Many people find this time of year difficult as they are reminded of their mothers who passed away
Dylan Tomlin sprinkles wildflower seeds with his children, Isla, 4, and Polly, 19 months, at the spot where his mother’s ashes are scattered in Merritt, B.C. He and his wife, Kristen Thompson, started the Mother’s Day tradition last year as a way to keep his mother’s memory alive. (Kristen Thompson / For the Toronto Star)
Original story published in the Toronto Star on May 12, 2017. Read online version here.
We have a new Mother’s Day tradition, and it’s bittersweet. You see, we’re not able to celebrate with my husband’s mother. She passed away four years ago, when I was pregnant with our first baby. As long as we’ve been parents, she’s been gone from our lives. We feel that loss every day.
For the first few years after her sudden death from cancer, we didn’t know how to incorporate her memory into Mother’s Day. But after we moved to my husband’s hometown in B.C. from Toronto, he had an idea. He bought wildflower seeds and sprinkled them at the quiet spot in Merritt — about 2.5 hours east of Vancouver — where her ashes are scattered.
We’ll do the same this year, and the kids will help, giving us the opportunity to talk about the Grandma they will never know, and how much they would have loved her.
For most people, Mother’s Day is a nice, quiet Sunday spent doling out cards, mimosas and hugs. But for those who lost a parent too soon, it can be filled with grief, with many struggling to find ways to remember the women with whom they should be celebrating.
Deborah Davidson, a professor of sociology at York University who specializes in motherhood and bereavement, says grief is often intensified around anniversaries and important dates.
“Mother’s Day especially can illicit strong emotions,” Davidson says. “Grief is not something people generally get over, but learn to live with it in meaningful ways, and learn to incorporate it into their lives.”
Sarah Rollingson, 32, of Red Deer, Alta., lost her mother three years ago, and says she starts dreading Mother’s Day in March.
“A few weeks ago I went to a Paint Nite. The instructor kept saying ‘Remember, Mother’s Day is coming. Moms love this kinda stuff!’ … Inwardly I died a little bit.”
Rollingston admits she finds it hard celebrating Mother’s Day with her own children, given how much she is quietly grieving her mom.
“The first Mother’s Day after she passed I ignored it completely. I asked that it just be any other day and to let me grieve.”
Candice Humphrey, 31, a waitress in Spruce Grove, Alta., lost her mother nine years ago, and says Mother’s Day is one of the worst days of the year.
“Table after table would ask me what I was doing for my mom,” she says. “It was hard to hear, and hard to see daughters with their moms.”
Stephanie Lewis, 28, of Paradise, Nfld., was 21 when she lost her parents in a car accident, two days before Mother’s Day in 2010.
“I moved out of the province shortly after the accident, and my (now) husband and I ended up in the same town as his parents,” she says. “They would insist on having us over for Mother’s Day, which … was always really painful.”
Davidson says it can sometimes take time for the children of deceased parents to find joy in special occasions, and that traditions play an important part in the healing process.
“When a mother dies young, her children often … work to fill in the blanks, to continue making memories so that their mother is with them in material ways,” Davidson says.
“So if one has young children … Mother’s Day could be an important time to talk about the grandmother, and perhaps have little rituals that make grandma present in those children’s lives.
“Maybe it is reviving something that they did in the past that brings the deceased mom into it.”
Or, it may be about making new traditions, so the family feels the deceased loved one is still present as new memories are made.
Rollingston, who dreaded Mother’s Day in the first few years after her mom died, has taken a different approach since becoming a mother herself.
“We try to do something to celebrate,” she says. “My mom used to love corsages … Now for Mother’s Day we order (corsages) for our whole family. Everyone wears one and we go to church. It is a small way that we show the world how much we love her, and it keeps the memory alive for my children.”
Humphrey agrees that having children has helped change her outlook on Mother’s Day.
“I get a friend to bring flowers to her (I moved away so I can’t go). Last year we watched a DVD slide show from her funeral with my boys, and this year we might plant a flower for her.”
Robyn Ross, 38, of Toronto, whose mother died of cancer when she was a teenager, says that while Mother’s Day is still difficult for her, it’s become a little more bearable because she can keep her mother’s memory alive through her son.
“I share stories with Brayden about all the special things she and I would do on Mother’s Day,” Ross says. “We always start Mother’s Day by lighting a memorial candle to acknowledge and honour her memory. Bray will make a card for her and we’ll read it together and leave it by the picture he has of her. We might eat her favourite meal or treat to honour her.”
Like so many others, I wonder if there will ever be a Mother’s Day when we don’t grieve the loss of my mother-in-law.
But the values she instilled in my husband — the values that make me love him, and that I see him passing on to our own children, remind me that her impact lives on. And that’s what we’ll celebrate on Mother’s Day as we scatter more seeds and imagine the day when that spot is filled with wildflowers.