Mother’s Day for the Motherless Mother

As Mother’s Day approaches, my heart is especially sensitive to my friends for whom this holiday will be hard. I have friends who will be standing by gravesites this Mother’s Day. I also have friends whose moms haven’t been a part of their lives in many years. And those who have challenging relationships with their moms who try to navigate Mother’s Day with grace but some necessary distance.

No matter the circumstances, I wanted a post that could help those feeling the sting of a mother’s absence.

My friend, Lisa-Jo, knows this delicate struggle in deep ways. And from her own pain, she pens these words for us…

My mom used to dance in the mornings.


A happy, shameless jig in her PJs right out there in the driveway as my dad drove us off to school. She’d dance and wave and grin and I could feel the love well up from my toes to my nose. It spilled out of me – this being someone’s daughter. Loved. Cherished. Celebrated.

She’s been dead now 21 years to the day since I turned 18.

Time passes and with it go the birthdays, love stories, anniversaries, new babies, first steps, preschool orientations, international moves, new jobs, hair color changes. And each milestone is a mile more in the road that we don’t walk together.

I am the motherless daughter.


And three continents and three kids later I have grown up into the motherless mother.

Of two sons. And a daughter.


Everything I can’t remember about my mother I see reflected in my daughter’s eyes. I am terrified by how much I love her. How does a mother bear it? The good-bye. Twenty years. Twenty years. It hurts to type it.

Twenty years ago I sat in a pew and sang the last words my mother left for us:

“Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’”

One week after I’d turned eighteen. I’m thirty-nine today. And I’m still singing it, Mom. I’m singing it still, and I still believe every hard, awful word to be true. That we can sing though the heavens crash open and the world comes pouring down around us. We can raise our eyes and our voices to the hills, where our help comes from, and sing. Even when all that comes out is a whisper.

“Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’”


So many of us make the journey to motherhood without a mom. Whether she’s absent because she chose to leave or because she was emotionally unavailable or because she died like mine did, we all have to make sense of what that means for our own mothering.

I am the motherless mother.

If you are too, can I take your hand?

Can I stroke the hair back from your forehead and just be here with you? Can I whisper, “I know” and let you cry if you need to? Can I just sit a while beside you as you shout the hard questions?

I believe God can take it.

I believe He invites it.

…the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Romans 8:26.

Go ahead and groan child. Let the part of you that never got to grow up with a mom, never got to bear down with her as you bore down in labor, never got to introduce her to your own babies — let that part of you weep if she needs to. You are beautiful and loved and not a single tear falls to the ground uncherished by the Father God who holds us both.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
~Psalm 56:8

You are your mother’s daughter, created in your Father God’s image. And nothing can break that.

We’re in this together. Every step of the way. And you are braver than you know, for all the ways you mother.

{Click here to see the video if you’re reading in an email.}

So let us celebrate quiet together. Whisper into the comments what you miss, what you loved, what you wish she might have done different, what you wish you’d said, what you wish she knew about her grand babies, what makes you your mother’s daughter.

And today I will stop, remember, and rejoice with you, my brave, beautiful, utterly beloved sister!

Happy nearly Mother’s Day,


Photo credits: Mallory MacDonald

surprised-by-motherhood Lisa-Jo’s new book, Surprised by Motherhood, is her story of rediscovering her own mom through her kids and the Jesus who saved the best till last.

Click here to read the first three chapters for free.

Click here to order a copy for a special mother in your life.

Three Book and Tea Set GIVEAWAY

GIVEAWAY: In celebration of mothers everywhere, we’re giving away 3 copies of Lisa-Jo’s book — Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom AND three sets of Daily Grace Teacups and Teapots. If you are a mother, have a mother, or know a mother this book is for you. Just leave a comment to be entered. (Please note: this giveaway is only open to US residents.)



  1. raidenblueeyes@yahoo.com says

    Lost my mom 12 years ago. Our son was conceived the weekend of the first anniversary of her death. Didn’t know if we could conceive. Coincidence? Nit sure. Just wish she knew her grandson. He is such a good kid. I’m sure she knows, though.

