When I was 28 years old, my mom died. After the first few months of grieving, when I started to feel like things were getting back to normal, whatever that was, I started having crippling back spasms out of nowhere—the kind where I’d have to lie very still, on my stomach, head turned to the side (preferably on the floor). Until they eased up, I’d have to stay that way, sometimes for hours.
After several months of trying to figure this out with doctors (they prescribed muscle relaxants, which wasn’t exactly the right answer if my goal was to be able to get in a car, go to work, and live my life!), I looked for answers on my own.
Eventually I found some things that made a big difference: Certain foods made my mood better, intense workouts were more helpful than therapy IMO, I made sure I got enough sleep (that’s a huge one), and I let myself cry when I felt like it, even when it was inconvenient. (Moving to New York City helped with that one—you can sob on the subway and no one will give you a second look. The greatest city on earth!)
Eventually I found that intense workout sessions, getting enough sleep, and letting myself cry helped. The only problem? There’s one day of the year that none of this works: Mother’s Day.
Plus, I found that meditation profoundly changed my relationship with my grief—which, to my utter shock, I began to be able to “see” as this undigested blob in my body. It sounds strange, but once I accepted the blob (I actually told it, “Let’s be friends!”), it began to get smaller and smaller—and my capacity for joy, and sadness, and everything juicy and good and interesting in life began to grow stronger and stronger.
The only problem? There is one day of the year that none of this works: Mother’s Day.
In the years since she’s been gone, I have done various things on Mother’s Day: sometimes spending it with my boyfriend’s mother, sometimes heading to a B&B for the weekend, sometimes doing a spa day. One year I spent the entire day on the couch bingeing The Wire, oddly comforted by its bleakness. It was pretty easy to avoid the day, actually—until we all started living our lives on Facebook.
It was pretty easy to avoid Mother’s Day—until we all started living our lives on Facebook.
Now when I jump on social media every five minutes (seriously, I have a problem), there it is: “Ohhh. It’s Mother’s Day.” And I’m (metaphorically) back on the floor, lying flat and trying not to move. So this year, I decided to get an expert opinion on how to not just get through the day, but actually live my life on Mother’s Day: without hiding out, without giving up social media for the whole weekend (which actually isn’t a terrible idea, but still).
Acacia Parks, PhD, is the chief scientist for Happify—the digital company that creates games and other tools to help boost happiness and well-being—and she also conducts original research on how positive changes in everyday behavior can transform lives. She came up with several ways for me to deal with Mother’s Day in a healthier way—which I intend to try out this year (although a spa day is still on the table as well).
1. Remember something positive.
Relationships with parents are complicated, and it is easy to get caught up in the parts that made it that way. Instead, try to think of more good things than bad—funny moments, times your mother really did what you needed, ways that you are a better person because of her presence in your life.
2. Talk with other people who knew her. Maybe even share the memories from #1.
Just when you think you know everything you can know about her, someone will tell you a totally new story.
3. If the loss is still actively hurting you, take a few minutes to do some expressive writing.
Think about a time she did something that really meant something to you and write about it. Try and recount the event in as much detail as possible. Close your eyes and try to imagine it really happening. Note: This will hurt, but this type of vivid re-experiencing of the memory is helpful for healing.
4. If the loss is less recent and you are looking to reconnect with her memory, think about something you can do to honor her.
Take up a collection to a charity she loved. Make a photo collage of her and share it with others who knew her. Whatever feels right!
Originally published on May 5, 2016; updated May 12, 2019.
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