Early grief is a basket of contradictions. The pain tells us to “do” something but everything hurts and there is nothing we want to do. We want the pain to stop but letting it go feels like a betrayal: of the deceased, of us, of our grief. We long for supportive company but accepting well-intended offers from people who have no idea what we are going through makes us feel even more alone.
In moments like these, our pain seems unsoothable: nothing can be done or said to make it dissipate.
It’s okay to long for the life you had with your loved one. And, it is equally important to keep going forward with life as it is now.
There’s a good chance you feel as sad as you do because you deeply loved someone and because you were deeply loved in return. The truest form of love is the unselfish wish for another to be happy, even when we cannot be with them in physical form. By continuing to care for yourself, you are not only honoring the person you lost, you are stepping toward your own aliveness. Which, conveniently, happens to be the best forward path after loss. We do this slowly, one moment, one day, one week at a time.
Here are a few tips to help reconnect you with your own aliveness:
Speaking of time, now may be a good one to remind you that, everything, even your pain, is designed to be temporary. You will hurt for a while but you won't feel this way forever. With each day that passes, each forward step you take, you are succeeding are rebuilding your life. And that is more than enough.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce consultation, co-parenting support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Having trouble rebuilding after the death of a parent, spouse, child, family member or friend? Schedule a free consultation to see how grief counseling can help you move forward in a healthy way.
In an ambiguous world, few things are both certain and final. Death is one of them, yet many of us don't know what to do when someone we love loses someone they love.
As a grief therapist and counselor, I have observed over the years how intricately fear and anxiety are stitched into the grieving process--for both the griever and for his or her support system.
The most common fear among those asked to bear witness to grief is that of saying or doing the wrong thing. This is understandable. We would never want loved ones to hurt more than they are already hurting, certainly not by something we said or did. We may err on the side of staying away, giving those in mourning the space we tell ourselves they need, which, if we are totally honest, is really a way of protecting ourselves from the discomfort associated with making a mistake.
There is only one problem with this approach.
Anyone in mourning will tell you that it hurts most when others say or do nothing at all.
People in acute grief are ashamed of their vulnerability. They worry their pain is more than others can bear. Silent phones, empty mailboxes, and shadowless doorways confirm this fear.
Losing a loved one is like being dropped, without a map, into a foreign country where we don’t speak the language. Even the most mundane tasks seem unfamiliar or insurmountable. What better time for a friendly face to happen by with a warm hand, kind words, and a sandwich?
Here are a seven things you can do to show support for someone who is grieving:
Even if your texts, calls, and gestures go unanswered, I promise you they do not go unnoticed. Your presence communicates to your loved one, "I can handle this. I'm here. You matter."
The above tips were originally featured in this article. If you would like more suggestions on how to support someone who is grieving, be sure and check it out! If you have any thoughts on how to show support when a loved one dies, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. If you've recently experienced a loss and want to know more about how grief counseling can help you find the forward path, schedule a free consultation.
The loss of a spouse or soul mate can generate so many questions.
In the acute fog of grief, each moment is its own unique world--changing all the time. We wonder about the basics of survival. How will we get through each day? Will we ever feel 'normal' again?
As time passes, the content of our questions shifts toward a greater curiosity about what the future holds. We ask who will hold us again or how we will know the time is right to accept new love into our hearts. What follows is a letter from one reader who, five years after losing her beloved soul mate, is grappling with some of these questions and the feelings that go with them.
I hope this letter can be of use to any of you who may be wrestling with how to move forward after losing a spouse or partner.
Feel free to share your sentiments and questions in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you!
Dear Dr. Jill,
My husband of twenty-five, amazing, fun-filled years died suddenly of an aneurism about five years ago. I’m not exaggerating when I say John was everything to me. He was my lover, my best friend, my traveling companion. We had two beautiful children. We were inseparable.
When John died, my life came to a screeching halt. I can barely remember the first year or two after my soul mate's death. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed or see anyone. I had trouble eating, showering—even parenting my then teenaged children.
There were times when the pain was so bad I thought it would kill me. And there were moments when I actually wanted it to, just so John and I could be together.
