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Tips for Mother’s Day without mom

If your mom has passed away, or you are estranged from her, Mother's Day can be a painful time. Dr. Gail Saltz suggests ways to use the holiday as a time to heal and remember, not to grieve.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

On Mother’s Day, many people feel pressured to do the greeting card/Sunday brunch/bouquet of flowers thing. That is perfectly valid. It satisfies a need to prove you have a good relationship with your mother.

Of course, relationships with one’s mother are complicated and can’t be watered down to good or bad or roses or daisies. Pretty much all mother-child relationships have some conflict built into them, some more than others.

Today, however, I will address dealing with Mother’s Day when your mother is deceased.

Obviously, any day that holds memories — such as a birthday, holiday or anniversary — can be be painful, and can remain painful for years.

On Mother’s Day, everyone else is focused on their mothers. So the feeling of missing your mother — and feeling like you are the only one in the world without a mother — can intensify these feelings of loss. This holds whether or not you had a good relationship with your mother when she was alive.

Though Mother’s Day is a "Hallmark holiday," it still is powerful. No matter how old you are, losing a parent is a regressive experience that makes people feel young, childlike and vulnerable.

So it’s OK to understand that Mother’s Day isn’t always happy. Acknowledge that you are sad and miss your mother. There’s no need to pretend it is not a melancholy time for you. Nearly everyone whose mother is absent feels bereft.

Even as you acknowledge that nothing and nobody can replace your mother, if you are a mother yourself, focus on the joy of having your own children. Celebrating your own motherhood will provide solace.

Finally, if you are estranged from your mother, Mother’s Day provides a good excuse for trying to repair the relationship. In some cases, a relationship is so toxic or abusive it is better ended. But there are many more times when that is not the case.

If, for whatever reason, there has been an evolution into a distance, or else a long-past insult that nobody really cares about anymore, Mother’s Day can allow you to mend that rift.

If you do decide to use Mother's Day as an opportunity to heal your relationship, remember that it's not a time to accuse or bring up old wounds. And don't be afraid to acknowledge that you miss having more of a relationship with her.

There is benefit from telling your mother you have been thinking of her and would like to achieve more closeness. The fact it is Mother’s Day will likely soften her up, as well. The time is ripe to make amends. So spend some time together, talk by phone, or send a letter or note. It is wonderful to enjoy your mother while she is still around.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie.” She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .