Tell us a little about what you do and how you work with people like us, who find Mum stuff really sad or challenging?
I am a HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist working within the NHS, as well as the Director of a private therapy service, Therapy Central based in Central London. Within my NHS role, I support refugees and asylum seekers who have often lost their family members in traumatic circumstances and in other cases have been exiled and consequently lost touch with their families. In my private work, I have experience supporting individuals who have lost their loved ones both historically and more recently. All of these circumstances can have devastating impacts on an individual’s mental wellbeing and often the most important way to begin work with grief and loss is to provide a supportive space for people to explore and feel their loss at their own pace. The aim of therapy is not to forget that this has happened, but to learn to accept and live with the loss of that person in their life. This can also mean to learn to negotiate the various trying times that this will bring up throughout their life: someone talking about their mother, someone losing their mother, watching mothers with their children walking, playing, hugging etc.
As a psychologist, you must get to speak with a lot of people who don’t get to join in on those Mother’s and Father’s Day celebrations – what is it about this time of year that makes us turn to emotional mush?
Losing a mother or father in any circumstance is tough, and then add one tough day (plus the build up) each year to the equation. One day each year where everybody is seemingly celebrating their parents, social media is teeming with commercial propaganda and friends are talking about (and posting pictures of) their mother or father alongside various pictures over the years. Simply being engaged in the world during this time is enough to face the onslaught. This can be absolutely heart-wrenching for those who have not fully recovered from their loss, opening up fresh wounds which have yet to heal again. Grief doesn’t necessary pack away neatly into a set of symptoms with practical solutions that help to resolve it. It’s often sudden – even when it’s a likely eventuality – traumatic and at times, incapacitating and isolating. Life can be hard enough seeing the reminders over the rest of the year which trigger difficult feelings and emotions.
Have you noticed a difference in how people are feeling about it this year, after Covid-19?
Yes. People are in isolation with their thoughts a lot more and are coming to terms with having to navigate these thoughts without the same level of distraction as their life previously enabled. If there is no outlet for these thoughts i.e. through speaking with a friend, through support groups, through therapy, then these thoughts and emotions can swirl around inside and become stronger and more difficult to let go. Additionally, there is the very current issue of people losing their loved ones without the same level of professional and social support as in non-restrictive conditions. This will make it very difficult for people to process the grief in current circumstances.
What can people do to help themselves not hyperventilate over the card display in Clinton’s, in the run-up to Mother’s Day?
Even though it might seem hard, and every inch of you wants to switch off for the day, it is important to acknowledge the lead up to Mother’s day, otherwise it may catch you unawares and there will be no strategy in place to manage the difficult emotions that may arise. In this day and age it’s trickier to get away from things going on in the world; we are bombarded by it from every media source.
You miss her and it’s unfair, and that’s bloody hard. You may even be feeling guilty that you can’t be happy for other people on this day, or feeling envious of others. Or that you’re being ungrateful for the things you do have. These feelings are normal and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad person, so please don’t judge yourself. You are also not alone in these thoughts and in your sadness.
Don’t bottle up those emotions – cry, scream, talk, write in a diary. Talk to someone about the dread or anxiety around Mother’s Day and put the words out into the ether, it’ll feel a lot better to do so. Sometimes people find it comforting to make these plans with someone they trust so they don’t have to be alone in setting upon this journey. Others have found mindfulness meditation helpful, which fosters the ability to stay present whilst acknowledging (but not judging) thoughts, some which may be difficult. There are several apps which help with this.
Is there anything you recommend to your clients to do on the day?
On the day, it is important you do what feels right in your stage of grieving. This might be sharing memories with a friend or another family member (what was great about her? What annoyed you about her?), marking the occasion by ‘sending’ a card or letter and/or reading it toyour Mum- maybe tell her about your year. Visit their resting place alone or with someone who is supportive. Perhaps you can find solace in speaking with another person who has lost their mother. Cook her favourite meal, do the thing you enjoyed together, visit a place that reminds you of her, watch her favourite film. Most importantly, please be kind to yourself… look after yourself in the way that feels best for you – a bath, a nice dinner, a long walk, meditate, read, watch a movie, have a laugh with someone. It may be a good opportunity to turn Mother’s Day into a yearly ritual that represents celebrating your Mum and being close to her. Though it may sound bleak, it’s your reality and you have every right to commemorate it in any way you like.
If you could give one piece of advice for helping out a loved on in need at this time of year, what it be?
Be there. In whatever capacity is needed on their journey.
Be patient. As your loved one may not know themselves what is best to help their sadness.
Be the suggestions ‘guy.’ Read up and offer possible ideas to navigate their grief.