With the support of my family, friends, and church, I slowly crawled out of the dark hole I was in. I started eating, showering, attending church services, and reengaging with my friends and family. Life is still hard without John but I’m managing as well as can be expected.
About six months ago, a fellow church member (I’ll call him Chuck) started asking me to do things. A dinner here. A movie there. I’ve known Chuck since before John died, so I assumed he was just being friendly. However, a few weeks ago, Chuck told me he was interested in something more than friendship.
At first, I panicked and told him I was not ready to date. I made a few awkward jokes and then quickly changed the subject. I figured all would return to normal and that would be that.
Since that night, I cannot stop thinking about Chuck. Each time I do, I instantly think about John and then I feel guilty. I try to push the thoughts about Chuck out of my head. I haven’t been able to do it.
It’s been five years since his death and, yet, I feel like I'm being disloyal to John. I’m worried that my children and my church community will judge me if I start dating again.
And what if things don’t work out with Chuck? What then? I’ve relied so heavily upon my church since John died, I’m afraid that a relationship with Chuck might jeopardize my place in the community I've come to rely on.
I’m so confused. If I have all of these questions, does that mean that I’m not ready to date? Or does it mean that Chuck is not the right person to date?
I was with John for so long and things were so easy. I am not sure I know what is normal and what is a sign that I’m making a bad choice.
Any advice you have is appreciated.
When To Say When
If my arms were long enough, I would reach out and hug you right now!
The depth of your love and commitment to John came through in your words. I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to learn how to move forward without him.
What also came through in your letter was the transformative power of grief.
Though it wasn’t easy, after the initial “grief fog” lifted, you leaned into your support system and created a new normal for yourself. This takes courage and tenacity. Thus, it’s no surprise that any man would feel drawn to your strength!
The questions you are asking suggest the presence of both fear and its most reliable sidekick, self-doubt.
These feelings make sense. The last time your heart was open, it was devastated by loss. Of course you would feel unnerved as the door to your heart slowly creaks open again.
Fear, self-doubt, and romantic attraction do not have to spell disaster or disloyalty. They can instead signify the awakening of parts of yourself that have been dormant since John’s death. Aliveness, in whatever form it presents itself, is always a good thing!
It is not necessary (nor is it possible) to know how things will turn out with Chuck. In fact, the outcome may matter less than you think. What's more important is the conscious choice to turn toward your own vitality.
When granted permission to do so, the heart will naturally make space for more love. John will always be a unique and integral chapter of your love story. Neither his death nor your choice to seek joy with a new partner will change or undo that.
In closing, I would like answer your questions with two of my own: What if there were no mistakes? What your grief gave you everything you need to handle this situation? Proceeding as if both of these things are true will go a long way toward figuring out the next best step. Good luck!
Yours In Health,
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist and grief counselor in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle. If you are struggling with the death of a spouse, help is just a click away. Schedule a free consultation to see how grief therapy can help you rediscover your own aliveness!
The death of a parent is one of the most painful losses we will encounter. When the life of that parent is marred by addiction, his or her death can complicate the relationships between surviving family members.
This month's letter addresses a family, first torn apart by addiction, and then gutted when their newly-sober mother succumbed to cancer.
If you have any thoughts you'd like to share with our letter writer or with this community, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.
Dear Dr. Jill,
I am a 43-year-old woman whose mother died of cancer about six months ago. She was my only living parent. Even though I have a younger sibling (age 40), lately, I feel more like an only child.
Growing up, my mother was a single parent. She was also a hard-core alcoholic. Most of my childhood memories are of her, either passed out or acting strangely, and me, feeling terrified of what would happen next, desperate to shield my sister from my mother’s behavior.
About five years ago, Mom got sober. Two years into her sobriety, she made amends with me. We were just starting to rebuild our relationship when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died roughly two years later. I was devastated.
Though losing my mom has been difficult, I’m actually writing because I’m not sure what to do about my sister.
My sister moved to the East Coast after high school graduation to get away from mom’s drinking. She never looked back. My sister is still really angry at my mom for the years of drinking and even judges me for being so “quick” to forgive her.
