My mother passed away exactly one year before my first child — her first grandchild — was born. While I miss her every day, it’s Mother’s Day that always seems to swoop in with a special kind of sucker punch.

Each year, I take a deep breath and steel myself for all the gifts, cards, brunches. All the photos and Facebook posts. But, it’s not easy. It probably won’t ever be easy. Because, Mother’s Day celebrations without Mom are downright challenging.

But, over the years, I’ve come up with some thoughtful ways to spend Mother’s Day without Mom, and through it all, have come to learn these celebrations can be beautiful too.

Here are a few ways I have helped my kids celebrate Mother’s Day without their grandma.

Related: The sweetest handmade keepsakes for moms and grandmas

Mother's Day celebrations without Mom: Plant a Memorial Tree | Photo © Lexi Petronis

Make something grow.

Our city hosts a cool “tribute tree” program, where the parks department will plant a tree in memorial of someone you love in a city park, and they’ll even give the gift of a commemorative bronze plaque. (A quick Google search shows that there are lots of programs like this all around the country too. Whoo!)

We picked the park nearest to my parents’ home, where my brother and I always played when we were little. The tree is a Purple Leaf Plum, which blooms with the sweetest poofs of pinkish-purple buds right around Mother’s Day.

Ever since they were babies, my kids have loved playing in this park. It’s where they first learned to swing, where they first saw a kite fly. I love that my mom’s tree is always right there in the midst of all the action and the new memories.


Mother's Day celebrations without Mom: Do an activity she loved in her honor. | Photo © Lexi Petronis

Do something she loved to do.

As is the case with many mothers and daughters, my mom and I didn’t share all of the same talents or interests. Case in point: Planting stuff. She grew fruits, flowers, vegetables, and even had her own almond tree. Apparently, this last thing is a big deal, because almonds don’t love to grow in the desert. But, I wouldn’t really know, because the horticulturist in my DNA took forever to take root.

My dad came up with the brilliant idea of planting brightly colored flowers around the base of my mom’s tree, and now the entire family does that every Mother’s Day all together — and my kids especially love being part of this activity.

Over the years, I’ve grown to enjoy planting and now, I make the time to plant like my mother would have — mostly vegetables and wildflowers, though with varying degrees of success. It’s not the same as being with her, of course, but whenever I’m kneeling in mud with a trowel and sprouts, I like it, because I know she’d like it too.

Related: A Mother’s Day necklace that will show you love her beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Mother's Day celebrations without Mom: Include her in everything. | Photo © Lexi Petronis

Include her in everything you do — even the little things. (Especially the little things!)

Mother’s Day celebrations without Mom can feel overwhelming and heavy when you’re not talking about her in regular day-to-day stuff throughout the rest of the year. From the time my kids were teensy, we made sure we always talked about Grandma Beth so that she was a natural part of the conversation — and a natural part of their entire lives — every day of the year.

We have pictures of her all over our home, and, on Mother’s Day, we always take time time out of our day to look through photo albums. It’s an important, necessary way in which I can connect with my mom. For my kids, who never knew their grandmother, seeing pictures of her exotic childhood in the Bahamas, or her hippie days with their granddad and a beat-up VW bus, is purely mind-blowing. It inspires giggles and laughter, and — most importantly — questions. Which I love. Because, the more they know about and talk about her, the more she will always be a part of their lives.

And mine too.

All photos © Lexi Petronis