I’m Not Grieving My Mother On Mother’s Day

May 14, 2023

As Grieve Leave continues to grow, we're excited to share more of the incredible voices in our community. This week, we have a contributor blog post from Dr. Julie Shaw, founder of Hello I'm Grieving. If you’d like to share your grief and grieving journey with the Grieve Leave community, reach out to [email protected]— we’d love to hear from you 🧡


What if you’re not grieving your mom on Mother’s Day, but someone else? That’s what I’ll be doing. I remember when my sister became someone’s mom and I started to see her not only as my sister but as the mother of my niece and nephew. Our identities change throughout our lives for many reasons, one of which is new life and another is death.  My identity has changed as I am now a bereaved sister. 

My sister Jennifer died in February 2020 from Lupus and my life changed forever. Every day and every holiday celebrated changed from that day forward. My sister was my person. She was my role model, my protector, keeper of my secrets, supporter, and a mother figure. She was my safe place and the one that understood everything that I was trying to communicate without having to say a word. She was the strongest person I knew not only in witnessing how she battled her disease, but how she lived her life. How I saw her raise two young kids as a single mother, while putting herself through school and accomplishing an incredible goal of becoming a nurse practitioner. I could go on and on and share childhood memories both good and not so good that would explain our special bond, but I want to talk about her as a mom.


After someone dies there is still room for us to have a relationship and learn about them. For me that’s what I have been doing since I became a mother recently. It has been a bittersweet discovery of new pieces of who my sister was, especially her as a mother. The thing with grief is we long for being able to simply talk to them again and share things. It was a long road for my wife and I to have our daughter, Jennings who we named after my sister. I remember telling my sister as she lay in the hospital bed about my fertility treatments and her saying, “I’m so sorry this is so hard for you.” I can remember her face and her holding my hand as she said those words. Me thinking, “I should be the one saying that. How can she still think of me and care for me when she is lying in this bed simply trying to breathe?” She used to make jokes with me when we were younger and would say things like, “I can’t wait until you get pregnant so you will finally get fat.” I was always very thin growing up and family would tease me about this all the time. She also would laugh and say, “I can’t wait until you have a baby so I can babysit them and give them right back.” I knew she would be a great aunt and I wish she could be here now to hold her niece. 

My grief has been compounded and layered due to the fact that as I was going through fertility treatments, I wanted my sister to hold my hand again. I wanted to call her and cry. And if any of you have had a trying and complicated relationship with your own mother as we did, more than anything, I wanted my sister to be the mother figure that would tell me, “everything will be ok” and hug me. Because that’s who my sister was. She was a mother to everyone around her. 


Since her death and becoming a mother myself, my grief shows up when I want to ask her for advice on motherhood. Or when I want to ask her different questions about what it was truly like raising my niece and nephew. One thing I keep learning over and over again is that it must have been so hard for her. I was a teenager at the time my sister was kicked out of the house and began her journey as a single mom. I didn’t truly realize what it must have been like for her. There’s grief in never being able to validate her lived experience. My sister truly did make it look easy and I know now as a mom, dealing with sleepless nights, crying, and additional financial costs that it is not incredibly hard. Grief also comes up when I realize we will not be able to talk to each other as one mother to another. That she won’t get to see me as a mom and I won’t see her as an aunt. That my sister is frozen in time at the age of 44 and she won’t see Jennings grow up and next year I will be the same age she was when she died. That I will in fact be older than my older sister.


My sister will still be my role model and guide me with her life as an example to influence how I raise my daughter. Her death is making me a better mother already because I know that I want to give my whole life and being to be the best mother to Jennings. I saw how much she loved her children in the ways she worked tirelessly to give them all the things she wished she had growing up, the way she talked to them and truly wanted them to tell her anything, and I really saw it when I would see how she looked at them in her hospital bed. Looking back now as a mom myself, I replay scenes of her talking to her kids, holding them, and looking at them and there is no doubt how immense her love for them IS. 

My sister taught me so much and means so much to me. The grief of my sister’s death will stay with me forever and I understand that. Many times, I am so grateful for the pain and grief I feel because it makes the love permanently real. I’m grateful that she’s teaching me how to be a mom and that I can still learn about her through this experience of motherhood. 


This first Mother’s Day will have its challenges as I know my sister would have loved to celebrate it with me and I with her. Grief gives you the opportunity to create new traditions, so maybe this is my chance to do just that. Maybe Mother’s Day is truly about celebrating the mother figures in our lives, whether that is a friend, an aunt, or a sister. If that person has died,  this day to honor them does not have to die with them. We can continue to celebrate them and find ways to talk about them and learn more about them. I will always wish my sister would be here, however that will not stop me from finding ways I can still have a relationship with her. Even in death, she will always be my sister, she will always be my daughter’s aunt, and she will always be her children’s mother.


If you'd like to hear more from and connect with Dr. Julie Shaw:
Follow her on Instagram @HelloI'mGrieving or go to https://helloimgrieving.com

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