I am grateful that Hope Edelman wrote her beautiful life-affirming book, Motherless Daughters. For more than 25 years, she and her groundbreaking work have comforted countless women, helping them navigate their grief. It’s just that when my mother died and I was ceremoniously handed the book, the best I could do was crack open the spine, read a couple of sentences and fling it across the room.
My mother was 54 when she died in New York City. Cell by cell, leukemia ravaged her body. Chemotherapy and a punishing bone marrow transplant nearly destroyed her. And just one year post-transplant when it finally seemed that it was all behind her and at last she made it out of the woods, my mother contracted a fatal infection.
And she was gone.
I was 30. I did not want to be a motherless daughter. I was not ready for any kind of initiation into this club. Is one ever ready to lose a mother? When I think of those who lost a mother during childhood, I know was lucky to have her as long as I did. Conversely, I’ve seen people with moms who make it to the high 90s and they’re just as bereft.
But I could not bear to accept this loss, which seemed too surreal, too terrifying. Crazy as it sounds, reading Motherless Daughters would only confirm what I could not accept. So the book remained unopened. But curiously, I always kept it within reach on my bookshelf.
While I’ll never get over the loss, I have learned to live with it. Instead of focusing on my lack, I try to embrace those pieces that bonded us and all she gave me: my mother’s extreme lust for learning, books, movies, travel and experiences. I try to focus on our joyful moments—our long walks together, our deep unspoken connection. It’s easier now.
But this time of year, many years after her passing, when I see one of those “Celebrate the Mom in your Life” ads, I still feel that same icky jolt that I first did when my mother’s death was too new, too raw. Those ads are a harsh reminder that I’m pressed against the candy store window—seeing others with their mothers while longing for mine. I wonder why? How? How could my mother, so full of life and vitality, with so much left to accomplish and give, have perished?
As this Mother’s Day looms, how can motherless daughters (and sons) feel included? I turned to Hope Edelman. She explains that there are ways to manage the day and even find some comfort. The bestselling author offered her sage wisdom on how to celebrate our mothers and ourselves.
Look for ways to honor your mother on Mother’s Day. “Mothers who have passed on deserve as much recognition. Display a photo of your mother and surround it with candles and flowers for the day. Wear a special piece of her jewelry. Or make a donation in her memory to a charity she supported. Do activities you once shared. For example, if you gardened together, consider planting a rose bush in her honor.”
Communicate your feelings to her. “Writing is therapeutic because it helps bring out thoughts and emotions that might otherwise churn around inside. Let your mother know what’s happened to you in the past year. Tell her that you miss her. I know a motherless daughter who keeps a special journal and writes letters to her mother twice a year—on her mother’s birthday, and on Mother’s Day.”
Help her memory live on. “We give our mothers immortality by keeping parts of their spirits alive. Tell your children, spouse or friends stories about your mother on Mother’s Day. Cook one of her special dishes and share it with a neighbor. Or give one of her small possessions away as a gift. This way, you can share something special about her with others.”
Spend time with compassionate relatives and friends. “Questions like ‘Didn’t she die six years ago?’ or ‘Aren’t you over it by now?’ aren’t the kind of questions you need to hear on Mother’s Day. Spend time with people who knew your mother and understand the depth of your loss, and those who can lend a sympathetic ear if you’re feeling sad and need to talk.”
Be kind to yourself. “When a mother dies, a daughter loses the nurturing and support only a mother can provide. Do some self-nurturing on this day. Treat yourself to a home-based spa treatment. Go for a hike in the sun. Or take an hour just to yourself to meditate or read. Remember that mourning is a lifelong process. There is no clear beginning, middle and end. We miss our mothers periodically throughout our whole lives, especially at times when we want their guidance or expertise.”
Consider joining a Motherless Daughters support group. Edelman advises that women around the country have designated the day before Mother’s Day as Motherless Daughters Day and hold luncheons to honor mothers who have died. Find out more about these groups by visiting, hopeedelman.com/support-groups/.