Mom tried to work things out with my sister but my sister was never really open to this.
Since Mom died, I have tried reaching out to my sister but each conversation seems to regress back into my sister’s anger toward my mom. Anger I no longer feel since Mom and I repaired our relationship.
At times, my sister’s rage is more than I can handle. I find myself making excuses just to get off the phone—or avoiding her calls altogether. This is not what I want for our relationship.
I love my sister. I want so much for us to be close like when we were younger. If things don’t change, I’m afraid the distance between us will keep growing.
Have you encountered similar situations? If so, what advice can you give about how to deal with them?
My Sister’s (Anger) Keeper
First off, my condolences for your loss. How very sad it is that your mother’s life ended, just as it was beginning anew.
The death of a parent, for siblings, tends to be scissors or glue: it either draws them closer together or widens the chasm between them.
My Spidey senses tell me you and your sister want the death of your mom to be glue but your sister can't stop herself from charging at you with scissors!
You are grieving the most recent version of your mother while your sister is grieving the mother she fled after high school (i.e., a very different mother). Even though you technically lost the same person, your grief looks and feels different right now for this reason.
What’s more, I would venture to guess your sister feels conflicted about her choice to decline your mother’s attempt at making amends. This choice was likely made under the auspices that your mother had more time than she did. It is also a choice your sister cannot go back and change now that your mother is gone.
If given the option to feel sad and vulnerable or angry and powerful, many of us will choose the latter until we are strong enough to be with the former.
It is hard to be caught in anger’s slipstream when you are feeling hurt. Thus, I recommend limiting conversations with your sister to the times you feel fortified enough to hold her pain. When you do speak with her, set limits if she becomes disrespectful. If she is unable to heed those limits, politely end the conversation and try again later when she's more calm.
Though you care deeply for your sister, you are not responsible for her choices or the feelings she has about them. And appropriate self-care is nothing to feel guilty about.
That said, anger needs only to be acknowledged (sometimes over and over again) for it to recede and, when it does, what usually rushes forward is sadness. I suspect your sister will be easier to connect with once the hard edge of anger is softened by her sadness.
In the meantime, because you deserve to be supported in your grief, I recommend connecting with close friends, other family members, a support group for adult children who have lost parents, etc. Grief longs to be witnessed. Ideally your sister would be that witness but, right now, she’s too steeped in her own grief to hold yours. It's unfortunate. And, it's not personal.
Finally, remember that grief is fluid. It moves around a lot. Just as you will not always feel this sad, your sister will not always feel this angry. Keep showing up with your boundaries intact and, when she is ready to put down the scissors, the relationship is likely to feel a lot more like glue--for both of you!
Your In Health,
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, counselor and dating coach in the Phinney -Greenwood area of North Seattle. If you and your siblings are struggling with the death of a parent, help is just a click away. Schedule a free consultation to see how grief therapy can help restore peace in your family!
Valentine's Day. Some dread it. Some love it. Some view it as just another day. For those who've recently lost a partner or spouse, Valentine's Day can be especially rough. Today's post is about grief. May it reach the hearts of those who are grieving, today and every day.
As a grief therapist and counselor, friends and family sometimes ask, “Does it burn you out to sit, all day, listening to sad stories, told by sad people?” Clients make similar inquiries. They wonder if their grief, like a virus, is contagious. Actually, sitting with grieving people has the opposite effect.
Just like an expectant mother’s contractions, grief is pain with purpose. Though people are sad, angry or scared when they are grieving, typically, they are also learning something significant--about themselves, their relationships, their families, their friends. What’s more, grief brings with it an indescribable openness that, if handled appropriately, fosters deeper connections, both inside and outside the therapy room. What could be more energizing than that?
Grief is a normal, natural side effect of love and loss. So why are so many of us quick to judge or criticize ourselves when we are grieving? In an age where we are one click, tap, or swipe away from just about anything, it’s easy to assume we are in pain because are doing too much of one thing, not enough of another, and/or because we haven't downloaded the right app yet. This assumption is untrue. In fact, leaning into grief helps us accept it as a naturally occurring process that needn’t be controlled.