  2. Penny says

    After a brief reconciliation my mother took her own life three years ago. A very long and complicated story. I now sit here after doing everything I could to be everything my mother wasn’t with two of my three children refusing to have anything to do with me. Another long complicated and painful story. They use social networking and my brand children to torment me. My sister who suffers from the same mental conditions as my mother encourages their behavior. If not for my faith, my husband, my youngest daughter and stories such as I have just read, I do not think I could get through each day. Thank you to all of you who shared your struggles and thank you Lysa for your beautiful tribute.

  3. Jennifer Phillips says

    Im blessed to have a wonderful mom from a distance and an amazing mother-in-law near, both of whom have lost their mother. My heart goes out to them as I dread the experience to come of being a motherless mother.

  4. says

    I am a mother searching to have her daughter back jn my life. It seems like since she has had children I have become the villen in her life I die to spend time with her and the children but she is alwsys pushing me away. She says sge does not know how to talk to me we were so close before now even talking is like we dont even know each other its been eight months and we continue to grow apart. Neither one of use knows what to do i am do saddened

  5. christy says

    Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you to everyone for sharing your stories. I lost my Mom, my best friend, a little over a year ago unexpectedly. Today, I will celebrate.with my children. I will continue trying to be the best Mom that I can for them, just like my Mom did.

    Happy Mother’s Day…

  6. Tricia says

    Thank you for writing what is often so difficult to verbalize. My sister and I are motherless, not through death or illness, but due to selfishness and our mother’s CHOICE to walk away. Most days I can forget there ever was a time when I had a “mother” in my life, but other times, the loss and sorrow creep up and try to rob me of my celebrations, my accomplishments and even my self-worth. Even though logically I know that my mother’s behaviors were not a consequence of anything my sister or I have done, I can’t help but look to my own children and ask the question “How?”. I love my children so fiercely that nothing could drive me from them, so how then could MY mother walk away? It’s a question to which I’ll never have an answer. Thank you again for giving a voice to the pain of being motherless….I needed to hear that we are not alone.

  7. Valerie says

    Thank you for remembering those who no longer have their moms and those who cannot have children or have lost them this must be an extra hard day forthemy

  8. Cristine Picardi says

    My motherwas & still is an alcoholic. Has been since I can remember. I have been the mom not only to my sisters but to my mother as well….I know many woman who have grown up motherless & want to thank God above for the blessings strength & love He has given us to get through every day!

  9. Amanda says

    Thank you for your post. I have friends who lost their mothers when they were young and miss them terribly. Their mothers were kind, loving, godly women. My heart is saddened for them today. I have guilt for myself on mothers day because I feel relief that my mother is gone. I know that is a horrible thing to feel and say, but its true. She was an alcoholic. I practically raised her along with my younger sister. I was always worried sick about her because of her drinking. She took her own life 7 years ago. Truthfully, most of my memories are of how she hurt me because of being a bad mother. I can hardly remember my childhood (Im ony 34 so you would think I was still capable) and most of my memories of her are bad ones. I try so hard to remember good things or to at least see that as she did care for my sister and I in cooking, cleaning, and bathing us she was loving us. I have seven children and Im thankful they will not have to see her the way she was, they were too young to know anything was wrong with her. Today is hard because of that for me. But because of Jesus I have not followed in her footsteps! Praise the Lord! He changed me forever! My prayer is that I would be a mother to my children that would help them see Jesus.

  10. Sandy Martin says

    I have tried so hard to honor my mother knowing that God will bless my efforts. But she has spent her life not being a mother and not wanting to interrupt her lifestyle. And God has released me from her sin; but that makes me motherless. Today is difficult because I wish things were different and pray that my sons know the difference. I need to remember HE is enough for me in this life.

