The loss of your mother carries a different burden than the loss of other people in your life. At least that’s how I’ve experienced it. Somehow, it’s deeper and bores a big hole in your heart that can never be filled again—because you only have one mother.
Some people are fortunate enough to have their birth mother in their lives for a very long time, and some not long enough. Others have mother-figures who love them unconditionally; many lucky children have adoptive mothers, who love them as a birth mom would. Regardless of how your relationship with your mom was created, it is a special one, for sure.
Mothers care so deeply about their “kids” and want the best for them. They bandage the hurts and offer hugs when needed. They listen to the sweet and the sorrow, so they can dish up congratulations and condolences equally. The pride they have to share is immeasurable—whether they let us know or not. For most, moms hold a place of honor in our hearts, minds, and souls.
As I think back to the relationship with my mom, I remember it fondly in its entirety. Yet, I also remember when we argued, butted heads, didn’t get along so well. What I recall about those times, from my vantage point today, is that they were teaching moments. My mom was offering her wisdom so I could make better choices—even though it felt at the time as if she was punishing me. She got me to thinking. I’m very grateful that she gave me some tough love when I needed it.
As we matured together—I became an adult and she moved into middle age—we became best friends. We talked on the phone often, shared recipes, and memories. When we were together, we went on shopping trips, cooked up great food for the family, compared craft projects, borrowed jewelry from each other, and laughed a lot. My heart was full when I was with my mom.
The Hole Her Absence Leaves
It’s like a cavern. Calling her name just keeps echoing, with no response. The sadness is deep. The heaviness of your heart is almost unbearable.
For those who have not yet felt the loss of your mother, these feelings may not resonate. The description may sound quite dramatic.
Some may experience something similar if you’ve lost your father, a child or your spouse, as well. Loss is loss. Your relationship is forever changed. You are forever changed.
I’ve learned that the cavernous hole can never be filled. Yet, there are things you can do to ease your heart.
Grief is Love with Nowhere to Go
I’ve come to believe this with every fiber of my being. It helps me to think of grief in this way. If it is love with nowhere to go, I get to find a new channel for that love. That’s not to say, I can replace my mom—I cannot, nor would I ever want to.
Allowing the love to come out provides some relief. Sharing the love with others who are grieving too is one way to let it out. Letting yourself love people—or animals—in need of love who won’t get it otherwise is another way.
I had to bear my grief alone for a while before I could share my love—and that’s okay. It’s normal. Private grieving time is an essential part of healing from the inside out. Being with family and close friends to share memories can also help the healing process.
You Are Among the Living
Even though you have lost someone near and dear, you are still among the living. Finding ways to move on after the loss of your mother is important to be able to show up for your own life and the people who remain with you.
The emotions you feel are also important to acknowledge, not bury. Handling the grief, sadness, overwhelming loss and the absence of one of the most meaningful people in your life is not easy.
Grieve the Loss of Your Mother
Allow yourself to grieve. Some people around you will try to rush you through this. They may tell you that it’s time to move on before you’re ready. Everyone grieves in their own way, and at their own pace. Allow yourself that grace.
The feelings will ebb and flow. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it another tsunami of emotion will overtake you. It’s often described as a wave. It felt like that for me, too. I’d try to keep myself busy with work and friends and hobbies. At many times during my busyness, I would feel that wave come up and douse me with sadness so deep that I couldn’t stop the tears.
It takes time. Be gentle with yourself so you can allow the feelings to come up and flow through.
Hold Tight to the Memories
This year will be the 20th anniversary of my mom’s passing. The hole in my heart is still there. It was a long journey to get to where I am today, able to look back and share with you the wisdom I’ve gained about how to handle the grief and loss of your mother.
One of the things that helped me in the early stages of my grief was to gather pictures of my mom. They held memories of me and my brothers when we were young. We were at the beach with our boat. I was standing on the back porch as mom brushed my hair. We celebrated my parent’s 25th anniversary and their 50th. So many wonderful memories.
At first, I cried inconsolably as I sat alone with these pictures. As time passed, I was able to smile more and share the stories with my brothers—and we’d laugh. It’s good to remember. After all, the memories are what will keep your mother close to your heart now that she’s not with you.
Reach Out, Not In
Grief is certainly a private matter. Deep sadness can be all-consuming. Your tendency may be to keep to yourself during this time, which is fine for a while. Sharing stories and feelings with others you trust is one way to lift some of the burdens on your heart.
The more you speak of your mother, the closer you can keep her to you.
And then, there is speaking to her. You may think I’m a bit crazy but, even after all these years, I speak to mine. I planted a tree in her honor after she passed. I moved from that home and couldn’t bring the tree with me, so I planted another at my new home. I did that once again. Under each tree I’ve put this plaque:
If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane,
I’d walk right up to Heaven and bring you home again.
I have sat under those trees many times over the years and just talked with mom. I’ve shared tragedies and triumphs. Sometimes I imagine a breeze is her gentle touch on my cheek.
If it’s not a tree for you, find opportunities to let your thoughts and feelings come out in healthy ways. Resist holding it all in, because that will only prolong your pain.
This Too Shall Pass
Grieving does not have to keep you deeply rooted in it. As it ebbs and flows, the strength of those waves eases over time. Initially, you may feel despondent, unable to cope—perhaps unwilling to accept the loss.
The more you allow the feelings to flow out of you and face the sadness head-on, you’ll begin to notice that the memories leave you with a sense of grace and gratitude.
Sit with that for a while. Allow a gentle breeze to remind you of her. Or a butterfly. Or, for me, it’s a hummingbird.
And smile for her.
María Tomás-Keegan is a certified Career and Life Coach for Women, and founder of Transition & Thrive with María. When life-changing moments, like the loss of your mother, flip the world upside down, she guides women to turn chaos into calm, so they can clear their heads, become resilient and learn to live a life guided by their own values and vision. If you’re ready to explore new possibilities with an open heart, get 5 Simple Choices to Get You Back on Track now.