05/09/2014 03:20 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2014

11 Things to Do This Mothers Day to 'Mother Yourself'

If I could use one word to describe my feelings about Mother's Day it would be ambivalent. When I was a child I loved the day because it gave me an opportunity to honor my very special mom. My mother died many years ago, but if she were alive I would ask her how she felt about the day. I remember that we usually went to church and as a Sunday school class sang to our moms and then each mother would stand and receive a small plant or a flower. There was the sermon, usually given by a man, on how mothers are the bedrock of our society and how nothing is more important than having a mother in the home and that no success in the outside world can compensate for failure at home. Mothers were the personification of perfection and unconditional love, stay at home managers, always available to serve their families' needs. Of course, if you "had" to work as my mom did, it was forgiven. After the church service we would go home to a nice meal cooked by mom. No relaxing for her.

Then in the 1960s-1970s along came the womens' movement. Young mothers began to realize there was more to life than changing diapers and fixing meals. It suddenly occurred to many of us that some mothers might actually enjoy working. Armed with the idea of equal opportunity and with the support of my husband and mother I went back to school and completed my undergraduate degree and moved on to get my master's degree at the University of Rochester School of Nursing. After graduation I became a faculty member at the University and joined the liaison team covering the surgical service. Then in 1983 I second-guessed my decision not to be a stay-at-home mom when my 17-year-old son was killed in an automobile accident.

With the loss of my child Scott I began to question my role as a mother. Does that sound familiar to you? The what ifs: if I'd been a better mother maybe he wouldn't have been killed. What kind of a mother can't take care of her children? Over time with the encouragement of my mom, who died three years later, I came to accept the fact that bad things do happen no matter how hard we try.

I know for some of you Mother's Day will be difficult not just due to a death, but to other types of losses as well such as illness or divorce. For those who are feeling sad and confused I would like to share with you a few things I did that helped me through those early unhopeful Mother's Days following Scott's and my mom's deaths:

  1. I recommend that you plan the day very carefully, particularly if you have had a recent loss.
  2. Decide where you will go and what you will do in advance. Keep family members informed of your plans.
  3. If you are going out on Mother's Day create a ritual before you leave your home. Light a candle say a little prayer in the deceased person's name. Don't count on others; they may not be able to handle your loss or they may be afraid that it will hurt you to talk about it.
  4. If you are at a family dinner and you want the deceased to be remembered ask a family member or friend to give a toast in their honor.
  5. Take a walk.
  6. Play some music you love.
  7. See a funny movie.
  8. Take a nap.
  9. Read a good book.
  10. Remember that you may have to fake it before you make it.
  11. Mother yourself! The greatest gift you can give the world is a happy you.
Look in the mirror and repeat the following four "I wills" at least once a day leading up to Mother's Day and again on that day:
  • I will celebrate Mother's Day without guilt, shame or expectation.
  • I will give up the heavy burden of my own and others' expectations.
  • I will give up the idea that mothers should or can give unconditional love.
  • I will Mother Myself!

In tribute to my dear friend Darcy Sims who died this year I have included the link to the wonderful Mother's Day Webinar she did with my daughter Heidi Horsley and me. It is filled with tips and advice on getting through the day.