  11. Jenniffer says

    I lost my mother to a Cancer that took her within 5 months of diagnoses to surgery/ hopeful recovery. I was 19. I’m now 32. And I never thought I would be able to smile or laugh again. I too went from being a motherless daughter to a motherless mother ( and wife). And although I have ( learned) to laugh and smile again it’s been so bitter sweet because of how much I miss her and all the milestones in my life that I haven’t and will not have her for. But in those moments when I feel like I can’t bare the pain that comes from memories ( even happy ones), I somehow pull it together and realize how blessed I was to have my mother for 19 full- of life- and- laughter- years! Thankyou for being so open and brave to share your life and story and sometimes pain with us through your blog and books. I too have a tender heart for motherless mothers and am so encouraged by your pened words. Have a blessed and joy filled Mothers Day! -Jen

  12. Julie says

    My mother has been an alcoholic since I was 9. I am now almost 45. I choose to have a limited relationship with her. It is hard to be around her, to many painful memories, to much disappointment as to what could have been if she just wouldn’t have drank. Mother’s Day is both my best day because I am a mother to my sweet boy, but it is also my worst day because of everything I wished that could have been.

  13. Jen says

    Thank you for blessing all of us motherless mothers with this beautiful post and video! I miss my mama every day but this day is always hardest followed by her birthday in 8 days, so again thank you for these words of encouragement!

  14. michelle a-y says

    As one who had mom issues most of my life and who struggled though caring for her in her last months when her dementia made her so very hurt fully truthful about not wanting not wanting me, I so appreciated this post. Now that she is gone, I miss the good parts of her like crazy…Thank you for your words.

  15. Sandy Keller says

    My mom found a lump in her breast at age 43, and her doctors put off biopsying for nine months. She had her biopsy in the hospital and stage IV cancer was the diagnosis. She died at 48, after rounds and rounds of chemo and rads. My husband and I married later that year. My father died from pancreatic cancer three years later when I was 10 weeks pregnant with their first grandchild. I know that my children’s lives would have been so much different had their grandparents been here, and that is the hardest part for me to bear.

  16. Amy H says

    I lost my mom to brain cancer in 10/06. My life has never been the same. I miss having her with me during times of celebrations- my daughters wedding, Holidays, and the birth of her great grandchildren. If I had one wish it would be to feel her hug me again.

  17. Tami says

    I needed this. I was feeling something I couldn’t quite name. Maybe this is it. I too lost my mom. I was 17 and now I’m a 45 year old motherless mom. I have lots of other moms…my sisters, my mother-in-law, my sisters-in law, my mom friends, but it’s just not the same.

  18. Cyndi M. says

    Your words could have come right out of my mouth…the always silence on the threshold. I loss my mother at 12 and have a 30 yr old daughter that chooses to be motherless. I have 2 granddaughters, one that I haven’t met, because my daughter has chosen to take them out of my life too. I know I did my best raising her without a role model or mother to ask important questions to. I divorced her father when she was 1, because he was abusive and a cheater, yet I never spoke badly of him to her and my home was always open to him and his new family and my in-laws because they were her family. I never mentioned or blamed her for the sacrifices I made (career wise, marriage wise, etc.) because they were my choices and I made them for her. I still love her and always will, yet her actions hurt me. They hurt just like when my friends would talk badly about their mothers, while I wished that I could have a mother. Even the responses here from women talking badly about their mothers hurts me like I was 12 all over again. They SHOULD have been the ones without the choice of losing a mother. They have had all the moments that I , and so many others like me, would have given anything to have – the comfort of a mother’s touch or just the look in her eyes. These are only fading memories for us, yet treasures others are throwing away. It is a shame, because one day they will be in our group- the ones spending another Mother’s Day at a gravesite and it will be too late.

  19. Tonya Wilde says

    33 years ago, I lost my mother and my father in a one car crash. I was 9. I have 3 sisters. The oldest one raised me. To this day I can still remember everything about her, the smell of her perfume, her voice, her smile, what it felt like to sit on her lap. Yet not a day goes by that I don’t wish she was here. At 9, it is amazing the things I remember. I wish I remembered more of the important stuff. However, I find I miss her most during the major milestones of my life. When people see the tears that graze my cheeks on those difficult days, they think, “She is missing her mother.” What they will never understand, however, is my tears are not because she is not there. They are because she is there, right next to me, in my heart, holding my hand, cheering me on, crying tears herself. Today, as my only child graduates from college, I am, in fact, sitting with my mother. Crying tears of joy, looking on at her accomplishments, wondering what I have done to be so blessed. I used to wonder if and how much my mother loved me. It wasn’t until I held my beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed little girl (who is the spitting image of my mother) in my arms that I truly knew the measure of love my own mother had for me. In all my life, I never knew I could love someone so much. I thank God everyday for giving me the blessing of having a daughter. For it is through her, I have learned the love my mother held in her heart for me.

