by Holley Gerth
Soon we’ll celebrate Mother’s Day once again. For many families, it’s a time of celebration, appreciation, and joy. But for others, it’s one of the most difficult days of the year. This is especially true for women facing infertility or those who have recently experienced the loss of a mother, daughter, or other loved one.
I know what it’s like for Mother’s Day to be difficult. My husband and I struggled with infertility for almost a decade and experienced loss along the way. While we learned to live in hope and God eventually gave us a daughter (we adopted her when she was twenty-one years old!), we still remember the hurt and how holidays could bring it to the surface.
I also know what it’s like for Mother’s Day to be difficult because of experiences from working as a writer for DaySpring. Each year we would receive several letters from people thanking us for our “Difficult Mother’s Day” cards. One woman who wrote to express her appreciation said, “I spent seven very painful Mother’s Days longing for motherhood while dealing with infertility and the losses of eight children through miscarriage and failed adoptions. I’ve also seen my own mother’s grief and struggle through Mother’s Day after the death of her mother. And I have many friends in less-than-ideal situations either with prodigal children, abusive/estranged mother or children, loss of a child, and more.”
And finally, I know because of my training as a licensed counselor who has had the sacred honor of grieving alongside many women. I’ve learned that experiencing sadness on special occasions is a normal part of loss and longing. These days often serve as reminders of what we have let go or do not yet have.
So as Mother’s Day comes this year, I’d like to share a few thoughts from my heart to yours.
Embrace Your Emotions
First, if Mother’s Day is difficult for you then give yourself permission to grieve. When holidays come, we often put expectations on ourselves to feel a certain way. We may think, “This is a special occasion. I have to put on a happy face and make the best of it.” But it’s okay to feel sad and even cry. As the authors of The Empty Chair: Handling Grief on Holidays and Special Occasions say simply and powerfully, “We grieve because we loved.”
It’s also helpful to realize that emotions are not good or bad. They are just messengers that tell us about what’s going on in our lives. Sadness tells us, “You’ve lost something or someone important to you.” It’s not a sin to feel sad. Jesus often experienced sadness and the Bible says he was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NIV).
Many other godly people in the Bible experienced sadness and grief. In Psalm 13 King David pours out his heart to the Lord and asks, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” He does end by saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” Does that mean we need to go from feeling broken to blessed in just a few lines? No, absolutely not. But it does show us something important about emotions. They are meant as stops along life’s journey rather than destinations. If you continually feel sad over a lengthy period of time or it seems as if there is no hope at all, then consider getting help from a professional.
Sometimes we need to help others understand our sadness. People who are trying to comfort us may say things like, “Don’t worry. I know you’ll have a baby.” Or they may say, “Your loved one is in a better place now.” Words like these can make us feel that guilt for being sad. Just remember that people who say these things are really trying to tell us, “I care about you. Your pain matters to me. I want you to feel better. So I’m trying to think of anything I can say to you that will help.” Sometimes we need to gently share with those around us that what we really need is for them to just be there and to listen.
We may even need to give them permission to not say anything. For example, we can say, “I know you may not know what to say. So I just wanted to tell you that you don’t have to say anything. When you’re just with me and you listen, that gives me a lot of comfort.” This will probably be a huge relief to those who love us and truly want to help but don’t know how. Many of DaySpring’s best-selling cards have messages like this. For example, one card says, “At a time when words are hard to find…I just want you to know I’m praying for you.”
Sometimes we need to be alone to experience our emotions, but usually it is wise to seek support. From the very beginning of creation, God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. This is especially true when we are grieving. Jesus modeled this when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He brought several of his disciples with him and said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38 NIV).
Support can take many different forms. Hopefully, you have close friends and family members who can walk through this time with you. It’s important that you don’t assume they know you need their comfort. Unless they have experienced a similar loss, they don’t know what it’s like. So don’t be afraid to call them or tell them what you need. You won’t be imposing. They may want to help but don’t know what to do so they will probably be relieved if you let them know.
Even family members and close friends can grow weary at times, so it’s helpful to have other sources of support. Counselors can be a great source of support because they’re trained to work with loss and can offer an objective viewpoint. Because they are an outside party, their own grief won’t complicate their ability to deal with yours.
Support groups can also be a great source of comfort. It helps to talk with others who know what you’re going through. You can learn from those who are further down the road than you are and offer help to those just beginning their journey. Support groups can be formally organized or they can be more casual, such as a group of women going through infertility meeting for a monthly lunch.
Of course, our strongest supporter will always be God. This may not feel as if it is true, especially after or during a time of loss in our lives. Right now you may be angry at God, disappointed in him, or feel as if you don’t have any faith left at all. That’s normal and many people in the Bible experienced the same thing. God understands that you are hurt. It’s okay to bring all of those feelings to him.
