by Megan Kelly-Dias
Today was not an easy day. Today, I missed my mother.
Missing my mother is not something new. She passed away over four years ago after a very brief battle with uterine cancer. Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her. But today, I missed her so much my body hurt, my heart hurt, and I just wanted to curl up and cry.
It was not a day that held any sort of special memory to trigger these emotions—it was not her birthday, it was not the anniversary of her death, or the anniversary of anything. On the surface, it was a completely normal day. What set it apart was a small issue, seemingly unrelated to my mother’s passing. Today, I couldn’t find a babysitter for tomorrow. It seemed everyone was too busy, unavailable, or sick, and nobody could lend a hand to watch my 1-year-old daughter. I felt lost and alone and, worse, I felt like my daughter was, too. I wished I had that person, the one person who would drop anything, no questions asked, to help me with my little one. I wished I had my mom.
As I sat on the floor and cried, watching my daughter play, all I could think of were the things my mother has missed. She wasn’t here for my wedding, my struggles with pregnancy, the birth of my daughter … and I wished so hard it was different.
Then my daughter did something wonderful. She walked over, smiled shyly, and shoved her pacifier into my face … and I laughed. With that laughter, a light bulb came on. I took a deep breath, and did four simple things that helped me to move on:
1. I smiled. When I was a little girl and felt sad or frustrated, my mother would tell me, “Smile, it will make you feel better.” Of course, she was right. Research shows that smiling releases neuropeptides and serotonin that reduce stress and boost your mood. Even faking a smile can leave you feeling more content and less stressed.
2. I gave myself permission. Tal Ben-Shahar teaches that we all have permission to be human. That means that we have permission to be sad sometimes. Sorrow, anger, frustration, and all sorts of emotions are part of what make us human. By accepting and even embracing those emotions, we are able to move towards our best self. It was okay that I was not okay.
3. I talked about my mom. I held my daughter and told her that she was named after my mother, how much she loves her, and all the fun things she would do with her if she were here. Margarita Tarragona teaches us that there is power in narrative—in the stories we create for our lives. By telling my daughter how my mother would be with her, I was changing my narrative to focus on the joy and love my mother embodied, and to pass those positive feelings on to my daughter.
4. I reached out to friends. I sent a text message to a few of my closest friends telling them how much the day sucked and why. Maria Sirois refers to these friends or family—those who are truly, wholeheartedly there for you—as your choir. Mine responded in force. Within 10 minutes, I had words of love, support, and babysitting volunteers streaming through my phone. I was not alone, and neither was my daughter.
Grief doesn’t always make sense. It’s not consistent, and you never know when it’s going to hit. There is an ebb and flow that is as unpredictable as the ocean waves—calm and gently rolling in and out at times, and, at other times, so fierce and aggressive that it knocks you completely off your feet.
But, when you do get knocked down, having tools and practices to draw on can help you get back up and feel the sun on your face again.
Megan Kelly Dias is the Director of Communications at Wholebeing Institute and a graduate of the Certificate in Positive Psychology. She is an independent marketing consultant and the co-founder the nonprofit Jo’s Jackets, an organization dedicated to providing children in need with warm clothing. The proud mother of one beautiful girl and two playful pups, Megan strives to find a balance between work, family, fun, health, and well-being.