Reflections on Growing as a Motherless Daughter

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Today is the 25th anniversary of my mother’s death. I had just turned 5 three weeks before she died in the hospital from cancer. My memories of her are scarce and sad, and I can count on one hand the actual number of times I remember her presence in my life. All of my memories are of her sick. I remember more of what happened the days after her death. Like on the day she died (or maybe it was one of the following days?), when I heard church bells ring and my half-sister (I am the only offspring of my father and mother) telling me that my mom now had her wings in heaven. Or the day that I went back to daycare after my mom’s death, and the teacher had told my classmates about what happened, and all the other little kids not knowing what to say to me. This type of response, not knowing how to react to me when people found out that my mom died when I was young, is typical of my life.

As a teenager, I would harness this uncomfortability from others for my own humor, as my own way to try to normalize the inevitable awkwardness that comes with the answer to questions about my mother that she was dead. I would automatically reply to the  “I’m so sorry”s with “it’s okay, you didn’t kill her”.  Or I’d make jokes, like that my mom is lazy and lays around all day… I guess these are coping mechanisms, even if they are a bit dark. I still think I was a funny kid. Anyways, I learned early, and had it exemplified throughout my life, that I was different, and my difference made other people feel uncomfortable, awkward, and sad. So I internalized this, and this unfortunately became part of my identity.

For years I didn’t think much about my mother, and that word, “mother”, still doesn’t have much of an emotional connection to me. As I’m growing older, and my friends have started to lose their own mothers, I realize my connection to my own mother is based on her absence in my life, and that’s okay. I have learned about my own strengths through my motherless experience, and there are anecdotal characteristics which undoubtedly connect me to her life. For instance, how I take pills- I put them way far back on my tongue. My dad is always astonished at this, as this is how my mom apparently took pills. So in ways like this, I am connected to her. I’m reminded how much I look like her every once in a while from people who knew her, which used to bother me, because I wasn’t her. But now, I realize that my resemblance to this dead woman that they loved might be comforting and a reminder of her life.

It has taken me YEARS, wait, scratch that, it has taken me DECADES to figure out my identity, to figure out my purpose, to figure out what it meant to be a girl, a young lady, and now a woman, without a mother. I tell my clients who have experienced any childhood trauma this: when you are a kid, and something crazy happens to you, like you lose your mom, your experience for the rest of your life is different than the other kid sitting next to you who didn’t lose their mom (or who wasn’t molested, or who didn’t witness family abuse, or who didn’t have an addict parent, etc. etc. etc.). So your experience of life is going to be based on an understanding of the world that is totally foreign than the norm. However, through examining your life, and working towards a goal of self-actualization, this experience can eventually be transformed into a “superpower”. Your perspective of life is different, perhaps a little wider, than others. Cultivating this power to see things differently, and to understand that your experience is different, is a long process, but the end result will serve you greater than the damage the loss caused.

I had a conversation with my father last year, and I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but something along the lines of him wishing that I had a mom to help me plan my wedding, and he felt sad about it. My response was that I had accepted my experience of not having a mother in my life years ago. I don’t know what it is to feel maternal love, and that’s okay! I’ve always known that I wouldn’t have a mom to help me pick out prom dresses or give me advice about boys or help me with whatever other things moms typically do. I think this still made him feel sad, but at least he could understand that my motherless experience is my experience- it is who I am.

I don’t really know why I felt the need to write (and share) this. I guess 25 years is a long time. I feel really sad for my friends who have lost their moms in the past few years. I also have always felt a strange and strong connection to other people who have lost their parents, or who were abandoned by their parents, especially if they were young when the loss happened. Growing up, I knew no other motherless daughters, so my identity was always mine for creating, exploring, and forming. As a kid, I would wish I had someone who could understand my motherless experience. I now can realize what an opportunity this is for me- to experience life in my own unique way, to understand that I have an understanding of the impermanence of life deeply rooted in my soul, as a bedrock of who I am, because it is my first memories.  I’m still growing as a motherless woman and forging an identity without a mother, and that’s okay. I know now that maybe my experience can help others, and even if not, I’m lucky to have a superpower of seeing life in a way that many others can’t fathom. And that’s a good thing.

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