One of the most frequent questions encountered in my therapy practice after a loved one dies is, “How long will this last?” or “When will I feel normal again?” To this, I usually answer, “That depends. How long will your loved one be dead?” Sure, this answer makes me guilty of the age-old therapist / counselor stereotype of answering a question with a question. But it also validates what clients already know: because their love is life-long, so too will be their grief. When clients hear this, the relief in the room is palpable.
Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once thought of grief as a circumscribed process consisting of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. Experts now believe that grief is a fluid, non-linear process. The “stages” of grief are more like “areas”--rooms that we wander in and out of, depending on our circumstances (e.g., anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, etc.). In fact, we can feel all of the areas of grief, sometimes in the same day, at the same time, and in no particular order.
Though there is no magic pill to eradicate or hasten grief, here are six things that can help facilitate healing after loss:
Moving forward with life after death sounds simple. But it is far from easy. If you are feeling stuck or frustrated by grief, it may be wise to seek assistance from a qualified grief therapist or counselor. Feel free to get in touch for a free consultation to see if therapy or counseling is right for you. You can also find valuable grief-related resources, including counselors and groups in your area, here.
Remember, grief is how the body, mind and spirit heal after loss. It changes us. It soften our edges. It opens our hearts. Surrender to grief and let it's powerful current carry you wherever you are meant to go.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. If you've recently lost a loved one and want to feel better, schedule a free consultation to find out how grief counseling can help you!
Grief is a sneaky bugger. Like variegated yarn it weaves its way into our lives, resulting in subtle (sometimes not-so-subtle) changes in hue. While most of us expect to mourn death, divorce, or disease, we are confounded by loss that cannot be touched or researched in any scientific journal: that of innocence.
For me, it all started with Santa. I still remember the moment my older sister and I put the pieces together: one portly man, a magic sleigh loaded with presents, pulled by flying reindeer, shimmying down the flues of houses all over the world in one night? Ya. Right. And, hey, didn’t the handwriting on Santa’s thank-you notes bear a strong resemblance to our father’s? The look on our mother’s face when we confronted her with the case files merely confirmed the gig was up.
I thought I would feel proud for solving the Santa mystery. Instead, I was disillusioned by the years of tooth money, chocolate bunnies, and carefully-filled stockings, not purveyed by magical figures from faraway lands, but by the two hands of my very real parents. I was too young to know it then, but this moment was the first pearl in strand of ideals that would eventually break apart as I got older.
From birth until about age seven the part of our brain responsible for logic and reason (prefrontal cortex) is undeveloped. From age seven until approximately twenty-five, prefrontal synapses burgeon. As they do, our problem-solving ability advances and the idyllic lenses through which we view world are gradually replaced by realism.
What no one ever tells us is just how emotionally difficult this process can be. Life chips away at our ideals until the pain of holding on to them is greater than the pain of letting them go.
Here are the most commonly grieved ideals I have encountered in my work as a therapist:
The age at which we recalibrate our assumptions will vary according to our personal circumstances and degree of openness.
Though its intensity eventually subsides, grief is often cyclical and ongoing. Life has an uncanny gift for shining light on the places that may always be tender. For instance, the childhood wounds we made peace with in early adulthood can be reawakened when we become parents. This can also happen when our children reach the age(s) we were originally injured.
The next time you feel as if there has been a terrible mixup in the cosmic kitchen, ask which of the above ideals you may be struggling to recalibrate. Need help? Try scanning your internal dialogue for "shoulds" (e.g., “My parents should have been more responsive.” or “My relationship should have lasted."). "Should statements" are the expression of an unconscious wish to live more freely. Instead of telling yourself how things should have been or how they should be, remind yourself that everything you experience is divinely chosen for your healing and growth. Gently loosening the grip on idealistic assumptions allows us to make peace with what is.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Struggling with something that didn't turn out quite the way you wanted? Schedule a free consultation to find out how therapy or counseling can help you find peace!
Welp, we have a winner. And, technically, it isn't the majority's choice. The Seattle air was palpably heavy yesterday. Coffee shops and walking paths seemed a little emptier, faces looked little more somber, people were protesting downtown. I could practically hear the clicking of "Unfriend" buttons everywhere. I've lived through many elections, but this one has been, by far, the most divisive.