    Now, to my loving sister who so willingly sacrificed for me, I will forever be in your debt. You missed so much just to ensure I never had to go through life without someone to take care of me. Thank you for giving up your childhood. Thank you for all the sleepless nights, for every grey hair, for every argument, for every tear you cried in frustration, and for every doubt you had that you were a good mom. Let me tell you now, you did a wonderful job! Not many could be the mother of 4 at just 19. I love you more than you can know. I thank God every day for you. I know I am blessed because you were there. Even when you did not want to be, you chose to do it any way. Thank you!

    (I posted a version of this earlier, but it got deleted. I wanted you to see it Kelly. You deserve some public praise for your most private accomplishment!)

  20. Amanda says

    Thank you so much for this article. As my two babies shower me with love I still feel pain for my mom. She’s still alive but suffers from bipolar disorder among others. She uses words to hurt to manipulate and to tear down and she thinks she’s saved and only uses Gods word as a weapon to make you feel guilty for not doing what she wants you too. A few months ago things had reached a point where she was starting to say things to my kids and in order to stop it I’ve had to keep her from them and stop talking to her and stop listening to the hurtful voice mails. I struggle with guilt and anger and hurt. But I know it’s what’s best for me and my kids. God holds me and comforts me today.

  21. Judith Bareham says

    I lost my mom to ovarian cancer two years ago, and nothing prepares you even when you are prepared mentally and know the outcome.
    Head and heart. Two opposing forces at times.
    I miss her all over again every mother’s day as if it’s brand new.
    I am struggling in the valley with my child and long for her to cry with me. She would understand. She went through it too.
    I struggle why the very one who would get it, isn’t here.
    But mom, I don’t wish you away from paradise with our Lord because I know you must be celebrating there the mother’s both with you, and those still on earth, living it out..

  22. Kori says

    I wish she would’ve said no to the Vicodin. Maybe the anger, manipulation, controlling, & shaming would’ve been put aside. I loathe this holiday. I am trying to find a new Mother’s Day as a mother of three. I celebrate being their mom. A mom who was saved by grace who can be taught how to be a Christian mother through His lessons. There is a lot of pain in this holiday but I don’t doubt He will redeem what “mother” means in my life.

  23. Trish says

    This is my first Mother’s Day without my Mom here on earth. Alzheimer’s had taken her away before she finally went home to Jesus. I miss her so very much. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Sarah jones says

    Oh the tears that ran down my face reading this article. Losing a parent can make a grown adult feel like an orphan. Thank you for these words!

  25. Jen says

    Thank you for these words. My mom died of cancer a month after my wedding. Fifteen years and two beautiful daughters later, I think her often and also contemplate what it means to be a “motherless mother.” I’ll be excited to read your book!

  26. DW says

    Oh the tears! So many tears not even shed so that I could remain strong. My mother was broken by unspeakable acts against her as a teen and never was a mother to my brother and I. Our stepmother did the best she could given her own brokenness. Either way, I have been motherless my whole life and now am a motherless mother of four. Even my mother-in-law rejected being a mother towards me. Mother’s Day always leaves me feeling lost. Today’s sermon reminded me that even so, my name is engraved on God’s hand and he has never left me even though all earthly mothers did. I pray that I never forget it.

  27. Gay Finn says

    What a beautiful message! I too, lost my mother suddenly and feel that loss everyday.

  28. Joan Vera says

    Wow. I needed the permission to just cry today. Its been a tough relationship and I thought it would get better but I think it may not happen. Called mom (and we don’t talk frequently) and her home number is disconnected and her phone is off. Ouch. Don’t know how to process it other than to rely on God and pray for peace and that she is ok.

    Thanks again for the article.

