Thursday, August 12, 2010

Motherless Daughter: A Journey of Grief

Reprinted from the original publication at  in August 2010.

When my son Adam’s hamster Little Dude died recently, my heart broke along with his. There was nothing I could do to take away his pain. As a parent, I desperately want to protect my children from the emotional gunk of life. After Little Dude had celebrated his first birthday, I gently reminded Adam that the odds were that he would not live to see another one. Good or bad, hamster life spans are short—averaging two years or less.

Still, when Adam found him lifeless in his cage, my son was devastated. Fortunately, I was surprising my kids later that day by the arrival of a friend’s dog. We were pet-sitting for the week and I had decided to make Bandit’s arrival a surprise. We had watched him earlier in the year, too, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed him. It was the perfect distraction from the sadness Adam was feeling.

As I walked through the early stages of Adam’s grief this summer, I reflected back on my own grieving process when my mom passed away. Grief was not an emotion I was entirely comfortable dealing with.

Despite losing all my grand parents and various other relatives, it was not something I had ever experienced with such intensity as losing a parent. I was fortunate that my parents lived near-by and I talked with her on the phone and saw her in person often. Yet, after her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, there was sadness with each visit or conversation.

My mom was experiencing her own grief and coming to terms with the terminal diagnosis. She wanted to survive….she wanted to see her 5 grandchildren grow into adulthood and enjoy the golden years with her husband of 45 years. My mom grappled with why God was allowing her to experience such a painful and horrible end. She felt like she had suffered enough as a child. This was supposed to be her time to enjoy life. She did not want her family to watch her die.

There was a lot of sadness for me, too, in her final months—reminders of a life that was going to be lived without her in it. I thought that having a chance to say goodbye and prepare for her to die would make my pain less. I was wrong.

After she died, what surprised me the most was how alone I felt in my grief. Not that my friends and family did not understand what I was feeling, but rather, few people rallied behind me to proactively provide a listening ear and be strong when I was feeling weak. Despite having a large group of girl friends who had lost their mother, only a few regularly checked in on me and supported me. And it was only my best friend of 20 years who rallied behind me on a daily basis.

It was because of the aloneness I felt that I turned to a self-help book by Hope Edelman “Motherless Daughters” that really helped me work through the emotions I was feeling. Out of the book, there have been dozens of support groups created throughout the United States, including one in St. Louis.

Having an intimate group of women in various stages of life to turn to has been invaluable. They span every age group and life experience—some having lost their mothers as a young child, and others, well into their adulthood like me. While I rarely attend the meetings now, there is comfort in knowing that the group is there if I need them.

Still, it is through writing that I have found my greatest healing. As a family genealogist, capturing who my mother was on paper has provided the most comfort to me. One of my greatest regrets is that my daughter, who was only 2 ½ when my mom died, will never know her grandma on a personal level. Even my son, who was 7 at the time, has only faint and distant memories of his grandma. Capturing her personality and life story on paper is truly priceless to me—and sharing her memory beyond my circle of friends is a privilege.

On the cusp of my son’s grief is my own heightened sense of loss as the three year anniversary of my mom’s death is approaching. Perhaps this anniversary is one that will always bring me pain and the heightened feelings of missing her —or perhaps it is one that will fade with time. Grief is personal and unpredictable. What I have found is that it’s not the big reminders of her that are difficult—it’s the unexpected reminders like a song at church, or her favorite flower sitting in a friend’s vase. It is simply a fact of life.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that grief is a process of ups and downs. Grief is not something to ‘overcome’, but rather to learn to deal with when those feelings are overwhelming, as they will be time and time again.


At August 29, 2010 at 10:03 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been 16 years since the death of my father and I still feel his loss. Unfortunately I did not know you as well 3+ years ago, but be rest assured that you have someone you can talk to now if needed.


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