The first holiday season without my mom was a confusing, disorienting time. I remember wondering, How are we going to continue traditions that had been under her purview? How will I even know how to do that without her guidance?
I often think of a scene from Susan Minot’s novel Monkeys, about a group of siblings who’ve recently lost their mother in a car accident. As they decorate their house for the holidays they try to arrange everything as their mother always did. “Everything was the same,” the narrator says. “Nothing was the same.”
The internet is filling up with tips for getting through the holidays this week, this week, especially after a loved one has died. Lots of these tips are helpful. But they’re also often kind of…well, generic.
So here at Motherless Daughters, we’ve created a list just for daughters who are missing their moms at holiday time. These six ideas allow us to honor whatever sadness, longing, gratitude, or confusion we’re feeling, while also honoring the relationships we shared:
1. Spend Time Outside. Your mother gave you your body and your life force. A terrific way to honor her is to honor that. If you can (weather and mobility permitting) take a walk outside in nature. Immersion in the natural world can be a powerful healing tool, and it’s a quick mood-lifter, too. My mother’s mother used to insist that fresh air could cure almost anything. I used to roll my eyes at this, but you know what? I’m pretty sure she was right.
2. Create a Confidante. Put a photo of your mom or a memento that reminds you of her in a central spot in your home. When you walk by, tell her about what you’re thinking and feeling. You have license to unload to her. Everything is fair game, , from “I so wish you could see your grandkids on Christmas morning” to “Can you believe that Uncle Henry is doing this s**t again?” Tell her what you think she’d enjoy if she were here. Tell her what she’s lucky to be missing. Doing this creates a place for her in every day.
3. Activate Your Superpower. What’s the one thing you do better than almost anyone you know? Are you extraordinarily creative? Empathetic? Organized? Leverage on that strength this time of year. A special twist on this is to ask, “What did my mother know about me that would make her believe I could manage the holidays without her?” Then look for ways to put that quality into action that can benefit your or others.
4. Find Solace in Song. Music has the weird capacity to hurl us backwards in time, and bring back all the old emotions. Stay a step ahead of this by creating a holiday playlist of songs that evoke feelings of comfort and safety for you. Include some of your mom’s favorite songs or artists, too. Play it while you’re preparing a meal, or wrapping presents, or driving in the car. Or wake up every morning to a song that reminds you of her. I like “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan for this.
To set up an alarm song in an iPhone, go to the Clock app > Tap Alarm in the bottom menu > Tap + to set a new alarm > Tap Sound > Tap Pick a Song > Choose the song from your library > Tap Back > Tap Save.
5. Build Upon an Existing Tradition — or Seed a New One. Holiday pain can show up when you’re unable to reproduce a mother’s traditions. Fortunately, there’s no law that says we have to do anything exactly the same way. (It won’t be exactly the same, anyway, with a central person missing.) Try to break a favorite tradition down into its smaller components, and then incorporate just one or two of those. Or choose a quality that your mom embodied and create a new tradition around it. My mother loved puzzles and games, for example, so we now play Apples to Apples on Thanksgiving night and work on a puzzle together over the weekend.
6. Press the Pause Button As Needed. It’s good to know your limits, and even better to honor them. If a family gathering or your holiday To-Do List starts feeling too intense, take a break to get re-grounded. Ten deep breaths, letting the exhales extend longer than the inhales, calms down the nervous system and plugs us back into our bodies. Breaks like this can be especially helpful if your loss was very recent. It’s known as “dosing” your grief and can be a useful form of self-protection.
Most of all, please know you’re not alone. Millions of daughters are also missing their moms at this time of year. You can meet them and both give and receive support on my Facebook Author’s Page or other Motherless Daughters pages, such as the ones here, here, and here. You can also come to a Motherless Daughters Retreat in Toronto or Los Angeles in 2020.
Or join my first live, online support program for Motherless Daughters starting in January 2020! The special introductory price is good until New Year’s Day. Purchase one for yourself, and receive $50 off a second purchase for a sister or friend. You can watch a free webinar here for more details.
Sending you very best wishes for a peaceful holiday season, and a gentle start to your new year.