How to Celebrate Mother’s Day with Mothers Who Have Lost a Child

Mother walking with child sepia

While Mother’s Day can be a time of celebration and relaxation (at least when the pancake batter doesn’t end up on the ceiling), it’s also a time for remembering. You remember the good—the smiles and first steps, the art projects that completely obscured the refrigerator, and the successes. You remember the joys of motherhood, those shining, golden moments that make all the heartache and late nights and weariness worth it.

However, if you’re a mother who lost a child, your latest, clearest memories of that child are the worst ones. You remember the pain and anguish, the helplessness, and the loss. If you’re one of those rare mothers—like mine—who lost a child days before Mother’s Day, that holiday can never be quite the same again. But it also can’t, it shouldn’t, be forgotten. If you’re a mother or love a mother who lost a child, here’s how to celebrate Mother’s Day:

Forget the Flowers

mother's day fruit bouquet
Max Pixel

True story: those flowers on Mother’s Day will always remind her of the flower arrangements on her baby’s casket; the smell will bring back memories of white velvet and sadness. Believe me when I say, after a massive influx of flower arrangements during the worst days of your life, every flower arrangement afterwards, no matter how well-intentioned, is tainted. When my brother died a week before Mother’s Day, she came right out and said she didn’t want flowers.

If gifting Mom with something living (or once living) is important to you, opt for a pot of flowers or a tree because everything else dies, and she doesn’t want to remember that part of her mothering story. If you’re open to other ideas, though, consider a fruit bouquet—every woman wants chocolate dipped fruit—or a cookie arrangement.

Tell Stories

mother reading
Chris Parfitt / Flickr

No mother wants her child to disappear from the thoughts and lips of others because they die. They only die when we stop speaking of them, and that little piece of motherhood nestled inside that soul dies, too. The best way to honor your mother is to actively tell stories and share memories about the one who died. Do it often, and write it down, because memories fade and new generations crop up without knowing of the rich life that was.

My mother’s been hounding me and my siblings for the last four years to write down all the stories we remember of our brother. There are a lot, and because of this and the vividness of the memories, we’ve neglected to capture the memories on paper as we should. It’s harder to sit down and write random stories without a prompt, so bring a tape recorder to Mother’s Day dinner, and switch that baby on when the “Remember whens” start. Or pass out paper with a list of questions about the sibling that family members can answer. If you really want to bring Mom back into the moment, scour photo albums for pictures of the two, and use those for prompts. Mom won’t mind sharing her day with the lost child.

Make Favorite Foods

mother's day dinner
Max Pixel

Again, Mom won’t mind sharing her day with her child, so cook food that both like. The foods may complement each other or be completely different; it doesn’t matter. Families are interesting, eclectic, wonderful constructions: be weird; nobody will judge you for eating roast chicken and pizza with a side of steamed broccoli and Oreos. In fact, they may be jealous.

Give Time

Family Jumping
Evil Erin / Wikimedia Commons

Sundays can be busy days, but take this one out to spend time with your mother (or wife or sister—you get the idea). If your mother has lost a child, then it’s always there in the back of her mind that she didn’t get quite enough time with them. You can’t give her any of that lost time, but you can give her some of yours, because building up the memories and laughter just in case is key. That laughter sustains people after tragedy, so gift it to them.

You can sit around and talk, but you can also play games. Get out some of those family favorites like Uno or Monopoly. Guaranteed a rowdy game that’s just like the good old times will stimulate memories of the one family member who can’t be there.

Remember to Laugh

laughing together
TawnyNina / Pixabay

Most of all, remember to smile, laugh, and find joy on this day that celebrates some of our favorite people. There’s no place for sadness on Mother’s Day. Sometimes Mom needs the reminder that she’s allowed to be happy even if she lost a child. It’s okay; she would want it.


Allison Weber grew up in the Great Plains of northeastern Colorado, decided to see some mountains, and went to Provo, Utah where she got her BA in English at BYU. Afterwards she did some writing and traveling, and then went to Minnesota State University for a Masters in Technical Communication. Now she freelances as a writer, works on her novel, runs regularly and travels when the mood strikes