  29. Amanda says

    My mom was bi-polar and took her life 12/27/04. Your post means so much, and I thank you. She was my midwife for my son 14 years ago (born after just 4 hours in labor!), but I had to find a different midwife for my daughter (surprised us all by arriving in 2.5 hours!), and I missed her terribly. One thing that comforted me was that I’m sure my mom met my daughter’s soul in Heaven so Katie Rose (named Kathryn after my mom’s middle name and Rose for my mother-in-law!) already knows her Gramma and how much she is loved. ♥

  30. says

    Thank you for this lovely post. Everyday is mother’s day. I am fortunate my mom is still with me, but so many of my dear friends are “motherless moms”. I will share this with them as I think it will bring them comfort and memories of joy. Blessings.

  31. Tina Mollica says

    I lost my mom 11 years ago, just two weeks before my wedding day. Life does move on but you always miss those little moments. Never more than after you become a mother yourself. Thank you for this beautiful article.

  32. Macy Chou says

    Your article is very comforting to me since my mother died 12 years ago. And I have been anxiously expecting to see her first when I leave the earth some day. Whenever I saw Easter lilies I miss her a lot. She had Easter lilies in her wedding and full of white lilies at her funeral too.

  33. Jessica says

    I lost my mom at 12 and it felt like I had to grow up fast and take care of myself since she wasn’t around (even though I had my amazing aunt who raised me). To this day it still kind of shocks me when I look in the mirror and I see glimpses of my mother in my reflection, for me that means I am definitely my mothers daughter. I don’t have any kids but I wish that I could of one day been able to tell her that I am pregnant and see the look on her face.

  34. Sandy says

    I cried as I read this….I have two beautiful motherless DIL’s who are also mothers. My heart aches for them today. Sometimes I feel so inadequate to meet their needs. Any advice you could share. They are mid 20 somethings.

  35. Brandy Arnold says

    18 years Mom has been gone. I’m just going to say what I feel, even though it’s not what everyone wants to hear. I don’t feel the loss and pain any less today than I did that Mother’s Day she was taken. Time did not heal the ache like everyone promised it would. If anything, it just grows each year, with the amount of time I have missed her. The only reason I have allowed myself to live in happiness is because I have faith in God. I know that He is all mighty and His reasons are far beyond my understanding. I have given up trying to understand why. I know that one day we will be together again in a place that is perfect, where there will be no pain, no tears, no heartaches, just everlasting joy. Even though I know she’s in that perfect place, the selfish part of me can’t help but still be angry. I’m mad that we only got 10 years together. I’m furious she wasn’t there for me when I needed her. I’m angry that my daughters and husband don’t have her in their lives. Most days, I push this to the back. I don’t allow myself to dwell on it. Staying angry isn’t going to bring her back. So, I choose to allow the happiness in my life to take over. I count my blessings, pass on the unconditional, unmeasurable, eternal love she gave me to my own children, and remember all the memories I have of her. I’m thankful I have this much, for I know there are many others who have far less. I am blessed. This Mother’s Day, I bought some red rose bushes, her favorite, and a garden stone with a beautiful poem. I’m planting a rose garden in the front of my house in memory of her. I love her and miss her so much and hope I am giving my girls everything she gave me.

    Thank you, Lisa, for these wonderful words of encouragement.

  36. Laura says

    I lost my mom 4 years ago but everyday feels like yesterday. She was my teacher, best friend, role model, my inspiration and my biggest fan. I love and miss her dearly!

  37. Emily says

    Thanks Lysa, for this heartfelt post. I lost my mom right after giving birth to me second child and she never knew my nieces and nephews. While I have missed her tremendously, I know where she is. While we understand and reach out to those of us who are motherless, I also want to bring to attention those of us which are mothers who have been estranged by our children. This is a very painful time for mothers who have lost their children through death, through heartless court systems favoring a vengeful parent, and, in my case, the rejection of a child because of the child’s emotional and mental problems or from persisting sin. I am especially drawn to those elderly mothers whose children are so self centered that they never acknowledge the sacrifices and love that was lavished on them growing up. I, also, am experiencing great pain as a motherless mother whose child has rejected and cut off contact because of the dangerous and ungodly lifestyle he has chosen. It is extremely painful when a parent is a single parent making great sacrifices for my children seeing them reject that love and heritage that is meant to be an eternal blessing.

