How to Handle Mother’s Day After A Loss

By Jessica Wolstenholm

It was Mother’s Day 2013. I sat at my kitchen table, my fingers wrapped around a warm mug of coffee. I sipped slowly as I contemplated what would inevitably take place later that morning.

Every year on Mother’s Day, our church dedicates a few moments at the beginning of the service to recognize the mothers in the service. First, all mothers are asked to stand. Then the pastor takes time to recognize certain types of mothers in the audience—grandmothers, great-grandmothers, those with the most children or grandchildren. And we all smile and clap along as these lovely women are recognized for their love and commitment to their families.

The pastor also always recognizes new mothers. “If you’ve had a baby since last Mother’s Day, stand up!” he’ll say. And the whole room smiles as the mamas stand proudly to their feet, some with their precious babies in their arms. It is a very sweet moment for most.

But then there was me.

As I sat at my table that morning I wondered what I would do when the time came. You see, I had indeed birthed a baby in the last year, since the last Mother’s Day. But instead of being in her cradle in her room down the hall, she was buried in a marbled ivory casket six feet underground.

I didn’t know what to do. On one hand, I wanted to be recognized and my sweet baby remembered. But at the same time, I didn’t. When it comes to mothering a baby who is no longer here it hurts to be forgotten and it hurts to be remembered. It’s such a painful place to be.

As it were we actually arrived at church too late to be there for the special Mother’s recognition part of the service. Maybe it was for the best.

A friend pulled me in close later that morning, “I hope you stood up today,” she whispered. I only smiled weakly because I wasn’t sure if I agreed with her. I’m actually still not sure.

I am a mother of three beautiful children here on earth. They fill up my days with love and wonder and I dedicate all of my hard work and efforts around the home for them. I adore being a mother and love the sentiment of a day set aside to recognize moms everywhere. 

But I am also a mom to two sweet babies in Heaven. Every Mother’s Day morning I think of the two sets of arms that are missing from the hug pile I am greeted with. And it grieves my heart greatly. But not just mine.

Consider the others that might wake up on Mother’s Day with a heavy heart: mothers who have experienced stillbirth or miscarriage, mothers who have lost children to tragic accidents or terrible illnesses, or mothers who are awaiting their child to come home from across the water. Mother’s Day is also painful for the mother who hasn’t heard from her adult child in weeks or months or years. And let’s not forget those women who are aching to conceive and yet have not yet been able to. All of these women and more view Mother’s Day a little differently than most.

I love that we have a special day to celebrate mothers and everything they contribute to family and society and really, the world. But maybe this Mother’s Day, in the midst of sticky, homemade pancakes in bed and drippy, gluey noodle card crafts, we can take the time to remember those mothers who wake up with a dark spot of sadness in their heart and send them a card or text letting them know we acknowledge them and validate their emotions.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas out there—those celebrating with glee and those facing the day with a dose of melancholy, and any woman with a mix of both.

Happy, happy Mother’s Day to you.