Pain from death of our mothers. Letters from Motherless Daughters edited by Hope Edelman (June 2015)

Susan’s Thursday morning note June 18, 2015
Selections from “Letters from Motherless Daughters” Edited by Hope Edelman

Good morning!  Pouring rain.  Darkness mixed with morning light depending on which window I choose to look out.  Cat demanding attention at the keyboard.   Books surrounding me, each vying for my attention.  I’d like to write out a poem that I really loved this week, then take a turn for distinctly different thoughts.  A book was brought into the store this week that called my name.  Letter from Motherless Daughters.  At the risk of being vulnerable and opening any wounds I am going to write some of what I underlined last night.  This book has letters divided by the length of the time since their mothers died, written by daughters who lost their mothers within five years, five to ten years, ten to twenty years, and then more than thirty years.  Although written for those specifically losing their moms at young ages, I hope the lines I’ve underlined and will quote will burrow also in anyone who has had someone that loved them deeply die.

Epigram by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604)

Were I a king, I could command content;
Were I obscure, hidden should be my cares;
Or were I dead, no cares should me torment,
No hopes, no hates, nor loves, nor griefs, nor fears.
A doubtful choice, of these three which to crave -
A kingdom, or a cottage, or a grave.

Excerpts from Letters from Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman.  What I will write below is all found within her book, with many of the sentences from contributors to her book.  I am going to not list each specific contributor, but instead only the words they wrote.  Disconnected thoughts I underlined as I read for you to connect in your own minds as you have your own thoughts and memories.  I’m going to write out what all I underlined, making this a long note, but hopefully a gift to those of you who are motherless as it was to me, unexpectedly arriving in my world yesterday.

When a daughter loses a mother, the intervals between grief responses lengthen over time, but her longing never disappears. It always hovers at the edge of her awareness, prepared to surface at any time, in any place, in the least expected ways.

How can I write a book telling women that mourning or a mother never really ends?  That’s not a very hopeful message.  A daughter’s mourning for a lost mother never completely stops.  Instead, it evolves over time, often leading a woman to a place where, instead of actively grieving, she can describe the feeling as a sense of “missing” her mother, and where she can even begin to see some long-term positive outcomes of early mother loss.

We can call on our inner presences to join us in the morning over coffee and rolls…Long after the return of logic and reason, long after we rejoin the world of the living, we are still attached to our lost ones.  The human dialogue – that which makes living a life worthwhile – goes on.  In the absence of this dialogue, we are lost. 

..she urges me to play the piano again.

I’ll never get over the death of my mother.  It is a stone that will always weigh heavy in my heart.  I like to think f therapy as the process of turning that stone from dense, heavy granite to a light, porous pumice.  The stone will never be beautiful or smooth to the touch.  But I can use that pumice to grind down the rough edges of my life.  I can learn to live with this loss.

The self that existed before a major life event is not quite the same self that walks away from that event…a new life emerges…The dividing line between the self I am and the self I became.

It can take women years – and for some women, many years – to acknowledge, understand, and learn from the changes that have occurred as a result of early loss.  Accepting that her life changed irrevocably when her mother died or left, and that she’ll never be able to return to the child she was before.  Death firmly shuts that door.  As long as she resists this obvious and immutable truth, she’ll continue struggling to find the peace she needs to successfully move on.

Daughters without such an adult may suppress or deny their true feelings for years, stuffing them under layers of stoicism and false maturity.  It’s not unheard of for a daughter to experience her acute grief phase ten or twenty years after her mother’s death, when she finally feels stable enough within her own life to succumb to he intense emotions she’s been suppressing for all that time.

You may not always hear me, but you’ll always feel my answer.

I want to dial the house and have her pick up the phone.  I want to hear her laugh.  I want to hug her.  I want to give her a beautiful grandchild to spoil.  I want her to smooth my hair the way she did.

My mom’s death had some good points, if you could call them that.  Small things doing stress me out anymore.  I am more passionate about everything – I really appreciate a beautiful day…

The impulse to pick up the telephone and call a mother has transformed into the wish that the mother could be called.

