How to cope with grief on Mother’s Day

Finding yourself full of dread and wondering how to cope with grief on Mother's Day? Here are some tips to navigate the tricky day, according to experts

illustration of woman grieving on mother's day
(Image credit: Getty)

Mother’s Day can be a difficult day for those who are grieving or who have complicated relationships with their mum, or motherhood in general. It’s a difficult celebration to avoid altogether, but there are some coping tips you can try to get through the day.

For many, it’s a painful day, marked by absence. Whether it be the loss of your mum, your own child, or a reminder of damaged relationships, mother-child relationships are complicated and diverse, but it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re scrolling on social media. Similar to experiencing grief at Christmas, it can feel like you're the only one not celebrating.

There’s no singular way to cope with the loss of a parent but there are some steps you can take to get through the day. We spoke to experts and readers, who shared their coping tips. If you're wondering how to support someone who is grieving, we've provided advice on that too. 

How to cope with grief on Mother’s Day, according to experts

Grief on Mother’s Day can manifest itself in many different ways. For anyone who has lost their mother, social media feeds can serve as a stark reminder of absent loved ones. Often forgotten too are families dealing with the loss of a child, as well as people who are estranged from their parents. We’ve spoken to specialists in each area who have provided helpful tips to get through the day.

As well as the below tips, you may find comfort in these powerful loss of parents quotes, which serve as an eloquent reminder that grief can often be a shared experience. 

1. Turn off social media and email alerts

Woman turning off social media alerts on her phone

(Image credit: Getty)

It can be hard to avoid Mother's Day altogether, owing to the barrage of marketing emails and social media posts that inevitably come with it. For many, muting social media can help, or opting out of Mother’s Day emails—an option that more and more brands are offering.

For Maria Bailey, founder of Grief Specialists, turning off email alerts has helped. "This is my second Mother’s Day without my mum," she tells us. "The anticipation is worse than the actual day for me. I have to turn off notifications for emails from Moonpig and M&S and Bloom & Wild. Some companies don’t give you that option, so the sales emails keep piling in."

Most brands that give an opt-out option will allow you to do so with a single click, so opting out of as many as you can clear your inbox for years to come. You can also mute mentions of Mother’s Day on social media if you find seeing other people’s posts difficult. To mute words on Twitter, head to 'Settings' > 'Privacy and Safety' then click 'Mute and Block.' Once you’re at this screen you can click the + button on the right-hand corner and mute as many words as you want, for as long as you want.

Instagram has a similar filter if you want to filter words from messages or comments, but if you want to avoid mentions of Mother’s Day altogether, it may be best to just stay off the app for the day, as the filters are somewhat restricted. If you want to filter out phrases in comments and messages, head to 'Settings' then 'Privacy' and 'Hidden Words.' From here, you can add in the words you want to avoid seeing. Whether you’re grieving, or estranged from a parent, it can be helpful to distance yourself from social media for the day altogether if you find it triggering. 

2. Set clear boundaries and avoid putting pressure on yourself

Woman on a spring walk

(Image credit: Getty)

"Mother’s Day can be a really difficult day for lots of people – especially those who don’t have close relationships with their mum or those people whose mums have died. Seeing families celebrating can remind us of the mothers, grandmothers, or children we’ve lost," says Amy Green, Operations Manager at Cruse Bereavement Support. “Don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do, this may include being part of family plans or bringing attention to the day if you don’t want to,” she continues.

It may sound obvious, but it’s up to you how you spend the day. Grieving is personal and if it’s no longer a special day to you, then there’s no need to mark it. Find a good Netflix series, go for a walk, lose yourself in a bestselling book, or self-help book, try a new recipe, or spend time with friends; whatever makes you happy. 

Whether you’re grieving a mother figure or a child, the experts agree on this one. Clare Bullen, Head of Clinical Services at Child Bereavement UK urges people not to put pressure on themself on this difficult day. "When you are grieving, Mother’s Day with its big build-up in the shops and the media can feel like a cruel reminder of your loss and how much you are missing your child. There is no wrong or right way to mark a special occasion," she tells us.

