11 Mar 2018 For many, Mother’s Day is a sharp reminder of what we miss most
Mother’s Day. Last minute cards and chocolates bought, shops repeatedly and urgently stage-whispering ‘Don’t forget!’. Despite all the commercialism, I’m still a supporter of anything which makes us pause and appreciate the people and actions we so often take for granted.
But we mustn’t forget that Mother’s Day, just like Christmas for many, can be a source of pain as much as it is of joy. Women struggling to conceive, those suffering a loss of child, or the loss of a mother. There are many groups of people for whom this day is a sharp, metallic reminder of what is absent.
It was in March of last year that my own Mother passed away after a brief but brave battle with cancer. So this is the first I’ve experienced the run-up to Mother’s Day since she passed away. I still feel her loss keenly, the months which have passed since have only dulled, rather than lessened, the grief. In many ways, I’m continuing to learn about grief and how to live when it gets woven into the tapestry of our lives.
Dealing with grief in this way has made me think about the relationship between emotional and physical pain. The two are inextricably linked. But as someone who has lived with chronic pain and other life-affecting health conditions, I was amazed at the impact grief could have. I thought my body and I understood each other. I thought I knew everything about managing pain.
But emotional pain is very similar to chronic, physical pain. It’s a constant companion and a heaviness that settles in you. It can make negotiating everyday situations suddenly difficult and it slips invisibly under the eyes of those around. Then, when confronted with a shop windows filled to the brim with gifts ‘for Mum’, it rears up and burst through once more, almost flooring you with the physical pain the emotions bring.
This emotional pain can also exacerbate physical pain. Grief, or whatever pressure or sharpness comes into your life, will make you want to tighten up; fall back into old, destructive habits that act as both security from and punishment for your new circumstances. This manifested very physically for me. As someone who loves calmness and stillness, being present in the movements of my body which allows me to manage my pain, after losing my Mother I suddenly found I could never be still. Emotionally or physically, I had to always be on the move. In a loop of positive feedback, this led to further constriction and an overwhelming sense that both body and heart were fighting me.
But I found that it helped to approach grief in the same way I do my physical conditions. Focusing on small steps, making a point to (as much as possible) eat and sleep in a way that is nourishing, and finding joy in the pain by celebrating the precious memories I still have of time spent with my mother.
If you’ve lost a loved one, being patient with yourself is also one of the kindest things you can do. Don’t let anyone or anything decide for you how long your journey of grieving ‘should’ take. It takes as long as it takes and the shape that it does. The journey may be uneven, there may be days where you amaze yourself, looking back at how far you’ve come, but then suddenly something so slight it should hardly register sends a tidal wave of emotion crashing down on you. Don’t worry that this doesn’t seem rational. Grief isn’t.
You also don’t have to be bound by grief. I don’t mean living in denial, which is harmful, but instead not letting it become the source of your identity. You’re allowed to come through of it and live beyond it.
And the process really will make you stronger. Wiser. Thankful for the things you would previously have brushed over. Making you pause and appreciate. So this Mother’s Day, be kind to yourself if you are grieving for those lost or those you never got a chance to meet, and be kind to those for whom the day marks a less joyous but still significant occasion.