up for it)
If she does want to celebrate in some way, take the lead in planning your get-together. “If you can take the burden of planning off her shoulders, do it,” says Moran-Obrien. Set up a lunch reservation, schedule a mani-pedi date, or grab a couple of tickets to a movie that will make her laugh. Just be sure to keep it low-pressure. It may be important to simply let her decide in the moment what feels right.
Write a letter
There are two ways you can do this. If mom wants to be left alone on Mother’s Day, you can write her a letter or card to let her know you’re thinking of her and her child. Or, you can write a letter to her child for her to read. If you opt to do this, fill the page with memories you have of them (if you have any) and/or describing how lucky they are to have their mom. Talk about how much she loves them, how much she misses them, and how she will never stop keeping their memory alive.
You don’t have to know exactly what to say on Mother’s Day to someone who has lost a child, you just need to show up for them in some way. Even small gestures can mean a lot. Check in on them in whatever way feels right based on your relationship, and don’t push them. Simply let them know that they, and their child, have not been forgotten.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor and Maternal Mental Health Specialist
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