"Don’t feel you need to stick to a plan or conform to what other people expect of you or what they are doing. If you wake up feeling like you’d like to do something different, or nothing at all, that’s fine. It can help to talk to your family and friends about how you’re feeling and discuss whether you’d like to do something together and what that might be."

3. Create a new tradition

Woman lighting a candle in memory of her mum

(Image credit: Getty)

If you do choose to acknowledge the day, creating a new tradition or routine can allow you time and space to mourn, while turning the day into something positive. "Some families we support at Child Bereavement UK tell us that they get comfort from creating their own new family traditions, for example by doing something special together, doing something creative, or just taking time out to remember their child," says Bullen. "Doing something in memory of your child can be a helpful way to mark the occasion. such as going out for a walk in nature, lighting a special candle, planting a tree or shrub in memory, or visiting their grave or another remembrance site.

"Some families tell us that they find it helpful to look at photographs or to have a memory box or jar, a place to keep special items that belonged to the child or that are a reminder of them." Whether you’re mourning the loss of your mother or a child, visiting somewhere that reminded you of them, looking at photos, or carving out some time in the day to embrace your grief may help. 

Green echoes Bullen's advice, suggesting, "you could light a candle or plant a flower to remember them, visit a place that was special to them or write a letter or a card to the person you’re missing."

For Maria, creating a plan around the day that acknowledges her mum helps. "I’ve got a plan in place for Sunday - breakfast at our beach hut. My mum’s ashes were recently scattered in the sea in front of our hut, as it was her happy place. Then we’re going for a walk with the dogs and a pub lunch," she tells us. "I think that’s going to help, as I’m not going to be sitting dwelling over it but I will be acknowledging my mum and remembering her. She was a special lady."

If you’re estranged from your mother, you could think about an alternative way to celebrate the day–be it with friends, or celebrating other powerful female figures in your life.

4. Turn to friends and family

Woman holding heart-shaped wood pieces

(Image credit: Getty)

Grief is both unique and isolating but try to remember that you're not alone. Draw on your network of friends and family and if you're a mum yourself, reclaim the day and don't feel guilty about celebrating your relationship with your child.

It can help to talk about shared experiences of your loved one, or reaching out to friends who are going through something similar, whether it be loss or estrangement.

For Maria, having her own children helped change her perception of the day. "Last year, I was woken up with a cup of tea and breakfast by my three children. This is when the penny dropped that it’s my day, too! That totally changed my day. There was a bit of inner conflict that made me feel happy but I was also a bit sad."

Leona Burton, who was estranged from her mother at one, says she found Mother’s Day especially difficult when she was growing up but has found leaning into her existing support network helpful.  "Lean into our other relationships this time of year and if you have children, embrace how special you are to them," she advises.

"We always do something very special around Mother's Day and my husband makes a big deal of it - we are location independent so we'll have an experience wherever we are or do something extra special as a family."

"I have a large online community—Mums/Moms In Business International—and many of the women within it are tackling personal issues. I spend time helping them overcome battles and many of them have become close friends that I choose to lean on at this time of year." 

5. Know that your feelings are normal

Woman looking out of her window as the sun sets

(Image credit: Getty)

Depending on your situation, you might be wrapped up in layers of complex emotions such as intense grief, anger, jealousy, sadness—and all at the same time. Remind yourself that these feelings are normal.

"Know that it’s okay to feel sad. Having intense emotions is a normal part of the grieving process, so don’t think that you need to suppress these feelings,” says Debra Longsdale, Therapy Services Director at independent mental health care provider the Priory Group, speaking on behalf of mental health support app, My Possible Self, explains.

If you’re estranged from your parent, you can find yourself ruminating in feelings of anger or resentment on Mother's Day–remember that this is normal, and accept these emotions.

Allow yourself to grieve and process these emotions, but also ensure you look after yourself. "Try not to be too hard on yourself and Look after your physical health - treat yourself kindly, where you get enough sleep, eat well, get outside of the house and spend time with others," advises Longsdale.

It can't solve everything, but a good night's sleep can work miracles when it comes to approaching things with a level head. Try to find the best bedtime routine for you and practice good sleep hygiene. If you struggle to sleep, try these natural cures for insomnia.

