Emotions How to Deal With the Death of A Mother By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT Twitter Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer. Learn about our editorial process Published on November 11, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print EMS-FORSTER-PRODUCTIONS / Getty Images The death of a mother is one of the hardest things most people will go through in life. Whether you had a great relationship, a hard relationship, or somewhere in between, this event will likely have a significant impact on your life. In one survey, between 20% to 30% of participants stated that losing a loved one was the most traumatic event in their lives—even among those who had reported 11 or more traumatic events over the course of their life. For that group, 22% still ranked the loss of a loved one as their most traumatic event. What to Know About the Five Stages of Grief Why the Death of a Mother Is So Hard Whether you are grieving the death of a mother who birthed you or a mother (or mother figure) who raised you, you are either grieving the bond you had or the bond you wish you had. John Bowlby, a British psychologist, believed that children are born with a drive to seek attachment with their caregivers. While others before him believed that attachment was food-motivated, he believed that attachment formed based on nurturing and responsiveness. Therefore, it makes sense that grieving that attachment—or lack thereof—would be incredibly difficult. A mother is such an integral part of our lives in our society, in part because we are not raised in communities with a variety of caretakers,” says Liz Schmitz-Binnall, PsyD, who has done research on mother loss and resilience. Her research specifically focused on adult women who had lost their mothers as children and found that they scored lower on resilience than those who had not lost mothers as children. She says she sees many people who didn’t have a good relationship with their mother but are surprised at the strength of their grief reaction following their mother’s death. How Death of a Mother Affects Someone While mother loss differs from other losses in some key ways, some of the same effects that come from any kind of loss or bereavement are present. Some thoughts and feelings typical of grief: ShockNumbnessSadnessDisbeliefConfusionDifficulty concentratingAnger Less known is that grief can show up physically, in addition to the more-known mental or spiritual indications. In your body, grief may look like: Digestive problemsEnergy lossNervousnessSleep disturbancesWeight changes Nervousness Risk of Psychiatric Disorders In others, however, a loss of a loved one may activate mental health disorders even in those with no history of mental illness. One study found an increased risk for the following disorders, in addition to discovering a new link between mania and loss: Major depressive disorderPanic disorderPosttraumatic disorder Specifically in adults over the age of 70: Manic episodesPhobiasAlcohol use disordersGeneralized anxiety disorder What Is Complex Bereavement? All grief is complex, but upon losing someone, many people are able to slowly readjust to their daily routines (or create new routines). Mental health professionals may call it complicated or complex bereavement if it has been at least a year and your daily function is still significantly impacted. (Note: the current clinical name is Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder, but the American Psychiatric Association recently approved a change of name to Prolonged Grief Disorder.) Some of the signs of prolonged grief are the following symptoms still significantly impacting your daily functioning after 12 months: Difficulty moving on with life Emotional numbness Thoughts that life is meaningless A marked sense of disbelief about the death In one study, 65% of participants with complicated grief had thought about wanting to die themselves after losing a loved one. So if you, or someone you know who is grieving, is having suicidal thoughts, know that you aren’t alone and this is not uncommon for what you are going through. If you are having suicidal thoughts but feel you can keep yourself safe, you should talk to a mental health professional. If the thoughts become unbearable and you are in imminent danger of hurting yourself, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support from a counselor who is trained in this. How to Heal from the Death of a Mother When loss is fresh, it feels like you will feel that way forever—but you won’t. “If you allow yourself to grieve, and if others allow you to grieve,” says Schmitz-Binnall, “you will probably notice that the really intense feelings will lessen during the first few months after the death of your mother.” She says that while most people intuitively realize it can be hard to lose a mother, they don’t realize quite how hard it can be—or how long it can take. “People in our society often think we can move through grief in a month and be done with it.” And even if we don’t acknowledge those feelings, that doesn’t mean they aren’t existing and impacting our lives anyway. Liz Schmitz-Binnall Too many people push us to ‘get on with life’ too soon after a significant loss. We need to be able to grieve, but...we also need to adjust our expectations of ourselves. — Liz Schmitz-Binnall Some of her tips: Feel the feelingsOr let yourself feel nothingTalk about your feelingsSpend time by yourselfSpend time with othersTalk to her (in whatever way that means for you and your beliefs—it may also include writing letters to her.) How to Cope at Work When You're Grieving a Loved One's Death Talk to a Professional Therapy can be helpful after a major loss like this. While most therapists will have worked with grief, as it's one of the most universal life experiences, there are also therapists who specialize in working with clients with grief. To find one, search for grief therapist or grief counselor in your area. Find a Community Since grief can feel like such an isolating experience, many find comfort in support groups, whether they be in-person or an online support group. If you are a woman who has lost a mother, you may be interested in the Motherless Daughters community, which is both virtual and has offline meetups. A Word From Verywell The death of a mother is one of the most traumatic things someone can experience. If you are currently grieving your mother, give yourself grace. Whether you had a good relationship or not with her, there will always be grief associated with either the actual relationship you had or the one you wish you had. 4 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Hasin DS, Grant BF. The national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions (Nesarc) waves 1 and 2: review and summary of findings. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2015;50(11):1609-1640. doi:10.1007/s00127-015-1088-0 Schmitz-Binnall E. Resilience in adult women who experienced early mother loss. All Antioch University Dissertations & Theses. Keyes KM, Pratt C, Galea S, McLaughlin KA, Koenen KC, Shear MK. The burden of loss: unexpected death of a loved one and psychiatric disorders across the life course in a national study. AJP. 2014;171(8):864-871. doi:10.4088/jcp.v67n0209 Szanto K, Shear MK, Houck PR, et al. Indirect self-destructive behavior and overt suicidality in patients with complicated grief. J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;67(2):233-239. doi:10.4088/jcp.v67n0209 By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.