****Tonight (2-24-2010) this post has 100 comments. I am blown away by the stories shared here. I am humbled that anything written here struck a chord with others. I am grateful to know that I am not alone. If you are finding this blog for the first time and have experienced the loss of a parent, know that you aren’t alone. Know too that I read every. single. comment. I care. I understand–at least as much as I can through my own experiences. Thank you all for being with me on the journey.***
This is something I have thought about many, many times since my Mom died. I’ve writen some about it here previously.
I mention it here again because, well… because I can’t stop thinking about it and right now I feel I am at a place where I can objectively explore the issue a bit, although I fear that regular readers are again rolling their eyes and going, “More on the grief stuff… get over it.” (To those who may indeed be thinking those things, I will assure you that I am allowing myself to heal, but these things still assault my every day life, and are very present in my thoughts… even as I do heal and approach life in the beginnings of a ‘new normal.’)
When you lose a parent as an adult, you get a lot of, “Well this is the normal course of things….” The idea here is that since it is ‘normal’ it must necessarily then be ‘easy.’ I am here to tell you that those two things should not be assumed to equate.
You also get a lot of underlying messages of, “Well you are a grown up now, so suck it up. It’s not as tragic as it might have been if you’d lost her as a child.” I will agree to an extent with the last part of that sentiment. I will. But just because I am a grown up, does not mean that it is “easy” to be without my mother. It does not mean that in many ways I don’t still need her.
Mom died when I was 24. My first daughter was 4 months old. She was diagnosed with Lung Cancer when I was 6 months pregnant. I am an only child.
I lost my mother at a time when my ‘grown up life’ was just starting and my adult relationship with her was in it’s infancy. I lost her as I was becoming a mother.
Two books that are recommended over and over again to women who have experienced mother loss are Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothersboth by Hope Edleman. I have a confession to make: I’ve never read either. The reason I’ve never read either is simple: from what I can gather looking through the dust cover, front flap, and first chapters the books focus quite a bit on the commonalities that exist between women who lost their Mom’s during childhood. I have been afraid to read the books because I didn’t want my loss to be minimized because it occurred soon after my graduation from ‘childhood.’ Also, the theme in Motherless Mothersseems to be the idea of healing by becoming a mother myself. However, my experience has been that because of the juxtaposition of losing my Mom when I was becoming a mother myself my grief has been complicated quite a bit. I don’t feel healed as I approach the task of motherhood. I feel haunted by my loss.
I really believe that losing a parent at this juncture in life–during the life stage of ‘starting’ as an adult and of ‘starting a family’ contains unique issues that often get passed by. No we don’t necessarily deal with our parent not attending our high school graduation or seeing the adult that we’ve grown into, but neither do we fit into the category that seems to be automatically skipped to in resources and literature–the ‘sandwich generation’ category. I DID NOT lose my mother during middle adulthood. I didn’t get to see her be a grandparent to my children. I don’t have her to support me as I work my way through this fledgling phase of being a wife, being a mother, being a woman. No, I didn’t deal with the issues surrounding the possibility of her entering a nursing home for an extended period of my life–but that’s because I didn’t have the privilege of having her around for that long.
So what do I feel are the important issues related to parental loss at this stage of life? I think ‘not fitting’ is one of those issues. I think being expected to ‘suck it up and move on’ because we are adults–when we are really only just getting used to our own grown up skin is another. Missing the help and support that many parents offer during this pivotal time in life is another. We face the loss of a primary advisor at a time of newness and uncertainty. We lose a parent’s normal physical helpfulness at this stage–i.e. helping care for the grand-kids from time to time.
You lose the opportunity to relate to your parent in an adult to adult relationship. You lose time to make peace with the terror that you were as a teenager or to talk things over and understand where your parent was coming from set into the context of their own larger lives. When Mom was diagnosed I had just begun to reflect on the fact that she was quickly becoming one of my ‘closest adult friends.’ Right before she was sick I called her several times a week, if not every day just to talk about…. anything. I was talking things over with her that I never thought I would talk over with her. With her decline all of that was lost.
I don’t think it is a ‘normal’ time to lose a parent, and I don’t think the loss is as ‘normal’ as we are asked to believe it is.
Additionally there is a ‘distance’ that I’ve read you are supposed to feel with the loss of a parent as an adult, I guess because it is not the loss of someone in your immediate household. However, I think at this time in one’s life that ‘distance’ isn’t necessarily there. You are just beginning to walk out of the phase of needing Mom and Dad for everything. Your history includes far more years of living with them than it does the family you are starting (and I in NO WAY am implying that a loss of spouse or child at this point in time would be ‘easier,’ because I know that I can’t even imagine how staggering those losses would be at ANY TIME…. I am simply saying that this ‘distance’ from parents that is supposed to make things ‘easier’ isn’t present at least for me at this stage of my development as a human.) I think this is the stage in life that the connection to parents may in some ways feel almost equal to the connection to one’s growing family.
On top of those issues there was the timing of my loss—which was not as uncommon as you might think. Mom’s illness, decline, and death superimposed on my pregnancy, daughter’s birth, and first four months of life really threw a wrench into my grief…. and not just because of the hormonal issues that are common to pregnancy. Losing my mother while becoming a mother was an indescribable experience. The loss that I feel at every stage of Little Miss’s development is huge. The loss that I feel at having a child that my mother will never meet is huge. The comfort that was offered by folks who would say, “Be strong for that baby,” or “Just hold her tight,” often just seemed a cruel reminder of the loss of my own mother and the loss that my children were experiencing before either having understanding of it, or even…. having existence. Dealing with the newness of my identity of a mother on top of the newneses of my grief was…. well it was staggering to live through. It truly was. And I’ve spoken to several women in very similar situations who have expressed very much the same thing.
And then there are those in early adulthood who *haven’t* started a family. Those who will miss having their parents there to walk them down the aisle or to hear the words, “I’m pregnant.” No one could convince a person dealing with those issues that whatever number makes one an adult makes the loss of those milestones with your parent any less tragic.
I guess what I wish is that this significant loss in my age and stage wouldn’t be glossed over. I wish that the platitudes and assumptions that go along with the loss of a parent as an older adult weren’t automatically slapped onto my situation as a younger adult (and really they should NOT be slapped on to ANY situation). I wish there were resources that explored something other than the lifetime of difficulties caused by the loss of a parent in childhood (and certainly those resources ARE greatly needed).
And just in case anyone else was having those thoughts, I thought I’d say them out loud.
Additionally, I would love feedback from anyone who has lost a parent during a similar age and stage…. or from anyone who hasn’t. Maybe I’m all wet. Maybe I’m overly sensitive. Maybe I’m being ridiculous. I don’t know. I just know that these are the feelings I’ve had as I’ve observed the world reacting to my loss and the feelings I have had as a result.