6. Plan ahead

Woman writing in a diary

(Image credit: Getty)

Even if you don’t want to mark the day, it’s wise to prepare yourself for it and line up plans to distract yourself if you know it’s going to be a difficult day. Longsdale recommends sticking to a routine for the day. "Try to maintain a structure, even if you don’t feel up to it," she says.

Carole Pemberton, Bereavement Volunteer at Cruse, previously spoke to w&h about coping with Mother’s Day when grieving the loss of a parent. “Take some time to think about what you want to try and do ahead of the day. Maybe that's not going into card shops or not going out for lunch, so you don't see other families celebrating together," she advised.

By planning the day ahead of time, you can control your environment and avoid places or people that might trigger certain emotions. "Think about what you can take control of. Some people like to use these days as remembrance opportunities. That could mean spending the day by yourself, or you might want to do a Zoom call with the rest of your family. It’s really about deciding what is going to be right for you,” she continued.

Depending on your situation, you might want to avoid certain places or even common family members or friends, in cases of estrangement. Controlling your environment will help the day pass a little easier.

Grieving on Mother’s Day—where to find help

Know that you're never alone. Even if you don't have friends and family you feel comfortable speaking to, there are many brilliant helplines and online communities you can turn to.

  • Cruse Bereavement Support
    Specialist care on coping with grief. Call 0808 808 167 or head to their website where you can access services such as a live chat, group, Zoom, telephone, or one-to-one support.
  • Child Bereavement UK
    For confidential support, information and guidance, call 0800 02 888 40, or email 
  • Sue Ryder
    Provide a range of online bereavement support, including free video counseling, an online community forum offering 24-hour peer-to-peer support, and a wide range of advice and resources.
  • The Samaritans
    UK-wide charity, providing a 24/7, free listening service for anyone in need of someone to talk to. Call 116 123. 
  • Mind
    UK-wide charity, providing comprehensive support and advice for anyone going through a mental health crisis.
  • My Possible Self
    Free mental health app, with great tools and resources to help set you on the right path

How to support someone who is grieving

A woman drinking a coffee with a friend

(Image credit: Getty)

It can be uncomfortable to talk about death or difficult emotions, but letting someone know that you are there for them, and acknowledging their pain can help.

Green tells us, "Whenever someone you know has had a bereavement, it’s really important to make sure they know you are there for them. A lot of the time when someone is grieving, they can feel very alone and isolated—and so even popping around for a cup of tea and asking how they are doing can be a great way to support them. "Death can make you feel uncomfortable and unsure of what to say, but losing someone is also the hardest thing a lot of people ever experience—so making sure your friends and family don’t feel alone is really important.”

A simple gesture like popping around for a cup of tea or suggesting you go out for a coffee can be a subtle way to show your support, and allow them the space to open up if they want to. 

Often when we think about Mother’s Day and grief, we think about grieving the loss of a mother, but it’s also an impossibly difficult day for anyone who has lost a child. "The single most important thing you can do to help someone bereaved on Mother’s Day is to acknowledge their loss, however long ago it was. Just asking how they are or suggesting meeting them for a coffee can go a long way to show that you care and haven’t forgotten," says Bullen.

"Bereaved parents we support at the charity tell us they appreciate it when people use the name of their child, so sending a card saying you are thinking of them can mean a great deal."

Anna Paul
Freelance writer

Anna is an editor and journalist, specializing in SEO and digital content production. First carving her career in communications and advertising agencies in Berlin and Barcelona, Anna's former life saw her work for film studios and inside a fashion house, before she moved to where her career highlights include heading up the SEO desk during the Covid-19 pandemic. Anna's published work ranges from culture and films to human interest features and live news coverage.

In her spare time, she enjoys watching movies, discovering the next big thing in music, traveling, online shopping, and poring over poetry and magazines. When she's not consuming those things, she's probably writing about them.  Originally from Glasgow, Anna has lived in Berlin, Barcelona, and London, not to mention stints in Guernsey and Athens. When she's not struggling to navigate a new language, she's always chasing the next hot trend and perfect black dress (you can never have too many).