I am writing this on Mother’s Day, 2017, and hope that for those of us who miss our mothers today, and on any and all other days because they have passed away: let us allow any grief or deep sadness that we might feel be coupled with deep gratitude that they were in our lives for the time we did have with them.

More than focusing on our loss and being deprived, let's cherish the love we felt and still feel for them, and from them.

On days like Mother’s Day, and on other days it is a common experience, for those whose mothers have passed over and who enjoyed loving relationships with them, to feel intense pain and longing. They may dread or hate this particular day, especially when they see other people whose mothers are alive, and in close proximity, going out and about celebrating and enjoying time with them.

Whilst sadness and grief are healthy emotions experienced when we are deprived of someone we loved, we have a choice about whether we let those emotions enhance our day, or deflate our day.

Life moves quickly – and all of us will pass on one day. The reality is, for most of us, life will contain loss and suffering at times, until the day of our departure. It is a sad fact that many people don’t realize the power we have to magnify suffering, exacerbate it, dwell in it, and deprive ourselves of life-enhancing moments. Or not.

 I am not for one moment suggesting that we repress or deny feelings of deep sadness when remembering who or what we miss and long for.

I am suggesting that we allow the sadness to enrich our lives. We can do so by accepting it without judging it as bad, and by allowing it to evoke memories of those who we so cherished and loved, thereby experiencing gratitude and fullness of heart in recalling our good fortune of having shared time with them. I am suggesting that we accept and embrace such sadness, let it nourish us, and thereby – not instead of, but in addition to - invite gladness.

There may be people who dislike this day for other reasons, and feel agitation and unrest, depression and misery at worst. Some who may be estranged from their mothers, or whose mothers have passed on, may not have enjoyed healthy or harmonious relationships with them. Some may experience deep disappointment, or resentment, or hatred, or a feeling of incompleteness and lack of resolution when they recall the disharmony and/or hostility that exists now or existed in the past between them.

The approach of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) encourages people who experience such feelings to make the effort to accept what happened in the past and cannot be changed.

REBT, as do other wise approaches, reminds us that we have choice when it comes to the attitude and perspective we take on events that we cannot control or change. Unconditional acceptance of that which we can’t change is the key to living a stable, enriched, and healthy life, with minimal misery and greater joy.

 How can the REBT approach be applied in the instance we consider here: a less than joyful Mother’s Day and issues that satellite from and around it?

1. Accept that life will, for most people, contain some loss and suffering.
2. Remind ourselves that we can stand what we don’t like, we just don’t like it.
3. Make effort to reduce negative judgment of the parent who may have acted badly by separating their bad actions from their inherent worth. Consider that if they had had the ability to think things through more clearly and did not have their own difficulties and unresolved issues – they most probably would not have acted in negligent or unhealthy ways.
4. Make effort to feel compassion for them, and for their vulnerabilities and weaknesses, by considering that if any person had held similar beliefs and had their upbringing and tendencies – they too may have behaved in undesirable ways. Applying such unconditional acceptance of others is a most effective path for creating and maintaining emotional well-being. It does not mean we accept the bad behaviors as okay. Not at all! It means we accept that bad behaving exists, and yet we choose to develop and experience compassion and forgiveness toward the people who acted badly. We can choose to view them as fallible humans, as each one of us is, who carried out the bad behaviors but are not totally bad humans.
5. Have compassion for oneself, and make effort not to put oneself down or to feel deficient or worthless if one did not have a good relationship with a parent, or because one allowed oneself to stew in unhealthy resentment and hatred for years. With awareness comes choice, and while we are alive and able to think, we can make effort to change our attitudes, make a fresh start, healthily regret times wasted in the past on self-defeating attitudes and to learn and grow from lessons learned. We can choose to begin NOW to adopt greater unconditional self-acceptance. We can choose to remind ourselves, over and over, that we have worth simply because we exist, despite and including any past poor choices, attitudes and behaviors.
6. Focus on the here and now predominantly, and adopt a daily practice of gratitude, gently accepting what we have lost and may not regain, and cherishing the good that does exist in our lives.

There are some women for whom this day, and days before and after, may be the most painful: those mothers whose children have passed on. This of course also applies to fathers. Their grief can be beyond measure or description. Hopefully, as time moves on and the rawness and shock of losing their precious ones transmutes into acceptance of what cannot be changed, such parents may allow themselves to focus greatly on what can be loved in the here and now, despite and including their loss, be it on other children, partner, family, friends, nature, absorbing interests, and meaningful causes they might involve themselves in.

There is not a day that goes by when I don’t remember and cherish my mother, and father also departed. I miss him and my mother, Hanka Joffe, more deeply than I can describe here.

Debbie Joffe Ellis.
Source: Debbie Joffe Ellis.

My mother was an amazing woman, and modeled for me the deepest unconditional love I can imagine, dedication, selflessness, loyalty, courage, forbearance during painful times, humor, kindness, gratitude and wisdom. I miss her daily, and allow myself to do as I suggested earlier – rather than focus solely on the loss, I also feel the gratitude and warmth in my heart for the good fortune for the years and experiences we did share.

Debbie Joffe Ellis.
Source: Debbie Joffe Ellis.

This day can be an odd one for me, and somewhat different from other days. What makes it odd is that in recent years, on days leading up to and on this day of the Mother, people wish me a Happy Mother’s Day! I guess it is because I look the age at which I could be a mother to children, teens, or young adults, that some people assume I am one. I don’t have biological children. My late husband, many years older than me, did not want us to have children at his stage of life, and I willingly went along with that – though prior to being with him, I did think that having children would be part of my life’s journey.

When people wish me a Happy Mother’s Day, I simply thank them and recall how thankful I am for the mother I had, for the incredible and beautiful person she was. I feel grateful for this gift of being alive that, without her (and my father), would not have been possible.

So – Happy Mother’s Day everyone! Whether you are a mother or not. Whether you are celebrating with your mother, or not. Whether you are reading this on Mother’s Day, or not. Whether you felt and feel love, or not, for or from your mother. Let’s remember how finite our time on earth is and, while we are here, let’s cherish the good, accept the less good that we cannot change, and choose to focus, focus, FOCUS on whatever it is that warms our hearts and brings meaning to us.

Let’s be grateful, glad for life, and for being here, now.

Thank you Mum.

About the Author

Debbie Joffe Ellis

Debbie Joffe Ellis, MDAM, Licensed Australian psychologist and Licensed New York Mental Health Counselor, teaches at Columbia University in NYC.

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