The turbulent emotional waters have left most of us searching for dry land. So, without further adieu, here some things to remember as you make your way shoreward:
1. Some of us are grieving. Roughly 48 percent of us are working through grief's five stages: shock ("Oh my god!"), denial ("This can't be happening. There must be some mistake!"), anger ("WTF?"), bargaining ("If only those swing state voters hadn't chosen a third party."), depression ("What do I tell my children? What is happening to my country?"), and, finally, acceptance ("Okay. Now what?").
It is perfectly normal and natural to grieve when outcomes are neither chosen nor desired. Name your feelings and speak them out loud, first to yourself. Give your grief the space and compassion it deserves. If you are not grieving, respect folks who are.
2. Some of us are celebrating. Those who voted for Trump did so either because they believed him to be the best person for the job or because they perceived him to be the less malignant of the two candidates. Either way, they are happy he won. Part of the privilege of living in a democracy is that each of us is free to think and vote as we choose. This means some of us get what we want and some do not. Be gracious to those who are pleased with the outcome.
3. Know when to say "when." When we are afraid, sad, or angry the constant drum beat of 24-hour news coverage can escalate those feelings. If your political rhetoric cup is overflowing, walk away for a while. Turn off the television, put down the phone, disable your social media accounts--do whatever it takes to create a quiet space for yourself. Also, it's okay to tell your friends that you need to limit post-election discussion. They'll understand and, quite possibly, feel relieved.
4. Live your values. We don't have to drink the party Kool-aid if we don't like the flavor. Voting is only one of many ways to make your voice heard. Now is the time to lean into what you stand for.
Feel passionate about social justice? Be a voice for the oppressed! Donate time or money to causes that support your vision for the future. If that feels like too much, set a conscious intention to be kind to other humans: smile at babies, look people in the eye, hold the door open for old people. Do whatever you can to pump more love into the world; there is always room for it!
5. Teach your children. Now is a great time make explicit your family's values and to explore with your children the complexities of living in a country where people have the right to think, feel, and act independently. Encourage your children to vocalize their thoughts and feelings; listen supportively.
Kids do not have the maturity or life experience to accurately forecast outcomes. They take their safety cues from adults. Thus, it is important to model composure. Tell your children that they are loved. Tell them they are safe. Tell them your family will continue to uphold its own values; empower them by including them in the ways you choose to do this.
A little smoke and mirrors is sometimes necessary when you are a parent. Even if you don't quite believe it yet, tell your young people it is going to be okay. They need to hear this.
6. Remember the divine. Crises and conflict are sometimes needed to break apart a system that is yearning to be reassembled differently. Perhaps the election is teaching us something we need to learn but have yet to know.
In times of uncertainty, it is normal to feel afraid. Fear can easily convince us the worst is likely to happen. Try to acknowledge fear without letting it run away with itself. Remember, this moment was divinely chosen for a purpose that will eventually reveal itself.
7. Zoom out. This is one moment, in one day, in one year, in one lifetime. We are but one person, in one state, in one country, in one world. Things are more manageable when we consider them in context.
8. Zoom In. When you feel your head spinning, gently recenter yourself. Use your senses to help you do this. What are five things you can see right now? Four things you can touch? Three things you hear? Two things you smell? One thing you taste? Count your breath (in for six seconds, hold for two, out for six). Tell yourself it is enough to be present now.
9. Gratitude. It is nearly impossible to freak out and feel grateful at the same time. Try it. Scan your environment for something--anything--good: warm sun on your face, delicious food in your belly, the health of loved ones, green lights on your commute to work. Take a moment to speak words of gratitude out loud. Notice how you feel when you do.
While we may be politically divided right now, love has the power to unite us. As you move through your own post-election process, remember that compassion is non-partisan. Be patient. Be kind. Be courteous. Be human.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
Ever since my first child started kindergarten nine years ago, I have dreaded the end of each school year. It starts in mid-April with a pinch of maudlin, a dash of preoccupation with the future, and, much to my children's chagrin, a rampant compulsion to take a ridiculous amount of pictures. The whole process ends in June with full-on weeping at inopportune moments and, of course, more pictures.