Normal grief and mourning can turn into serious depression. One of the symptoms of depression is withdrawing and isolating ourselves from others. If you find you are cutting of relationships, have no desire to be with other people, and are spending much more time alone than usual, it may be a sign that you need help to deal with your depression.
Do Something Special
The next thing you can do if Mother’s Day is difficult is to take some action. While doing something special when you are sad may feel a bit overwhelming, it is important because it helps us face our grief directly. It also helps us to be proactive rather than reactive in addressing our loss. Many people think that it’s better to avoid or bury their grief. But the opposite is actually true. Healing only comes when we acknowledge and embrace our losses. As Dr. Gary Oliver says, “If you bury an emotion, it’s always buried alive.”
The kind of action you take depends on your personality and the nature of your loss. For example, if you lost your mother then you might write her a letter. If you lost an unborn child, you might donate to a crisis pregnancy center in his or her honor. You and your spouse might look at photos of the sister you lost to breast cancer or visit a place where you used to go together. You may think, “But that will make me sad!” That’s okay. Experiencing grief is part of healing.
Grief and Trauma Counselor H. Norman Wright even recommends a “programmed cry” in which you set aside a specific time to grieve and place yourself in an environment where you are able to do so. He says in Recovering from Losses in Life, “Some of us have never learned to cry. We are afraid to really let go with our tears. We live with fears and reservations about crying. We cry on the inside but never on the outside.” Each time you allow yourself to grieve through tears, it will become a little bit easier to do so.
You can also simply do something nice for yourself. If you enjoy going to restaurants, then have a special meal with a friend or spouse. If you like taking long walks or bubble baths, make time in the day for that activity. Part of getting through grief is taking care of you. As long as it isn’t something harmful or numbing, doing something special for yourself can help you through a difficult day.
Hold Onto Hope
Finally, if Mother’s Day is difficult for you this year then hold onto hope. The Lord brought this phrase to my heart many times during the years I struggled with infertility.
I remember at one point in my journey it seemed as if I couldn’t take another step. In addition to infertility, I was facing several other losses. In my mind, I saw myself in a dark cave sitting with my head on my knees in despair. But then I sensed the Lord gently and lovingly speak to my heart, “You’re in this cave but you have a choice. You can sit in despair or you can diamond-mine your difficulties.” I decided that if I was going to be stuck in this cave, I was not leaving empty-handed. I was taking every diamond I could find!
To remind me of this, I wore two rings for many years. The one on the fourth finger of my left hand represents my commitment to my husband. The one I wore on the fourth finger of my right hand was a simple silver band inscribed with the word “hope” and it represented the commitment I made to God and myself to hold onto hope no matter what happened.
As I tried to “diamond-mine” my difficulties, I realized an important part of holding onto hope is confronting the lies that the enemy tried to tell me. For a long time, the enemy told me, “God isn’t answering your prayers.” Every time I thought about this, I felt despair. What was wrong with me? What did I need to do differently? I lived with a lot of guilt and frustration.
One day when I worked at DaySpring a coworker rushed up to me and said, “One of your cards has been nominated for an award!” I was thrilled. When I asked her what kind of card it was she said, “A Baby Congratulations card.” After she left, I thought about the irony—an infertile woman nominated for an award for a Baby Congratulations card!
I began to think about other things in my life over the last few years. I had unexpectedly helped create a line of baby gifts, written three children’s books, and experienced some new opportunities in my life. I sensed the Lord saying to me, “I have brought new life through you. I’ve answered every prayer that was prayed for something to be created through you—just not in the way you expected.” That moment gave me a tremendous amount of peace and God has continued to confirm it in my life. Whatever lies the enemy is telling you, ask the Lord to show you the truth.
When I think of Mother’s Day being difficult, the person who will always come to mind first is an inspiring woman named Terrie. She endured the loss of four pregnancies and waited seventeen years before adopting a little girl. She told me, “I think one of the most important parts of this journey is learning to trust God. I don’t mean the flippant kind of trust. It’s easy for people to say, ‘You just need to trust God.’ It’s much harder when you’re in the middle of all this pain. But he is trustworthy. Through it all, God has given us an amazing story. I wouldn’t have chosen this road, but He has been with us. I can look back and truly say every step was worth it.”
God sees each one of us. He knows how many hairs are on our heads and how many cares our in our hearts. Whatever you’re going through this Mother’s Day, you’re not facing it alone. As King David, a man who experienced many losses in his life, expressed in Psalm 34:18 NIV, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” May God surround you with love, fill you with hope, and give you strength for each moment— especially this Mother’s Day.