  38. Tara says

    My mother lost her battle with cancer when I was 8 years on May 29, 2002. I’m 20 now and not a day goes by that I don’t remember her. Most memories are of when we’d go on long walks together, sit on the front porch and watch the lightening bugs light up the night, and so much more. I really do struggle with memories of how she looked near the end though.. Cancer is a horrible disease but it never took away her beautiful heart and smile. My heart shatters when I think about the milestones I’ve had and will still have to go through without her. I would’ve have loved to continue growing up with her and continue to learn from her. I pray that when God blesses me with children I’ll be a mother like her who loved unconditionally, selflessly, and with everything she had. She was a true angel and I’m so incredibly grateful for the time God gave me with her❤️

  39. Wendy says

    Thank you so much for posting this. How beautifully written it is. I lost my mom at the age of 15, and am 34 now. I have 4 children that she never got to see. It is easy to think about all of the things that I missed out on not having her here. No one to help me get ready on prom, or my graduation, or my wedding, or my babies days of birth. But I have 4 beautiful children, and can mother them. I hopefully can be there for them a lot longer than my mother got to be. I am only 8 years away from the date that my mother died of brain cancer. It is scary to think I could only have 8 more years with my babies. But God is good and he has a plan for us all, that is way better than any plan we can imagine. Thanks again.

  40. says

    Thank you for this post. I lost my mom tragically 7.5 years ago, two months after I was married. Her and I were just getting to that great spot in our relationship. I had finally grown up and could be her friend. And then she was taken from us. I feel like so many things were left unsaid because we were always waiting. I became a mom in 2012 and while I never thought I could do it without her, somehow I manage. I’ve recently come to the point where I need to push myself a little harder to move on. Thank you for reminding me that it’s ok to be where I am at, to just want to cry, to not know how to be a motherless mother all the time. Thank you.

  41. Kathy MacLeod says

    [This is what I posted on Facebook today, my mom died 2 weeks after my 21st birthday after 2 years of fighting cancer, I am now 44 and miss her every day]
    I am so very blessed to have the Mom that I did.The best thing Mom gave us was her faith in God. My last conversation with her was I asked her how she can give her life to a god that would put her through so much pain and suffering. Her answer was “If this is what the Lord has in store for me, then I will do it gladly.” She died a few days later. It took a long while [years] to understand this but I realized that the best tribute I can give her is to life a life for God in the same way she did. I do and I have, If you knew my mom or have/had a mom who lived her life for the Lord, are you honoring her by knowing God? Call me if you want to know how to know God.[the way I know is to help someone else know God]

  42. Shauna says

    My mom died when I was 3, so really, I just wish I would have known her at all. I had an aunt who stepped in to help raise me so I didn’t miss to much of mom things until I became a mother myself. I wish she was here to tell me things, to call when I had questions and to laugh with. I can’t wait to get to know her that glorious day we meet again.

  43. Sasha says

    I lost my mother when I was 23…only a few months after giving birth to my first. I’m thankful for the last few years I had with her – as she fought ovarian cancer- I’m thankful for those years that we drew closer together. I’m thankful for her advice during my first pregnancy …I’m sad she never met my other children. I miss her encouragement, her never-ending love, and all that we have in common.

  44. Christina Shelton says

    A dear friend of mine sent this to me today on Mother’s Day…she has been such a supportive friend over the years…I love her more than words can express. I didn’t know Lori when my mom died when I was only 20 yrs.old and my mom was 43, when she lost her battle to lung cancer. My mother was amazing and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t honor the wonderful mother she was to me and my two sisters. It was about five years later that Lori entered my life and we were raising our first daughter’s together…this was an especially tough time for me, but she was an amazing friend during that time and to this day she has been such an inspiration to me and helped to shape me into the motherless mother that I am to my own three daughters..with out her I would have been lost…so today I want to honor her, Lori Woelfel, for the amazing mother she is to her children, friend she has been to me, and for sending me this beautiful writing, which reminds me that it is okay to weep, be a motherless daughter, and grow in my faith as a motherless mother…that the Lord will never forsake me or leave me. This writing brought tears to my eyes the minute I started reading it…the best part was that one of my daughters got out of the car and gave me the best hug ever!! Even though I have felt the deepest sadness, loosing a mother, God gave me the best blessing ever, three incredible daughters.