This time of year is a sentimental stew of sadness, hope, trepidation, and excitement. Not to mention exhaustion. Every year I know it's coming. Every year it catches me off-guard.
Though the early morning awakenings, hurried breakfasts, haphazardly assembled lunches, and mountains of homework take their toll on our sanity, they are also indicators that, each day for seven hours, my children have somewhere to be and something to do (that I did not have to plan for them). I also know that, at 3:00 PM, they will saunter through the door in search of a sympathetic ear in which to pour the news of the day. And snacks.
I secretly take comfort in the routine of the school year because, on some level, it sweeps from my consciousness the awareness that time is passing and everything is temporary--even children. Though I knew this from the very beginning, intellectual knowing and experiential knowing are entirely different things. The latter always takes my breath away.
Here are four things you may be noticing this time of year:
1. It goes fast. Prior to becoming a parent, I thought this was just mindless cocktail drivel. Once I had children, Monday became Friday. Friday became Christmas. Christmas became Spring Break. Spring Break became Summer. Like cartoon calendar pages, the weeks and months continue to fall away into the wind, one right after the other, faster and faster, until, one day, your baby appears before you in a cap and gown.
It is as if we are all aging in dog years. The little boys and girls with whom my daughter went to kindergarten, just last week, must have slipped into some kind of hormonal time machine. The ones I don't see very often, with their deep voices, towering heights, and pimples, are no longer recognizable. This must be why, when I do see them, like a good little old person, I am compelled to blather on about how much they've grown. Because teenagers really do love that. Except they don't. But I still do it anyway. Impulse control is the first thing to go, apparently.
2. Social media makes you feel old. News feeds, once peppered with birth announcements and photos of sweet, sudsy bathtub babies have been overtaken by graduation announcements, prom selfies, and college acceptance letters. Wait a second. Didn't we just wean those babies, like, yesterday?
3. You may feel crazy (but you are not crazy). Watching children grow stirs so many mixed emotions. With each developmental milestone, we must let go of what is no longer needed so that we may encounter what is ahead. Yet there is an inexplicable desire to hold tightly with one hand what we are attempting to release with the other. It is normal and sometimes necessary to experience a mixed bag of feelings as we loosen our grip. This does not make us crazy; it makes us human.
4. Guilt and regret come with the territory. You may be beating yourself up for the soccer game(s) missed, the field trips you didn't chaperone, the Halloween costumes you didn't sew. Guilt comes from a sense of wrongdoing and regret is our mind's way of trying to convince us we knew better when we really did not. Fortunately, our relationships with our children consist of so much more than the incidents about which we feel guilty or regretful which, I assure you, are probably not really all that bad. We all did and are doing our best. And this is enough. Afford yourself the same grace you would afford others.
As parents, we are meant to put ourselves out of a job, yet nothing prepares us for the bittersweetness of witnessing a job well done. As this school year draws to a close, remember that your emotions are merely a sign that something important is happening. Take a moment to grieve for what is lost, lean into what is coming, and, perhaps most importantly, take lots of pictures.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
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A friend and I were recently chatting about our upcoming Mother's Day plans. The conversation started simply enough but, by its end, we were both a bit misty. My friend lost her beloved mother to cancer several years ago, so Mother's Day usually ends up feeling more like a cosmic hip check than a reason to celebrate. The relationship between my mother and me is somewhat complicated, so finding an appropriate sentiment for the day is a bit challenging. I suspect how each of us feels about Mother's Day is as unique as the bond we each share (or shared) with our mothers.
Here are four common reasons why, for some, Mother's Day can be difficult:
1. Our mothers are deceased. For those whose mothers have left this world, the week preceding Mother's Day is riddled with dread. When the day arrives, it is to be tolerated, not celebrated. Each social media homage we witness feels like a pinprick to our hearts. We experience a visceral yearning to bring Mom back, to smell her, to hear her voice again, to feel her loving embrace. If the relationship was troubled before she died, there is also regret for what was done and for what cannot be undone. The day is inextricably linked to loss.
