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Holidays like Mother’s Day aren’t festive for everyone — and for many people, they can be a particularly painful time of year.
That can be true for people grieving the loss of loved ones, estranged from family members, or dealing with fertility issues, among other circumstances.
And the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day can be especially fraught with memories that urge people to shop and celebrate. A growing number of companies are give subscribers the chance to unsubscribe of such marketing emails, a trend seemingly accelerated by the grief of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mother’s Day is the mother of all Hallmark holiday trigger days for many people, because it’s seemingly the only day of the year when every business on the planet… screams at you that Mother’s Day is coming,” says Rebecca Soffer.
She finds Mother’s Day and Father’s Day bittersweet – she lost both her parents in her thirties, but now has children of her own. And she recognizes that living with loss is personal: People can struggle with these holidays for a variety of reasons, she says, and their thinking and coping strategies can vary from year to year.
“I want to make it clear to everyone that if it feels like a trigger to you, it is, and it’s worth sitting around and honoring and exploring and finding out what you can do to make yourself better feel,” says Soffer.
Here are some of her suggestions for getting through a rough day and supporting loved ones who might be struggling too.
Give yourself permission to make plans – and cancel
Soffer says she personally likes to plan ahead for such occasions, whether they are social or lonely. But she also gives herself full permission to call them off if she doesn’t feel like it when the day comes.
She encourages others to do the same, without the need for apologies.
“No one can ever fully anticipate how they will feel when a day comes or an event actually comes,” she adds. “And you have to be kind to yourself and let the day be the day.”
That said, Soffer notes that there are certain things you can do to plan ahead for the holidays, such as managing your social media intake and unsubscribing from those marketing emails.
But she also stresses that every year will feel different, encouraging people to take it day by day.
“If this time is really, really hard, I promise you that doesn’t mean every time, without fail, that’s going to be hard,” Soffer says, adding that some years will be more emotionally charged than others. “Don’t worry about how you’re going to get through these days for the rest of your life. Just get through this and make it Monday.”
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Do something for yourself – and maybe a loved one or even a stranger
When it comes to the day itself, Soffer’s advice is to “think about where you are emotionally right now, and make a plan around it.”
There are many different ways to make Mother’s Day and Father’s Day bearable and even meaningful, she says.
For example, if gratitude and gift-giving are important to you, you can still buy a nice present and write a card for yourself, or give a present to someone else (especially if they are grieving too, or playing an important role in your to live).
The Modern Loss movement that Soffer helped create is doing a gift swap on Mother’s Day and other occasions, where people who find the holiday trigger can sign up to be matched with another person, with whom they will exchange cards or gifts.
People can set up similar exchanges with friends themselves, either in person or through social media, Soffer says.
“Living with loss is always so hard, but if you feel like you’re not the only one living with loss in your life, and you feel like you have someone who is constantly inviting you to talk about these things when if you want you can even feel a little less alone,” she says.
Another way to celebrate the holiday is to ask people — on social media or via email, for example — to share memories and anecdotes of your loved one so you can learn new things about them.
You can also bake a cake for your loved one or cook their favorite meal, which Soffer says is a particularly good way to get kids involved, pass on stories, and celebrate the person.
You may also want to do something in this person’s name, such as doing a kind act, such as volunteering, in his honor.
What to say to a grieving friend or colleague?
Maybe you want to let a friend know you’re thinking about them this holiday season, but you’re worried about something shocking.
Soffer believes it’s better to reach out than to let their loss be the elephant in the room. She says that even if this person doesn’t want to talk, they’ll remember you showed up for them.
So what exactly is that text supposed to say?
Soffer suggests acknowledging that the day may be tough, telling them they’re on your mind, and letting them know you’re here to talk, listen, drink, or whatever they need. The closer you are to someone, the more specific your offer can be.
If they want to talk, you can ask them if there are any memories or a specific story they would like to share about that person.
If they don’t, and if you’re really not sure what to say, Soffer says you can always take the lead on that.
“The easiest thing to say is ‘I wish I knew the best thing to say, and I don’t know…but I really care about you, and I’m so upset that you have to go through this. And I’ am here,” she adds. “Make it clear that you’re not going to let this stuff put you off, you’re not going anywhere. And that’s what people need, more than anything.”