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Expert Advice

How to show your love for a friend grieving for their mom on Mother’s Day

The signs that Mother’s Day is approaching are everywhere: our inboxes fill with gift suggestions for mom, radio ads offer deals on flowers or tout the best Mother’s Day brunch in town. For many people, Mother’s Day encourages us to thank the women who raised us and loved us. For those who have lost their mom, Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder that she’s gone. Here are ways to help them acknowledge and navigate the day.

When a child is missing their mom on Mother’s Day

Whether the loss happened a few months or a few years ago, a grieving child can often feel left out—at birthday parties and soccer matches, school plays and back to school night, and especially on a day like Mother’s Day. They may feel angry that they don’t have a mom to celebrate, or feel isolated—especially if their friends don’t know what to say or do. They may want to avoid the subject altogether. Children can cope with devastating losses, often beautifully, but losing a parent has a ripple effect that will continue throughout their lives—and it’s especially poignant during events that their mom should be there for.

How to help

Children need support from family members and trusted adults as they learn to navigate life without a mom. Here are some tips for helping grieving children, especially on an emotional day like Mother’s Day.

1. Make it okay to talk about their mom. Counselor Emily Miller advises, “The number one thing I can encourage friends, family, and surviving parents to do is to ask the child how they are doing. Create a space where it’s okay to talk about their mom. And also respect that child’s boundary if they don’t want to talk about her. An adult who opens up the conversation is creating a container for the child’s feelings and experience.” Be aware that children may think that talking about their mom will make the family sad. Reassure them that talking might bring feelings to the surface, but it doesn’t cause sadness—and in fact can help lessen it.

2. Help the family have a plan for Mother’s Day. Ideally, the surviving parent will talk to the children about how they want to spend Mother’s Day at least few weeks ahead of time. It’s good for everyone to be on the same page. If you sense this isn’t happening, talk to the parent about possible choices. There’s no wrong way to spend the day, and supporting the parent can also help a grieving child cope.

3. Share memories if it’s comforting. Take cues from the immediate family. If the child wants to reminisce, share stories and fond memories. If it’s too soon or upsetting, save those stories for when they are ready.

4. Be an adult the kids can count on. Uncles, aunts, and other friends or family members can never replace a mom. But they can be trusted adults the child can turn to for advice or help.

5. Help kids find a community. Children who have lost a parent can feel isolated. See if there are resources for grieving kids in your area and share what you learn. One example: empowerHER pairs women who have lost their mom with girls who have recently suffered a similar loss. They offer mentorship and group activities near Mother’s Day (and year round). If you don’t have a program like this in your area, think about other communities your kids can tap into. Encourage children to be open with their friends, teachers, and others about their loss as they heal. Having conversations about loss kicks the elephant out of the room.

6. Remind the child they are loved. If you know a grieving child, let them know how much you care. If your child is friends with a grieving child, encourage them to reach out too. When empowerHER founder Cara Belvin lost her mom as a child, her best friend gave Cara her favorite candy every Mother’s Day to let her know that she remembered. It was a simple yet meaningful gesture that reassured Cara she wasn’t alone.

7. Be thoughtful about school activities. Ask teachers about any planned in-class activities around Mother’s Day and let the surviving parent know. This gives the family time to decide if they want to participate or do something else. You may also suggest classroom activities that a grieving child can participate in—like drawing or writing about a memory of their mom.

When an adult misses their mom on Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day, no matter what age we are, we remember our moms. And just like with children, it can be bittersweet for adults whose moms have passed away, no matter how long ago.

Hope Edelman, the author of Motherless Daughters, explains that loss changes over time, but it’s always there. “It’s normal to think about a mom on Mother’s Day, even twenty to thirty years after they’ve passed. Don’t ask, ‘Why aren’t you over it yet?’ The loss is permanent. When your friend loses a parent, the facts don’t change. But their relationship to those facts changes over time. If your friend becomes a parent, they may miss their mom in a different way. Their perspective shifts, and they look at loss differently. Grief is a lifelong process—it doesn’t end, but it evolves.”

How to help

While adults understand that loss is an unavoidable part of life, we all need a little help from our friends on hard days. When someone doesn’t have a mom to call or visit, Mother’s Day can really hurt. Here are a few tips to help your friend:

1. Say their mother’s name. Grieving people often wish that others would say the name of the person who died. It reminds them that others are remembering their mom and missing her too. Try saying, “I’ve been thinking about Barbara this Mother’s Day. I miss her a lot.”

2. Share memories, especially if you knew the parent. Our memories are what keep us close to those we love, even after they’ve died. If you’ve known your friend for a while, you may have spent some time with their mother. Share the gift of remembering how much she meant to you. It’ll mean the world to your friend.

3. Remind them that you and others are there. As Hope Edelman says, “We are part of a web of connections, and if your friend lost a parent, one of their main connections is missing. Remind them that they are still connected to others. They still need a community for those moments when grief bubbles up again.”

4. Do something thoughtful. Simple gestures, like a note or text to let your friend know you’re thinking of them this Mother’s Day, can make them feel less alone. Be there to listen if they want to talk.

5. Don’t try to fix things or cheer them up. The bond between a mother and child is one of the strongest relationships there is. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. No matter how long it’s been, your friend may still be very sad. The goal isn’t to help your friend have a “happy” Mother’s Day. It’s perfectly fine if they hate the day or choose to ignore it—they just need to feel supported.

6. Avoid complaining about your family. We can all good-naturedly complain about our mothers, mothers-in-law, or children from time to time. For someone who has lost their mother, those comments can sting, especially on Mother’s Day. And even if your relationships with your family members are strained, if those people are still alive, you have the hope of making things better. Your friend doesn’t get that opportunity. Save any complaints for another time or audience.

Whether you’re a kid or an adult, whether it’s been two months or twenty years, when you’ve lost your mom, Mother’s Day can be hard. Love and simple acknowledgment from friends and family can make a world of difference.