2. Our mothers are absent. Few words can describe the grief associated with mourning a parent who is alive but, due to disease (e.g., Alzheimer's), mental illness, addiction, or abuse, is unavailable. Even when emotional cut-off is in our best interest, things never feel quite resolved and Mother's Day stirs the sediment of unfinished business.
3. Our mothers cannot sustain emotional intimacy. Year after year, we emerge empty-handed from the greeting card isle. Clearly the Hallmark copywriters did not know our mothers. The relationship with Mom is neither good nor bad; it is just not there. Thus, Mother's Day wages an internal battle between what we wish we could feel and what we genuinely feel for our mothers.
4. Our mothers are hard to please. A young man's mother gifted him two ties. When he arrived on Mother's Day wearing one of them, his mother exclaimed, "What...you didn't like the other one?!?" For those of us with high maintenance moms, Mother's Day signifies a futile quest to please the un-pleasable.
If you are struggling this Mother's Day, here are some suggestions to help you survive the day:
Remember that many of us do not have ideal relationships with our mothers, Because you are the only one who knows how you feel about your mother, you are most qualified to decide how or if you choose to celebrate the day. Act with loving authenticity and the rest will sort itself out.
Got any tips for surviving Mother's Day? Share them in the comments section below!
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA.
If mom issues are a source of pain or stress in your life, schedule a free consultation to see how therapy or counseling can help!
When my children were old enough to understand figurative speech, I conveyed to them two choices: love to ski or find a new mom. I have skied with them since they were old enough to walk. They are now twelve and fourteen.
With each trip to the mountain, I watched their confidence grow. First the bunny hill, then the intermediate slope, always with Mom watching and waiting uphill as they wrangled their way down the mountain. An errant pole here, a lost ski there, a mitten on the lam. And don't get me started with the chaotic delegation of wind and waterproof gear. "Whose ski pants are those? We just got those boots last week--of course they still fit! Where's your ____ (insert ridiculously overpriced, lost Gor-tex item here)?" There were many times it was certainly more labor than love.
Often, I thought, "I cannot wait for the day they can do this on their own."
Apparently, that day came in February of 2016. As we were gearing up to hit the mountain, I realized there were no tearful cries for help from the backseat. No frustrated pleas for skis to be carried through the parking lot. Just a petulant, "Hurry up, mom! Geez."
Then, smooth as butter, they made their way down the hill, patiently waiting as I plodded along behind them. After a morning of shredding the terrain together, the unthinkable happened: the kids asked if they could take the rest of the afternoon to ski by themselves. As in without me.
Initially, my chest swelled with pride as they boarded the lift, all smiles and giggles. The two kids who once complained about cold hands and heavy equipment now trusted themselves enough to fly solo. As the summit fog carried their chair from view, the balloon in my chest became a grapefruit in my throat. The day I once longed for had finally arrived yet, instead of jumping for joy, I stood, paralyzed, wondering if the full-on ugly cry would be visible through my UV-reflective ski goggles. Today, the hill; tomorrow, college. It was a little bit heartbreaking.
Most of us associate grief with tangible loss: the death of a pet or loved one, the ending of a relationship with something, someone, or someplace. But what of life's subtle losses? Any well-adjusted parent knows it's right to foster independence, yet nothing can prepare us for the cosmic sucker punch of its sudden emergence. We rejoice when they walk, talk, and feed themselves, but do we take time to grieve the last freely given hug, packed lunch, or purchased Lego set?
With each of life's milestones, it is important to celebrate what is gained, but also to mourn what is lost. Making space for both joy and sorrow helps pave the way for gratitude. A grateful heart is an open heart.
Later that day, from the lift, I caught a glimpse of my kids. From above, I witnessed ecstatic hoots and Cheshire grins as they effortlessly zoomed through trees and over moguls. Seeing their confident faces helped assuage my fear and sadness. "They've got this," I thought, "and so do you."
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA.
Feeling sad about the changes in your life? Schedule a free consultation to find out how therapy or counseling can help.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.