Mother’s Day is not a fun and joyous holiday for everyone. For people who have experienced trauma like the loss of a mother or child, the occasion can spur painful emotions that require coping mechanisms to get through. But this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many of those strategies may not be an option.
“Because we are living in a time of physical distancing, many will not be able to be around others to help get them through the day as they normally do on Mother’s Day,” said Dan Reidenberg, a mental health expert and executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. “This Mother’s Day could also be very painful for some because they are literally alone due to the COVID-19 restrictions, and grieving in isolation hurts.”
Not only are social gatherings off the table, but coping tactics like engaging in group exercise or going out to certain public locations are similarly unavailable. Mother’s Day may also be particularly difficult for those who have recently lost loved ones ― especially mothers ― to the deadly disease.
“Along with that, people are experiencing grief and feelings of loss on a day-to-day basis due to the ongoing isolation from COVID-19, and may have their feelings intensified when holidays trigger difficult memories,” said Shelli Dry, a pediatric therapist and director of clinical relations at Enable My Child.
But there are ways to ease the effects of those Mother’s Day triggers while social distancing. HuffPost spoke to Dry, Reidenberg and other experts to learn how to deal with the grief surrounding this holiday in lockdown. While the focus is on people who’ve lost their mothers, much of their advice can apply to those who’ve lost a child or experienced other kinds of trauma.
Reach Out To Loved Ones
If you’re feeling alone at home and unable to physically be with others, it may seem tempting to isolate yourself further by shutting down the lines of communication. But connection is a powerful tool that can help with grief.
“It is important for you to find ways to stay connected and maintain at least some traditions that you have for the day,” Reidenberg said. “This means ensuring that you call, text or go online and see family members that you can’t be physically with but can still talk to. For those who have recently lost their moms, this will be particularly important.”
Even if you can’t be with loved ones the way you normally would on that day, you can enjoy their company virtually with video calls or communication on social media. You can proactively prepare for the difficult day by establishing contact plans in advance.
“Developing new routines during social distancing is essential to mental health and ideas that may be effective should include concrete actions to help the person take control of their grief,” Dry said. “This can be accomplished by creating a plan for coping by identifying what you can still do to engage with others. The coping plan could include specific activities like scheduling phone calls and listing the people you can call and what you would like to discuss.”
“When we lose our mother, each Mother’s Day can be hard because we relive past Mother’s Days, we are reminded of things that we did for them or bought/made for them when they were alive, but we tend to do this with others,” Reidenberg said. “That sharing of memories can be very helpful in the grief process, even years after the loss has happened. When we can’t be together and don’t relive these memories with others people may feel like they are fading away or not being passed onto the next generation, and this is a form of loss as well.”
If you lost your mother, talking with loved ones on Mother’s Day offers the opportunity to share memories and reflect on your time with her.
“Sharing the funny stories and memories with loved ones to celebrate your mother can bring joy,” said Saniyyah Mayo, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. “So if you are struggling with Mother’s Day grief, remember and discuss the good times. Tell the stories that you want your mother to be remembered by.”
Dry suggested creating a memory book from pictures or stories about the person you lost and then sharing it with others through social media. She said online support groups can also provide a helpful forum for talking about them.
Carry On Traditions Or Create New Ones
“It would be helpful to find at least one tradition that you had with your mom that you can carry on that day,” Reidenberg advised. “Maybe she had a favorite food she liked to eat on that day ― make it. Maybe she enjoyed doing something in her garden ― try and do that. Or maybe she always enjoyed calling a distant relative to say hello ― find a way to do that.”
It doesn’t have to be a perfect rendering of an old tradition. You can make it your own or adapt it to the constraints of social distancing. Or, you may consider creating your own traditions to honor this day that makes it special for you ― like writing in a journal or drawing or doodling as a physical outlet for emotions.
“Rather than curling up and saying you just are going to avoid the day altogether, find ways to make the day important for you, and in a way that you think would make your mom proud of you,” Reidenberg said. “Whether that is carrying on a tradition that she had or creating a new one, the idea is for you to carry on her legacy on Mother’s Day.”
Take Stock Of Your Feelings
Taking action to cope with your grief is important, but it’s also necessary to acknowledge and honor those feelings of grief, whatever form they may take.
“You may feel sad, angry, distress, tearful, alone, afraid, etc.,” Reidenberg said. “You might want to avoid the day and the feelings you are having, or you may want to do something entirely new and different ― and worry about what others might think about how you are grieving.”
Still, he emphasized that whatever you feel is OK and normal, as everyone grieves differently. The important thing is recognizing your own grief and how it’s affecting you ― and then walking through it rather than avoiding or denying it.
“Once you are able to accept that your feelings are based in your grief, find things that are important to you and do them, whether they were important to your mom or not, just do something that helps you not be engulfed by your sadness and loss.” Reidenberg said.
Licensed psychologist Tracy Thomas believes difficult experiences like grieving on Mother’s Day amid a pandemic push people to develop emotional strength. She recommended a strength-building exercise.
“If you’re in a reaction and feeling something stressful, painful, or difficult, then it’s important to shift yourself to an intentional state of being,” she explained. “This can be done by learning to redirect your focus from your reactions to your intentions and the outcomes you want to create.”
Shifting away from that state of reaction may involve setting intentions for how you want to spend the day or pursuing an artistic project to turn the holiday into a source of creative inspiration or exciting new memories.
Have A Therapy Session
“Those who struggle with Mother’s Day grief can utilize talk therapy as a powerful tool to help them cope,” Mayo said. “Most people correlate talk therapy with being in a room with a therapist. However, talk therapy is simply talking about what’s bothering you to help clarify things to bring peace.”
Virtual group therapy can be similarly helpful, as can online support groups. While therapists offer expert advice, fellow mourners may be able to offer another form of comfort and consolation.
Reidenberg said, “It can be a relief to know that you are not going through something alone and that others might be struggling in a different way, but they too are finding ways through this holiday.”