10 Things You’ll Experience as a Motherless Mother

This is my truth about my first year as a motherless mother:

  1. After the birth of your baby, your grief will return with a vengeance. The loss of your mother will sting the way it did when it first happened. You will miss her with the intensity you felt in those first few months and milestones after her death.
  2. You will fantasize about how things would be if she were alive. You’ll imagine her bringing over dinner, taking your crying baby from your arms, and telling you “go get some rest, I’ve got this”. In a strange way, this will bring you comfort.
  3. You’ll look for company and solidarity with other new moms, but will feel sad when they mention what a support their moms have been in those first few months.
  4. You won’t go out much for the first year. Your circle of trust is small and caring for your baby will take all of your time and energy.
  5. A simple trip to the mall will make you sad, as you see endless trios of grandmas, moms, and babies shopping and laughing.
  6. When others shower your baby with love and gifts, it will make you uncomfortable at first. You won’t know why at first.
  7. When your mother in law gushes about being a grandma, it will hurt. In fact, any reference to a grandma will hurt.
  8. You will be so desperate for your mom’s presence, you’ll notice yourself start putting up more old photos around the house. You will want to be reminded of your mother as often as possible.
  9. You will wonder why you didn’t ask her certain questions when she was alive. You will kick yourself for not asking her about the little, mundane, everyday details of her life with you. Did she have a hard time putting you down to nap? How long did she breastfeed you for?
  10. More than anything else, you will wish you could tell her you understand now. You understand the love, you understand the sacrifice of motherhood.

“Because I feel that, in the Heavens above / The angels, whispering to one another, / Can find, among their burning terms of love / None so devotional as that of ‘Mother’” – Edgar Allen Poe

 

 

 

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If I can’t have her advice, I don’t want anyone’s

I have a memory that’s been popping up in my head often for the last little while. I am 12 or 13 years old, in that awkward pre-teen phase, when you don’t feel right in your own body and everything either annoys or embarrases you. I am at the mall with my Mom and I am convincing her to buy me a piece of clothing that she doesn’t really like.

“It doesn’t suit you,” she says. “Trust me, I’m your Mom. There is no purer or more honest advice than the one from your Mom. I will always want the very best for you.”

I am annoyed and roll my eyes at her, unable to comprehend at that time the significance of her words.

Well, fast forward about twenty years. She’s gone now, taken too soon at 51 years old. It’s funny how mothers always turn out to be right in the end, in one way or another. Her advice was the best. It was the most honest and pure. Now that I am a mother myself, I get it. 100%. There is nothing I could ever suggest to my daughter that didn’t reflect what I feel to be the very best for her. There is nothing I could tell her that didn’t put her first in its context.

Since my mom’s death almost four years ago, I have a lot of trouble asking for help or advice from others, even those closest to me. I feel like if I can’t have her advice, I don’t want anyone’s. My husband has been my rock throughout so much and he is my best friend. He knows more about the (sometimes scary) inner workings of my brain than anyone else. Except my mother. Men are different, though. They think differently and are wired differently. They are problem-solvers and solution-seekers. They want to fix. Sometimes I don’t want to hear about possible solutions to my problem. I just want the truthful opinion of the listener, even if I don’t like it.

I have a decision to make and I can’t make up my mind. We are going to Europe later this year to visit my family and introduce my baby girl to my grandmas, aunts, and cousins. My husband only has a couple of weeks of vacation time and I don’t know if I should stay a bit longer with the baby. Should I risk a potential nightmare 16 hr. + journey home alone with the baby? Or, should I come home with him and risk not spending enough quality time with everyone? I want to ask my Mom’s opinion so badly right now. Yes, I could ask a friend. Yes, I could ask my mother in law. But it’s not the same. Their advice would be helpful, I am sure. It would be good advice, fair advice, but not advice custom made for me.

I hope in time I get past this feeling of being alone in the world. The truth is, I am not alone. Far from it. But my mother’s absense has changed me. I’ve built such a strong and impermeable wall around myself. I guard my inner strength now more than before. I know where I’ve been.

I didn’t just lose a family member the day my mother died. I lost my foundation.

Advice is a funny thing. You almost always know the answer you want to get when asking advice. Ironically my mother’s advice, the one I didn’t always agree with, is the one I miss so badly now. The other kind, the nice, pleasant advice is available to me now, but I have no desire to hear it.

