The expectations of a grieving mother on special days

Now that Mother’s Day has passed, I feel I can exhale. I have a little more breathing space (until Father’s Day which is another tough one). I posted on Facebook yesterday about how hard I find the run of ‘special (bloody) days’ I face. It feels like I’m charging at each one like it’s a brick wall and, by Mother’s Day, I simply go splat!

If I’m honest, I have always found ‘special days’ difficult. As an introvert who doesn’t like ‘fuss and nonsense’ I have developed an association with attention on me being difficult. Difficult perhaps because I don’t like letting my guard down. Difficult perhaps because I don’t like showing my emotions. Difficult perhaps because I’m simply protecting myself from disappointment or hurt…

My childhood, brought up in poverty, was still a good life and we appreciated what we had, but it doesn’t create much sense of anticipation either. Never expecting much, trying to ignore what others have that you don’t, being more thankful for a simple homemade cake than a big party and fuss, keeping a lid on your emotions…. It’s a humbling existence, which I’m not complaining about as I’d much rather have this than be the type of person to cry into my drink because I didn’t get the handbag I wanted.

Unfortunately, as a result, I find myself being irritable and grumpy on special days. I will brush off well wishes and shush people who try to be nice to me. It’s not something I’m proud of at all and I do try to be more open to accept love from others, even my husband and children, but it’s always with a tinge of feeling uncomfortable and wanting it all to be over! I will find myself deliberately busying myself with chores just to avoid the feeling that I must ‘sit down and be Queen for a day’. I clearly have no idea how to be kind to myself!

As I’ve got older and a heck of a lot wiser, I’ve realised I’m not a bad person for being like this. I’m just not the type of person to court attention or expect a big fuss. So, with any special day like my birthday or Mother’s Day I almost ‘vant to be alone’… as Greta Garbo once said.

The expectations of performing a role or being some kind of ‘perfect’, special person make me cringe. For me, rather than feel awesome, days like these always remind me of my failings… of actually not being a ‘perfect’ mother, or not being the ‘perfect’ wife. And then I make myself feel worse as I’m irritated at not throwing myself into it and enjoying some much-needed attention! Attention I know, deep down, I do deserve but just can’t cope with.

Recently, I’ve come down hard on my older children (disciplining your other children after you’ve lost a child is an emotional nightmare, but it’s proven to be essential and worthy of a whole other post, like this one).

I’ve been unpopular. I’ve heard my name shouted and horrible words said in anger. I’ve beaten myself up as I feel tired and emotional, always trying to hold it together yet always managing to give way to my frustration, all the while trying to work out if I’m disciplining as a caring parent or just taking out my grief on them. Failing, failing, failing….

Of course, I’m not really failing, but since Abi died, the expectations of special days adds yet more pressure to me.

Now it’s the same but harder still, as I feel the expectations of grief on these days, as well as on Abi’s special days. I want to hide from the world and get stressed about how I’m feeling. Due to how I am, I know it’s no one’s pressure but mine. I clearly like to beat myself up!

This Mother’s Day was tricky but also revealed a lot to me about why I am the way I am and what I am thankful for – and hence inspired this reflective post.

The morning started with my hubby being taken suddenly ill in the early hours. He was okay, but it involved a trip to the doctor at the hospital in a neighbouring town – the hospital and corridor where Abi was rushed to three years ago after she collapsed at home. We’d not been back since, and now he was faced with feeling worried for his health and having to stand in the same place we stood waiting for the news we didn’t want to hear about Abi. (For the record, it was a cold-related thing and despite being poorly he was much better after a few hours and some paracetamol!) So the day I had planned for myself (because I had planned a day in my head that I could control) was quickly becoming something very different.

I had planned to have a bit of a lie in and then go to church on my own. Then I would visit Abi’s memorial and spend time focused on her while my hubby watched the kids and got the roast dinner on. We had invited his parents for lunch, again partly as a way to fill up the day and not have to go out anywhere. It was, as you can see, quite a lonely day, one where I could avoid my feelings of expectation and redirect attention away from myself. I didn’t want to be alone exactly, I wanted to be left alone. Alone to avoid the expectation, alone to enable myself to grieve, alone to feel without worrying about others’ feelings.


Even the night before I was tired and irritated at the anticipation of the day. I had to work very late, to clear the Sunday. My hubby had been feeling under the weather and hadn’t thought to get me anything from the children. I didn’t really mind (again not being able to admit to myself that actually, yes, I did!), but I couldn’t help feeling unappreciated and also guilty for being so selfish. I fell asleep with tears in my eyes, worn out, thinking of Abi.

But, after the hoo-ha of the early morning panic was over, my children gave me their cards. I was amazed. My 2-year-old had made me one at the childminder’s – his first little scribbles in pen. My 8-year-old son was very excited to give me a card he’d made at school with a felt flower on the cover that he’d sewn himself. I was very impressed. Then he dug out from behind the chair a large hand-decorated pot plant containing four herbs he’d planted. I have no idea how he hid it from me! And then my 13-year-old daughter gave me a handmade card and wrote some lovely things in it which almost had me in tears. Abi’s card was missing, I know, but seeing the mantle filled with their efforts was just the best thing!


It really was all I needed. A healthier hubby and happy kids! I didn’t need the hype and the stuff, I just needed some love. (Don’t we all!)

So, I didn’t get to church or to see Abi, but the lunch went well and I wasn’t too much of a martyr about helping out. Both me and my hubby were exhausted so we had to pull together. If anything, my grief has taught me that sometimes my days change and it’s not possible to do what I needed to do, or have the energy I thought I’d have. Some days I wake up under a cloud, other days I don’t. But when it happens I know to wind it back, simplify the time and just ‘be’ until I’m ready to be the organised ‘in-control’ me again.

I managed to get to Evensong at church and it turned out to be far more beneficial than trying to ‘fit in’ the busy morning service. With just a handful of members of the congregation and the choir it was a simply beautiful, and deeply comforting, service. We reflected on Joseph and his privileged life as a favourite son, before he was sold into slavery by his own brothers and then thrown into prison.

It’s a familiar Bible story I have known since my childhood. His story ends well, he becomes a powerful leader in Egypt, but the focus was on how, despite cruising along and having a pretty good life, he ended up in a place he wasn’t expecting, how his life changed drastically for the worse and how, despite this, God was with him, in everything that was happening to him. Through the periods of darkness and worry. Through the feelings of being unappreciated and overworked. Through the physical pains and the emotional pains of loss and separation. Not just for a day, a week or a month, but through years and years of the same tireless struggle.

It helped to be reminded of this. That I should really cut myself some slack and remember that these special days don’t define me, they are simply days. They may force me to be more reflective but it doesn’t matter if I don’t want to shout about it. My grief accompanies me through the highs and lows yes, but God carries me through it all.

I ended the day feeling a deep sense of calm and, yes, I felt loved. I was happily thankful that we were all safely in our beds, that my hubby was on the mend and that we could all appreciate a better night’s sleep. So it goes to show, special days can still be special when they are kept simple!


4 thoughts on “The expectations of a grieving mother on special days

  1. Beautifully written and awakens lots of my emotions .. Helps me understand myself more too! Good reminder that the whole family have lost someone precious.. Not just me. Thank you.

  2. The anticipation of holidays can be worse than the actual day. I remember that well. I love the beautiful cards you received from your children. Abi couldn’t give you a card but she is holding you close.

  3. Pingback: Mother’s Day…. It’s Over Already..Here is what you missed! | WhoILove

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