Healthy Living

Handling Heartache: How to Cope with Grief on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

May. 12, 2023

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are meant to be joyous occasions. But for some people, these holidays can bring heartache, grief, and other negative feelings. 

Whether you’re dealing with the loss of a parent or child, struggling with infertility, or experiencing other hardships, coping with grief can be even more difficult when it seems like the rest of the world is smiling.

For those who experience grief, anxiety, depression, or feelings of loss on certain holidays, Serina Tetenov, Ph.D., LCSW-R, assistant professor of Psychiatry and clinical director of Adult Mental Health and Wellness at the University of Rochester Medical Center, offers advice and resources:

Allow yourself time to feel

During holidays such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle. It’s important to take time to acknowledge and experience your emotions. 

Try working through your feelings by writing them down and asking yourself, “What am I feeling?” You can also take the time to refresh and recharge by practicing meditation and mindfulness. These tools can help you navigate challenging emotions. 

“Most find that the heaviness associated with despair is reduced by incorporating these tools when emotions are high,” Tetenov said. “And that makes it possible to create space to freely experience your responses in a meaningful way.”

Don’t hide your emotions

Holidays can trigger deep feelings of sadness and loneliness, bringing painful reminders of times gone by. When this happens, it might seem easier to avoid talking about how you feel. You might try to convince loved ones that all is well. But maintaining this illusion is difficult to do and can make you feel worse.

Instead, Tetenov recommends acknowledging your emotions. Honestly owning your thoughts is a step toward understanding them. Ignoring your feelings can lead to more significant mental health concerns, including an increase in depression and anxiety.

For those with children, openly expressing your feelings can be even more difficult. Don’t be afraid to express your emotions around your children in an age-appropriate way. 

“Parents who demonstrate healthy responses to mental health challenges greatly lend to their childrens’ ability to develop the same healthy habits, establishing the foundation for emotional resilience,” Tetenov said.

Spend time with your loved one’s memory

If you’re dealing with the loss of a parent or child, spending time with the memory of them may help you cope while engaging in activities that feel special to you. A few ways include:

  • Writing them a letter
  • Spending time in a place where you feel close to their memory
  • If you lost a parent, try doing something that would have made your parent smile and let yourself enjoy it just as they would have

Don’t judge yourself

It’s easy to feel out of place when everyone else is celebrating. However, it’s essential to validate your emotions. Experiencing loss or infertility is challenging—know that it’s OK to feel sad or angry. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to feel your emotions without judgment. 

Take a digital detox

Social media can be overwhelming, especially when dealing with grief. Limiting your time online can help you focus on yourself and allow you more space to cope. Try to log off for a few days or limit your time on social media.

Seek help and support

Reaching out for professional support can provide significant help for those experiencing grief. The University of Rochester Medical Center offers many services for those in need, including:

How can I help a loved one who is struggling?

1. Reach out to them.

Reaching out to a struggling loved one or friend can be a delicate task. Let them know you’re thinking of them and are available if they need someone to talk to or spend time with. 

Feeling isolated with negative emotions can be more painful than sharing them, so allow your loved one space but let them know you are there for them.

2. There isn’t always a “right” thing to say.

Be prepared to sit in silence with your loved one. Understand that just being present for someone experiencing grief can be helpful. Remember, while many prefer to talk through grief, there isn’t always a “right” thing to say to help them feel better. 

3. Offer practical assistance.

If your friend or loved one is having a hard time, offering them favors such as grocery shopping or a meal can make a difference. Consider tagging along to the store so they don’t have to go alone.

With strategies that are tailored to your needs, managing emotions and finding comfort during the holidays is possible. Remember, it’s OK to feel sad. And seeking help is a sign of strength. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, call 988 immediately. 

Additional resources:

Crisis Call Line: (585) 275-8686 or 988

Mental Health Emergency Services

General Mental Health Service