Mother's Day...when your mother has passed away
In this time of the year we are bombarded with loving messages, tweets, Facebook posts and - above all - commercials about Mother's Day.
"Tweet to us and win a beautiful bouquet for your mother!"
"Did you get your present for Mother's Day yet? Check out our gift shop!"
"Mother's Day should be every day!"
My mother has died. She died many years ago. She was the most beautiful one in the world, in my opinion. Every day, she is in my thoughts, even if it's just for a moment. Tens of thousands of children and youngsters (and even more adults, people of eighteen years and older) have lost their mother. And they also see hundreds of Mother's Day media feeds on Mother's Day. Especially for children and adolescents this can be very painful.
Don't get me wrong, I think Mother's Day is a wonderful symbol to show that you love and cherish your Mum. And we wouldn't want that ignored. But it would be nice if (many) more people would realize that Mother's Day (and Father's Day) can be sensitive to bereaved children.
There are several things teachers, families and friends can do to make Mother's Day a little bit easier for bereaved children, and to turn it into a healthy, meaningful mark on the calendar. This doesn't make the pain go away, but it's more constructive than ignoring the situation (or worse).
Mother's Day in the classroom
This is probably one of the most uncomfortable situations that a teacher can find him or herself in. How do you deal with the theme of Mother's Day in your class if one of your students has lost his or her mother? Sometimes it may seem a bit easier to just let the taboo be the taboo, and be a little evasive to spare the bereaved child. This is not a smart nor empathic choice.
In classrooms, teachers usually give craft assignments to pupils for Mother's Day. Children craft presents to express their love and affection. If a pupil's mother (or father) has passed away, this assignment can be excruciatingly uncomfortable, even terrifying, for both teacher and pupil. And that's very understandable. A little too often, some teachers feel so uncomfortable in the situation, that they assign other tasks to the child. Like telling them to 'do homework'. These situations have happened and still occur. It seems a little bit easier to spare (even pity) the bereaved child and 'ban them' from the Mother's Day theme. But in fact, that approach is hurtful and unnecessary.
Many grieving children have indicated that it really helps to engage in Mother's Day themed school assignments. Not just to avoid being 'the kid who is different' but to acknowledge the importance of their mother in their lives, whether she is still alive or not. Engaging in the Mother's Day class activities assures the child that it's completely okay and normal to think about his or her mother, and that she can still be a part of his or her life, because she WAS in fact his or her mother. Memories do not fade quickly, and well they shouldn't. Making theme crafts and the act of creation in general, helps them to make something that their mother would appreciate. If not for them selves, than in the child's feelings about her.
You could choose to emphasize the ROLE of mothers and female (non-professional) caregivers (like aunts, foster mother, guardian, godmother) rather than the PERSON. And then, the child can create a crafts for his/her decased mother and/or for the person who is now taking care of him/her. This inspires the child to discover, accept and appreciate female role models in his/her life and this gives a more hopeful perspective to the future.
Emphasize that the child always has his / her mother in his/her heart, whether she is still here with us or not. It is not that the child has never had a mother.
You can ask a pupil(s) to draw, paint or craft his or her or most cheerful reminder, as a tribute to his / her mother. This also shows the classmates that the bereaved child's mother really still is important in his/her life and that that is very normal and a good thing.
Sometimes classmates of bereaved children can be very cruel, sometimes even without even knowing they are. Remarks such as 'You don't have a mother, so why are you drawing a picture for her? She's dead!'. This is why it's very important to keep the conversation open in the classroom and NOT to avoid the subject. The bullying classmate (who might even not know how harmful it is what he/she is doing) also has the right to learn about these issues. As a teacher, you can then and there intervene and explain (without punishment or disciplining in any way) that every mother deserves a good picture made by her child, whether she is in Heaven / not longer with us or not.
If the bereaved child really does not want to participate in the Mother's Day class activity, respect that feeling and choice and then let the child do what he or she wants to do. Forcing the child to talk about it or to engage in creative class is not a good idea. Children will start talking when they are ready. Still, the child can be very sad during the activities. It can deepen the sadness and the feeling of 'being different'. You could, in that case (and if the child is still very young), offer him or her toys that are associated with 'care', like stuffed animals. If the child is a little older, let him / her then indicate freely what he or she wishes to do. This includes the option to punch a boxing bag, play music, soccer or anything else.
TIPS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS:
Visit, if the child wants, the cemetery and leave a personal note or card behind for Mother's Day. View photos from happier times. Print out a copy of a happy photo, make it into a Mother's Day Card and let the child write a personal message to his/her mother. For example, ask the child to write down what he or she has done very well lately (sports , school accomplishment, tidy at home, anything). On such vulnerable days and moments, it's very important for a child to feel a bit more confident about him of herself than usual. Getting confirmation from someone in the immediate surroundings is equally important and helpful. Respect the contents of the card and keep it confidential for the child, if he / she wishes. That also means that you might not read the message. Respect the child's wishes.
You could visit a special place where the child has shared a warm memory with his or her mother.
Some children may feel tremendous anger and injustice over the loss of their mother. Those feelings are justified and should not be 'played down'. It can also be very frustrating for bereaved children to see other children feeling happy with their parents, having fun. Offer the child the opportunity to express this anger without any risk of getting reprimanded. Find a constructive form, for example hitting a punching bag. This is a healthy 'outlet' for all this negative energy and anger, and it relaxes the child in a relative short time frame.
Whatever you do: do not ignore Mother's Day.
How do you respond to someone who says, 'Mother's Day. I hate it.'?
You could let them know that you may not understand his or her situation for the full 100 percent, but that you are there to listen, if necessary. You could ask if there is a good memory about his/her mother that he/she might want to share. If not, then this should be also okay for you. Just stick around. Be there.
How can you deal with Mother, if you have lost your own mother?
Do not do anything you do not want to do. Spend the day any way you truly want to. Do not let yourself be persuaded to do things that you don't feel like. You might consider writing or crafting your memories in an art journal. And please remember that it's not about how 'pretty' the art work is. The point is that it might give you some comfort and space to express yourself. Oh, and boxing and playing soccer always remain options. :-)
There are also a lot of mothers whose child (or children) are deceased.
That is an incredible, unprecedented, intense deep loss. What could you do for those mothers Or what can you do if you yourself are living with this profound and deep loss?Losing a child is - I think - the hardest thing that could ever happen to a mother. Mother's Day is then an extra painful day, and the grief gets an extra ragged edge on days like these. This is also the case if there are other children in the family. It may feel like the day 'should be' festive. But a veil of sadness lies over the house. Some grieving families feel a bit more connected when they 'celebrate' Mother's Day in a symbolic way. For instance by releasing written balloons, or by planting a special tree, or by doing anything else that marks the moment and gives a feeling of breathing space. Self-care is incredibly important (always). Be kind to yourself during this period (and always). Whatever you do: do it only if it feels right to you.
Strength and love to you, brave people.
All the best,
P.S.: If you like, you may also engage in the conversation with WesternOrphans on Facebook and on Twitter (@WesternOrphans and @jojanneke, the author of 'So, you're an orphan now' - you may read 4 chapters online for free). I'm just one click away, really.