Mother's Day Gratitude and Grief : Kate Murphy Therapy
Kate Murphy, LCSW specializes in working with people suffering from anxiety and depression, and provides couples therapy including premarital counseling in the Atlanta metro area of Norcross, GA at the Pathway Center for Psychotherapy.
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Mother’s Day Gratitude and Grief

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day Gratitude and Grief

Mother’s Day Gratitude and Grief

Depending on your relationship with your mother, Mother’s Day may bring authentic feelings of gratitude, more complicated feelings, or both. If your mother is absent from your life, grief is likely to be experienced too.

Growing up, Mother’s Day in my family was handmade cards, flowers, and Sunday brunch by the ocean. In general, if there was a holiday or birthday, the Murphys were at a champagne brunch. Now, mom and I are on opposite coasts. I miss the in person celebration. Buying a card for her this weekend was bittersweet as I know our time together is limited. Gratitude and grief in the card aisle at Publix.

Mother's Day giftAnna Jarvis was the woman responsible for Mother’s Day becoming an official holiday. Mother’s Day was a memorial to her mother who had died in 1905. Gratitude and grief. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day an official holiday.

Like in 1914, the day is dedicated to expressing love and gratitude to mothers. A day to acknowledge the sacrifices women make for their children. A day to celebrate the connection between mother and child.

Incidentally, Jarvis later became outraged at the increased commercialization of the holiday. Imagine her dismay at where the holiday spending is today at around $31 billion!


Mother's DayGratitude for mom includes showing appreciation for the gifts received throughout life. Sacrifices made on your behalf and skills passed down. Mother’s Day provides an opportunity to take time to communicate appreciation for treasured memories and love experienced together. The more authentic and bountiful the gratitude, the more welcome and joyful the holiday.

This does not mean ignoring disappointments within the relationship. Mother-child relationships are often complicated. This day can be hard if you did not see your mom as a best friend, trusted advisor, and/or nurturing presence. Remember, love and disappointment can certainly exist together. Gratitude may be absent or found only in small moments.


Grief Mother's DayThe origins of Mother’s Day began with Anna’s grief at her mother’s death. If you are grieving the loss of your mom, Mother’s Day accentuates that loss. The first few Mother’s Day after a death can leave you feeling less than celebratory. Feelings of sadness or even anger at all the happy commercials and social media postings are to be expected. It is more than appropriate to sit out the holiday or use the day to memorialize and honor your loss.

When grief is farther in the past and integrated into your identity, the day may still bring feelings of loss and sadness, but lower in intensity than in the beginning stages of mourning.

Ambiguous Loss 

Mother's Day GriefFor people with more conflicted relationships, grief comes in the form of ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss, coined by Pauline Boss, is the grief of losing someone or something absent but not dead. Sorrow comes from missing a relationship or companionship with your mother while she is still living.

Your mother may be physically present but psychologically absent or the other way around. Boss believes that this is the most stressful form of loss. An individual is torn between grieving the loss of a loved one while still holding onto hope that the person will appear or the relationship will be repaired.

Psychological Absence/Physical Presence:
  • Demential/Alzheimer’s
  • Mental health issues
  • Emotional neglect
  • Abuse – verbal, physical, sexual
  • Betrayal/DNA surprise
  • Narcissistic behavior
  • Addiction


Physical Absence/Psychological Presence:
  • Abandonment
  • Deportation
  • Worked long hours out of need or workaholism
  • Lives far away and not able to hear well on the telephone or operate video
  • Loss of mother through adoption:
    • don’t know first/birth mother
    • first/birth mother has died
    • first/birth mother rejection



Taking care of yourself while grieving is crucial. The ideas below are meant to be a helpful gift to yourself this Mother’s Day and beyond.

  • If you are planning an event, keep it simple
  • Plan time around family or friends that support you
  • Talk about your loss with supportive family and friends
  • Celebrate the life and relationship with your loved one
  • Spend time outside if that brings you peace
  • Allow yourself time alone
  • Therapy to process feelings with someone trained to hold space & not “fix” you
  • Take a shower
  • Sleep/take naps
  • Drink enough water
  • Try not to skip meals
  • Reduce or avoid social media and television
  • Limit or abstain from drugs and alcohol


“My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”

-Cheryl Strayed

Just as the drive to mother is primal so is the need for a nurturing and accepting mother. The relationship is foundational to how we see ourselves and future relationships.

Be gentle with yourself if this day causes feelings of heartbreak and loss. I wish you moments of beauty. Take care.



Book Recommendations (Non-fiction & Memoirs): 

  • On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD and David Kessler
  • Healing Grief, Finding Peace: Daily Strategies for Grieving and Growing by Louis LaGrand, MD
  • Grieving Us: A Field Guide for Living With Loss Without Losing Yourself by Kimberly Pittman Schulz
Loss of Mother:
  • Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
  • What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang
  • How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones
  • Searching for Mom: A Memoir by Sara Easterly and Linda Easterly
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Ambiguous Mother Loss:
  • Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons
  • The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
  • Ambiguous Loss: Coming to Terms with Unresolved Grief by Pauline Boss
  • Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow by Kenneth J. Doka
  • Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride
  • Mother Hunger by Kelly McDaniel
Loss of a Child:
  • When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner
  • Free to Grieve: A Memoir in Black and White by Teleah Scott-Moore
  • Blue Nights by Joan Didion
  • Goodbye Again by Candace Cahill


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