Marisa Bardach Ramel is co-author of “The Goodbye Diaries: A Mother-Daughter Memoir,” written with her mother Sally Bardach. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two children.
Dear Fellow Motherless Daughters,
As Mother’s Day approaches, I long to sit beside you, pour you some tea and talk about all the things. I want to hear about your mom. Her name. Her laugh. The worst fight you ever had. Perhaps by our nearness we can consume some of each other’s grief -- anything to lighten the load.
Because, my god, it’s tiring to carry this heavy burden of grief.
I know. My mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when I was 17. I’ll never forget the night my parents came home and told me and my brother the diagnosis. “Two months to live,” Mom wept, repeating what the doctor had said.
I was a senior in high school, obsessed with boyfriends, the perfect prom dress, graduation and going off to college. Mom’s diagnosis didn’t fit into my plans and I stopped speaking to her -- as if killing her off instantly might lessen the pain of losing her.
Thankfully, she outlived the two-month prognosis, surviving for two and a half years. It was the worst time of our lives, but what would become the defining years of our relationship. In those years, we not only regained our closeness, but became friends who confided in each other in a way we never had before.
During those two and a half years, we also wrote a book together called “The Goodbye Diaries,” alternating chapters to share our perspectives of coping with her illness and reviving our mother-daughter bond. It took me eighteen years to finalize our story. Putting the book together after her death helped me hold onto my mother; publishing it this month means letting her go. But as I talk to roomfuls of people about my book, my mother, and my life as a mom now, I realize this is a new chapter of healing from the grief that held me captive for so long.
It’s hard to believe this Sunday will be my seventeenth Mother’s Day without her, especially now that I’m a mom myself. While I can’t promise it goes away, grief does shift over time.
Here’s what I’ve learned about coping with Mother's Day that I hope might comfort you:
1. Anticipation is the worst part.
While some brands now allow the bereaved to opt out of Mother’s Day marketing, the bouquet suggestions, brunch reservations and spa deals can drive any motherless daughter insane.
And don’t even think of stepping into a pharmacy. Seriously, if you run out of shampoo, heed my advice and just stop bathing -- anything to avoid the trigger of the card aisle.
On the bright side, the weeks leading up to the holiday are often worse than the day of, which brings the sweet relief of a 24-hour countdown till it’s over. Monday will never be more popular.
2. Make a plan, but don’t be afraid to break it.
Whether you’re seeing family or friends, going to the cemetery, or binge-watching “Gilmore Girls,” visualizing how you’ll spend the day may ease your anxiety.
But if you wake up Sunday morning and decide to do something entirely different (or do nothing at all), that’s OK. You do you.
3. Kids ease -- but won’t erase -- your grief.
My son was born days before my mom’s deathiversary and my daughter arrived right before Mother’s Day.
Don’t get me wrong, their snuggles and giggles make those days infinitely better. But you can love your kids and still miss your mom.
Accept the duality of the holiday, rather than trying to place it firmly in the happy bucket or the sad bucket.
4. Use social media to help, not hurt.
Real talk: Seventeen years later, it’s still painful for me to scroll through brunch photos on Facebook or Instagram.
It takes some willpower, but on Mother’s Day, I choose to opt out.
Instead, I post a photo of Mom early in the morning and take comfort in the comments and shared memories. No scrolling allowed.
5. Let the holiday evolve.
Just because it’s painful this year, doesn’t mean it will be every year. And sometimes the reverse is true: An easier year may be followed by a tougher one.
Grief is not linear and life milestones can be healing -- or a trigger. I spent last Mother’s Day marveling at my three-day-old daughter and refusing to be sad about my mom. (Clearly I didn’t yet understand point #3.)
This year, Mother’s Day coincides with the publication of the memoir my mom and I wrote together, “The Goodbye Diaries.” I thought I’d feel elated. Instead I find myself heartbroken she’s not here to celebrate alongside me.
And yet I feel hopeful knowing that my journey with the book might bring me to a totally different place by next Mother’s Day.
Let the holiday be a moment to assess your grief, take stock of your healing, and truly remember your one-of-a-kind mother.
For mom’s birthday and deathiversary, please re-read from the top. Sadly but helpfully, all the same rules apply. But I’m here for you all year long. That’s the silver lining of being motherless daughters: We have each other.
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 5, 2019.