Dear Wendy: “I Can’t Cope With Mother’s Day”

My boyfriend and I have been together for three years. Everything about our relationship is great, but my boyfriend’s relationship with his mother is strained. They do get along, but it all seems very forced and whenever he goes to visit his parents, I come along to give him the emotional support he seems to need which, under normal circumstances, is fine. However, Mother’s Day is not one of those circumstances. My mother died of cancer four years ago when I was 20 and, unlike my boyfriend and his mom, she and I were VERY close. I have dealt with her death in what I feel is a healthy way and, although I miss her every day, I am not sobbing into my pillows on a daily basis. However, Mother’s Day is a really hard day. I prefer to spend it by myself with a bottle of wine and a box of tissues. The whole day makes my heart ache. When my boyfriend goes to visit his mom on that day, he wants me with him for the usual support and I have no desire to be there. It causes some tension and he feels it’s unhealthy for me to stay in and cry my eyes out to “mommy-themed” movies all day. Is this something I should learn to deal with and get out of the house or is it okay to have a “cry day”? — Missing Mom

Sure, it’s OK to cry, but does it have to be an entire day of tears? I understand the temptation to bury yourself in a box of tissues, but I wonder how changing your usual routine to one that celebrates your mother might make your heart ache a little bit less on the occasion. Perhaps it’s time to start a new tradition — one you can incorporate your boyfriend and his mother in. What about this: you go along with your boyfriend to visit his mother and you bring some favorite photos of your mom to show everyone. Perhaps you can share a favorite memory or two and explain that just because your mother in no longer here in the physical sense, she’s in your heart and you wanted to take a little time to celebrate her on Mother’s Day. Not only might this help you in your healing and the way you deal with Mother’s Day, it will take some of the focus off the dysfunctional/tense relationship your boyfriend has with his mother. Who knows — maybe it will even give them a little perspective and help them appreciate how lucky they are to have each other.

At some point, Mother’s Day is going to represent more for you than simply what you’ve lost. Eventually it will simply represent the love you had — and still have — from and for your mother. You may have kids one day and the meaning of Mother’s Day will shift again. But if you aren’t ready yet for Mother’s Day to be anything other than a day of sadness — however, well, sad that sounds — it should be your prerogative. No one has the right to tell you how to grieve — not even your boyfriend. He’s a big boy, and if you decide that you simply cannot accompany him on this particular visit to his mom’s, he can and needs to deal with that. But I still would urge you to consider changing your pattern this year. Even if you don’t tag along with your boyfriend, there are ways you can ease some of the ache in your heart. Reach out to a friend or acquaintance who may have lost a mother and have lunch together. Call your father or a sibling or an aunt or uncle or someone else who was close to you mom and exchange happy memories. Buy yourself a bouquet of your mother’s favorite flowers. The point is: do something that celebrates her life, legacy and memory. I promise it will feel better than crying your eyes out to “mommy-themed movies all day.”

And to you readers out there who have lost mothers, how do you deal with Mother’s Day? Do you have any special traditions you’ve incorporated into the occasion to celebrate your mom?

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