Whether your dad died recently or a long time ago, the anniversary of their wedding may always be a difficult day for your mom. Knowing what to say to comfort and encourage her can be extremely difficult, especially if you're also dealing with your own grief. You may not find the perfect words, and you can't bring your dad back, but you can approach your mom with compassion and sensitivity.
Understand Her Grief
The psychology of grief is complex. People cope with the loss of a loved one with a range of emotions and responses. Sometimes your mom might seem like she's moving forward, while at other times she might be angry or depressed. Or maybe she seems to hide the pain and hardly expresses any sadness at all. Let her grieve on her own terms; it may take a long time -- years -- for her to work through the loss. By being sensitive to her grief and the way she expresses it, you'll be better in tune with what she needs to hear from you on her wedding anniversary.
Start With What's Simple
When someone is grieving, it can do wonders just to know that someone else cares. If you're at a loss for words, start with the basics. You can't go wrong with "I'm sorry" and "I love you" -- and these words communicate to your mom that you're acknowledging the date and thinking about her without putting any expectations on how she should feel or react.
Ask What She Needs
The best way to know what exactly your mom needs to hear on a potentially painful anniversary is to simply ask. Perhaps she'd like a card expressing condolences and some flowers, or maybe she'd like to go to dinner with you. If she doesn't know what she wants or claims she doesn't want anything, offer a few suggestions.
Honoring Old Memories
Rituals can be very comforting in the grieving process, especially on days that are full of meaning like a wedding anniversary. You could suggest that your mom create some rituals of remembrance on this day, like taking a walk where your father proposed to her or visiting the place they took their vows. Depending on what she wants, you may offer to do these rituals with her, or let her do them on her own.
Creating New Memories
One way to lessen the sadness of a difficult day of memories is to create new, purposeful memories. Offer to do something in memory of your dad, like volunteering at a soup kitchen or throwing a small party for some of your mom's friends. You can also ask if your mom would like to share some of her happy memories of your dad with you, and create a new tradition based on some of those memories.
Lessening Your Expectations
Whatever you decide to say or do for your mom, don't have lofty expectations about her response. She may be pleased or honored by what you offer, or she may express any number of feelings, including sadness, anger or denial. Don't beat yourself up about it if you don't get the response you were hoping for; remember that she's grieving. And while you may play a part in soothing her, you're ultimately not the one responsible for the way she is feeling.
- American Hospice Foundation: Helping A Grieving Parent
- Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology: The Time Course of Grief Reactions to Spousal Loss: Evidence From A National Probability Sample
- PsychCentral: Grief, Healing and the One-to-Two Year Myth
- LifeCare, Inc.: A LifeCare Guide To Grief And Bereavement
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images