I miss the honestly that only a mother’s words can provide.

Grief is not a problem that needs a solution

You can’t fix grief. You can’t take it away from someone or erase it from their life story. A griever will always miss their loved one. They will always be devastated. They will always wonder what could have been.

A griever will grieve forever. And that’s okay.

Our society doesn’t understand grief. To most people, it’s a scary and uncomfortable topic. They would rather talk about the weather, about anything else, than talk about grief and loss and sadness. Our society is obsessed with “fixing problems“. The thing is, though, grief is not a problem. It’s a reality and a permanent state.

It’s been almost four years now since my mom passed away. In the first year after her death, I would get constant messages and calls from friends and family checking up on me, asking if I need anything, or offering a distraction or an ear. That’s gone now. I can’t remember the last time I was asked if I am okay in regards to the loss of my mother. I guess people assume I am. And I am, for the most part. I live my life, I am a mother myself now, and I do the best I can without mine.

At first when I stopped getting the “how are you doing’s”, I was hurt and confused. I wondered how those closest to me could assume that as time passes, so does grief. How could they think that while the first Christmas without my mother, I would miss her with such intense pain and rawness, but that the second Christmas, I wouldn’t? It doesn’t work that way. I still needed those “how are you doing’s” on the second Christmas, second Mother’s Day, second birthday. And the third and the fourth.

For those that have never lost anyone, they just don’t understand. They don’t know what to say or what to ask a griever months or years after their loss. Or worse yet, when they do ask or offer some words, they are inappropriate and misguided. They do more harm than good to the griever. Phrases like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “It’s made you stronger” can be dangerous in their insensitivity and emptiness.

Grief is not like in the movies. It doesn’t end after a month or a year or even a decade. What does end is our fragility in our moments of vulnerability and our everyday lives. The uncontrollable crying while sitting in traffic ends. But grief as a whole doesn’t. It’s like an invisible tattoo; it’s a marker of where you’ve been and what you’ve lost.

I recently stumbled upon this very beautiful and honest piece of writing by Tim Lawrence about grief and the insensitivity of others. It really affected me in a profound way because of its rawness and truth. Here’s my favourite passage:

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.

So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. 

These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on an increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.

I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.

Full article: http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reason

Our mothers’ clothes and the silent stories they tell

I think it’s so interesting how connected we are, as women, to the material objects that made our mothers who they were. Whether they were girly girls or they dressed more modestly, memories of their clothes, accessories, and jewelry stay with us for many years after they are gone. It’s incredible how a piece of clothing can take you back in time and make you feel so many things.

I still remember having to go into my mom’s closet a few days after she passed away to pick out an outfit for her memorial service and cremation. During the haze of those first few weeks, I functioned like a zombie, with no sleep and with only the sole ability to follow my body’s reflexes – putting one foot in front of the other. I had to go into my mom’s closet alone because my dad wouldn’t do it, my brother was only 12, and my grandmother was too distraught. I picked out an outfit I thought she would like and shut the door. It was one of the most painful moments, when the magnitude of her death and my loss sunk in. Her belongings were all there, tidy and hung up on their hangers, but she was not.

 To some, clothes and bags and jewelry are only objects. But to the motherless daughter, they are a symbol of so much more. They are a collection of a life, of beautiful moments that now exist only in our memories. These objects represent a little girl looking up to her mom and wanting to be just like her. 

Later that year, I packaged up a bunch of her clothes and took them with me when my new husband and I bought our first home together. They’re still with me, four years later. Once in a while, I’ll wear something of hers. I’ll spray her perfume. I’ll put on her gold earrings. It brings me comfort. I feel like when I wear something  of my mother’s, her strength is with me. It hugs me and protects me, forming an invisible shield around me. I wear something of hers on days I need her most, like when I went into labour with my daughter and the day I wrote my real estate exam.

Slowly, I’ve been able to donate some of her things. It’s been difficult though, because every piece of clothing or jewelry tells a story of her life. This dress is the one she wore on my wedding day, hunched over in her wheelchair with a smile brighter than the sun. This clutch is the one she wore on my graduation day, beaming with pride. This hat is the one she bought for our vacation from the second hand store, which we never ended up going on because her cancer had spread. 

A woman’s closet is a very personal and symbolic place. Every piece tells a story. Every piece holds memories. Every piece holds promise of long-ago hopes and dreams.