I was struggling to get the whisk attachment out of the mixing bowl when I was hit with the question I’d been dreading:
“So, are you going to see your mom for Mother’s Day?” my coworker asked as we made whipped cream side by side in the kitchen of the dessert shop where we worked together.
She had unwittingly stumbled upon an awkward line of conversation for me. I took a deep breath and replied:
“No, she passed away last summer, so I won’t be able to.”
The whipped cream clinging to the side of my mixing bowl had started out as unformed liquid, and only after being beaten did it become a delicious, wonderful, decadent topping, just as I, too, was in the process of being made into something different, stronger, and beautiful. Someone whom my mom would be proud of.
Perhaps you are facing uncomfortable questions as Mother’s Day approaches or as any other milestone nears where there is a large, gaping hole where your loved one’s presence used to be. Maybe you find yourself beaten down by the inevitable awkwardness and heartache.
In these bittersweet moments leading up to holidays, I have found that writing helps me turn what is otherwise an uncomfortable situation into something beautiful. Writing can be art! There is power in written words. Something wonderful happens when we put our thoughts down on paper. Just like speaking the truth out loud sets people free, writing your thoughts down can set you free too.
A few years ago, my counselor encouraged me to use journaling as an outlet when I experienced triggering moments for my grief. That way, when people asked me about my mom or I saw someone who looked like her at work, I could move on in the moment and write about it later. I didn’t need to be overwhelmed with feelings right then and there because I could express those feelings on the page when I got home. Some of the moments I wrote about in journal entries became inspiration for blog posts that I wrote later on and shared with other people. But the raw, unedited, messy notes were necessary for me to start healing.
Writing is a powerful process because you can write your thoughts down, close the book, and walk away, leaving those thoughts and feelings behind for the moment. The good news is that you don’t have to be a “talented” writer to use writing as a form of art to process your feelings. If you can make a grocery list, you can write!
The beauty of using writing as a form of processing grief is that it’s cheap (you only need paper and a pen!), portable, and is a concrete way to work through your emotions. The idea here is not to sit down and write out your entire story, but to create space for yourself to process each individual moment. Below are some writing exercises I’ve found useful:
1. Bullet Point Journal: Write a few short thoughts in a notebook with bullet points, which can be as mundane as what you’re eating for dinner or as profound as your hopes for the future. The content isn’t as important as experiencing the feeling of pouring ink onto a physical page.
2. Set a Time Limit: Set a timer for 7 minutes and write whatever thoughts come into your brain. Reserve judgment, and no editing allowed. You don’t even have to go back and reread what you wrote. If you want to keep writing after the timer goes off, keep going!
3. Focus on the Five Senses: Find a photo of a happy memory and write a short page focusing on describing the image using only your five senses.
I hope writing helps you take your overwhelming thoughts and emotions and transform them into something tangible. Like stiff peaks of whipped cream on top of cake, you are a visible representation of the hard work put into your creation.
Some Practical Steps You Can Take to Prepare for Mother’s Day:
- Use Journaling as an Outlet. Use the exercises above or whatever works best for you. You can also use the notes app on your phone to record any happy memories of your loved one that might come to mind throughout the day.
- Set Boundaries with Social Media. Take a short social media fast leading up to and right after Mother’s Day. Don’t unnecessarily torture yourself by scrolling through happy images of people with their moms. I like to remind myself that it’s okay to feel pangs of jealousy for my friends with living moms while also being glad that they don’t have to experience this loss. Set boundaries for yourself to avoid excessive exposure if you know it will be hard for you.
- Be Generous to Yourself and Others. Buy a gift for yourself, a dear friend, or a maternal figure in your life. In the past, I’ve gone to the local garden store and bought my mom’s favorite plant as a way to remember her, or I’ve given my grandma a call. Give yourself a lot of grace and pursue creative outlets that bring you joy.
- Know Who Your People Are. Reach out to a close friend or family member you trust and ask them to text you and check in that day if you’re dreading Mother’s Day. Tell them that even if you don’t respond, their kind words will mean a lot to you. Words have power! Especially when they come from someone you love and care about.
Remember, you’re not alone in your grief during this holiday. Mother’s Day is hard for a lot of people, and there’s not always space given to express this grief. Let your chosen avenue of art be an outlet for your mixed emotions—the gratefulness for your mom giving you life and the deep heartache of missing her presence.
Katrina Larson is a freelance writer who currently resides in Eugene, Oregon where she’s cheering on her husband through Grad School. Katrina excels at “Dad humor,” enjoys Pumpkin Chai Lattes, and is teaching herself how to knit. She cares deeply for people who’ve lost a parent in their 20’s and has been blogging about her experiences at thekatrinalarson.com. You can follow her @thekatrinalarson or visit https://thekatrinalarson.com.
Take time for yourself today and begin learning to process your grief creatively. Join my free e-course, Grief Art 101.