Two women hugging up close

When It’s Mother’s Day but Their Mom Is Gone

By Suzanne Robitaille

As Mother's Day approaches, acknowledging the death of a family or friend’s mom takes refined effort. It's the emotional equivalent of rolling out the champagne at a party then popping all the balloons.

If the loss was very recent, Mother’s Day can unleash a flood of emotions. If the loss happened many years ago, a wave of sadness may crest for a few minutes on this day, then subside. Someone who is estranged from their mother who is still alive may also deeply feel an absence.

As a well-wisher, you’re looking to give a nod to someone’s mom, however close or not she was in their lives. While a nice sentiment is a thoughtful card with a hand-written message, it’s incredibly hard to find these cards in the store.

Anna Jarvis, the inventor of Mother’s Day, never intended to create a holiday; she was looking to honor her own deceased mother. Yet Hallmark saw an opportunity in the 1920s to sell cards for Mother’s Day embossed with foil and glitter to a mass market.

We’re now forever stuck with the glamorized version of the second Sunday in May, with cute cards for moms that essentially advertise a theatric version of Mother’s Day, Starring Your Amazing Mother and All She Does for You! Everyone else can visit their mom’s grave, or stay home and watch Mommy Dearest to remind them they dodged a bullet.

Mother’s Day Still Matters without Mom

This dichotomy perpetuates the myth that once a mother has left earth, Mother’s Day is irrelevant to them. This simply isn’t true, and I’ve seen it over and over in the tender conversations I’ve had with people who have lost their moms even decades ago.

Likewise, if a parent loses a child, you might wrongly believe Mother’s Day isn’t their day—not worthy of a few slots in the card aisle. Or to a daughter or son who has severed their relationship with their mom, Mother’s Day is a nuisance, a reason to have a Bloody Mary at brunch.

Too many companies still miss that life is messy, relationships are complicated and people still hurt.

Well-Wishers Need Help, Too

There’s an assumption that well-wishers will intuitively know the right thing to do or say on any occasion. This might be true in a normalized event—a wedding, A birth a death from old age—but for the more nuanced ones, like a death from cancer or a stillborn baby, there’s no clear-cut path.

Just because someone is over a certain age does not make them a natural empath, either. Maybe they haven’t experienced a tragedy in their life yet. Or maybe their emotions get so twisted up they don’t know how to act at all. Sometimes they don’t; waking up weeks later in a puddle of remorse.

We created the Cards for a Mom collection as a place for well-wishers to find unique sympathy cards. We help you figure out the right card, then write and send it for you. We work across the spectrum of loss and hardship, specializing in the gray areas that slide by without a mention. These are the days you need to offer a hug instead of a high-five, a wildflower instead of a rose, a nostalgic chuckle instead of a laugh.

If you don’t know what to write in your card, turn to our grief communications expert Dr. Jocelyn DeGroot, who has crafted sympathy and empathy messages that you can use outright or take as inspiration. Our writers are handwriting and calligraphy specialists who personally fulfill each card in print or cursive. Then we add a season-appropriate stamp and mail the card to your recipient on the same day.

More than just Mother’s Day cards

You might look at Wishbar and see just a card writing service. We aspire to be so much more. We want to remove the friction out of not knowing what to say or do in a difficult time, and empower well-wishers to turn their good intentions into actions, whether they do it immediately or years later.

With a little bit of intelligence, we can also help well-wishers make better choices in the gifts they send to the bereaved. I remember a time when three deaths in my extended family over one week left me perplexed. Without insight into what these grieving families really wanted, I sent the same bouquet of flowers three times. I know I could have done better.

There’s never going to be the perfect card or gift. Life, and its hardships, are not cut by pattern. But we can get a lot closer when companies design for empathy and give well-wishers a safe place to learn and make choices.

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of Wishbar.

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