John James, founder of The Grief Recovery Institute

John W. James

Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve

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Russell Friedman, Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute

Russell Friedman

Executive Director
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve


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Mother’s Day! Remind Me—Remind Me Not—Remind Me

In mid-April there are two things you can count on in the United States. One is the due date for filing your tax return. The other is the arrival of the annual brochures or emails reminding you to order those special flowers so they will be shipped on time for Mother’s Day. However, the company that sends the notices doesn’t know that my mother died nearly 20 years ago.

Needless to say, Mother’s Day has been different for me ever since.

I remember the first year after my mom died, when the floral reminder came in the mail. I stood in the den sorting through the mail and couldn’t help noticing the vivacious motherly and grandmotherly pictures in the full-color brochure. Within moments I fetched my handkerchief from my back pocket to dab the tears from my eyes.

I thought about sending a note to the flower company asking them to take me off their mailing list. After all, one less piece of junk mail would be good for the environment. Wouldn’t that make my momma proud? Her son had finally become a solid citizen - the fact that I was 51 years old at that point, notwithstanding.

Looking at that mailer encouraged me to call my dad and my sisters and brother to talk about Mom. So I did, and we did. We talked, we remembered momma, we laughed, we cried. For me, the fond memories mingled with fresh tears in a way that made me feel very connected to my mother, even though I could not see her or touch her in a physical sense. I believe something similar happened for my dad and my siblings in our respective conversations. Openly communicating the range of feelings we had about mom felt so normal and natural and healthy.

The next year when Mother’s Day came around, I didn’t need a post card to kick me in the emotional pants to urge me to make contact with my family. Remembering the sweet sadness of the previous year’s Mother’s Day calls, I got on the phone again to my family. It was much the same only a little bit different. Each of us had been adapting to Mom’s absence for another year. Each of us was dealing with day-to-day life without Mom while dealing with the emotional reality of it all.

That year I had Mother’s Day Sunday brunch with my Alice and her daughter Claudia and several friends. When Claudia presented her mom with a card and a beautiful bouquet of flowers, I couldn’t help noticing that one of the young women in our group seemed to turn away. Her name was Moira. I turned to her and asked her what was going on. She told me that it had been years since her mom died, and she still missed her, but that she’s always afraid to say anything at these events and ruin everyone else’s joy.

I told her that my mom had died about a year and half ago and one thing I’d learned was that wonderful things happen when I tell the truth about my feelings. So I decided to make a toast to honor my mom and hers. I clinked a glass and got everyone’s attention. “Friends. As some of you know, my mother died a year and a half ago. You also might know that Moira’s mom died several years ago. Some of you knew our moms, some of you didn’t. I’d like to propose a toast. “To my mom and Moira’s mom, and to all of those people we miss every day, but especially on a special day like today.”

We toasted, and if memory serves, there were no dry eyes at that table. There was a pause as each person went into a personal memory bank and found something of value about someone important to them. And then, as if an invisible switch had been thrown, everybody started telling stories of loved ones who are no longer here. It was funny, it was sweet, it was sad. It was human and connecting. In a way, it was everything that Mother’s Day is supposed to be—except that mom was missing.

Every April I still get the annual brochure urging me to send flowers to that longest running “special gal” in my life. I never did tell them to cancel the mailers. I figure I’ll do something else to make it up to the environment. In the meantime, every cyber flower shop has me on their emailing list, so there’s no way to avoid the notification anyway.

So I do the next best thing. I talk about my mom and invite everyone else to talk about the people who have been important in their lives. Now it’s your turn. Make sure that you keep the memories of your loved ones fresh by sharing them with the people who are important to you. It’s not limited to memories of your mother. It can be anyone you miss. And you don’t have to wait until Mother’s Day to start talking.

I imagine that your momma, like mine, would approve.

© 2014 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at info@griefrecoverymethod.com or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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