The knowledge of the reality that she will not be picking up the phone when I’m calling, or dropping what she’s doing so that she can talk with me is often heartbreaking.  I miss being able to call her at work and just say, “Hi!  I was thinking of you.”

It would mean the world to me just to – once again – see my mother smile at me, touch me, and say my name, one last time.  (personal note – I couldn’t bear the “last” time relived).

Adult daughters feel vulnerable and long to be taken care of. 

..emotionally mixed days…I found that the joy and the sadness have a weird way of mixing together, and what a struggle that is. 

…what I wouldn’t do to have one second just to touch her and have her with me for a moment…there is not a single day that goes by when my mother is not on my mind…I have grieved for almost nine years, and always will.  My house holds her things; she is in my soul; my mother is me.  The day after my mother died, I noticed a piece of paper on top of a box in her closet.  It was something she had written to herself after losing her father.  This letter has brought me and many other people I have given it to great comfort.  It sits in a frame on my desk, and I read it every day:

Who said my father is gone?  He is here- I see him – I smell him.  I touch him.  Who said I lost my father?  Who said my father is dead – who said it?  How can he be dead – We’re all here – my mother, my sisters and brother, my children, my nieces and nephews.  When you’re dead there is nothing – but there is something – I feel the lump in my throat – My head hurts – I have his sweater – with some of his hair on it.  I have his chair.  I have his deck of cards that he held in his hands.  I smell my father – I want him.  I won’t give him up.  Who said I lost my father?

…she had the most beautiful hands.

I refuse to forget her.  Maybe the sound of her voice has faded from my memory, but the love she gave me, the sense of humor she passed on to me, and the sense of integrity that she possessed are here waiting for me to pass on to my child…

My mom gave me a travel alarm clock with a card that is now framed and in my bathroom.  I read it each morning.  “To Meredith, to wish you the best of time in the future, to keep you on time for all of your appointments, and to remind you that I love you all of the time.  Mother.”

Perhaps my mother’s death elevated what her importance in my life was to be.  If she were alive, she may not have been that big of an influence, but the loss of her prevents me from knowing that for sure.  To me, she was my biggest supporter and I lost that.  I lost that person who thought I was the greatest, no matter what.  I know if my mother were alive we would fight, she would make me mad, shame me – the usual irritating things mothers do.  She would also love me, listen to me, support me emotionally, cook for me, care for me, mother me.  I could have somewhere to go home to where I didn’t have to be in charge and “on.”  I still miss my mom with tears in my eyes when I let myself think about her.

I think her absence is felt most at ordinary moments, like when I’m shopping for baby clothes, tending my garden, driving down a beautiful stretch of road – So many times I feel real envy for their ability to pick up the phone and share a chat with Mom.  Only a few days after my mother died, I dialed her number just to hear it ring, to fantasize she was out of the house on an errand.  In a way, I think I am still doing this mentally, and probably will continue.  It’s my way of keeping her alive, and of keeping her with me.

…being motherless always meant being older than I felt.

…my mother’s death served to crystallize my awareness of death.  I am hyper-aware that death can come at any time, to anyone, which makes me careful  to notice life and enjoy it.

If she were still alive, we’d probably be going around and around about most everything, because heredity or environment has given me her spirit.  I’m just as opinionated and outgoing, although, I believe, more tolerant.  I am a confident woman, which I believe is her gift to me.  She supported me and bolstered me and helped me build a tremendous amount of self-esteem in the twelve years I spent with me.  Very few people can get me down o bend me to their will, but I know for a fact that if she were alive, she would be able to push my buttons with deadly accuracy.  I don’t know if she would, but I know she definitely could.

…she’s never here when I need to be folded up in her arms.  When I need a person like me, someone who’s honest and direct, she isn’t here.  She’s not on the end of a phone line.  She’s nowhere.

…I love my daughter fiercely, but I find a sense of sadness in that, as if it makes me more vulnerable to future pain.  I am constantly reminded that I have no one I can go to when I need to be hld.  I wonder at times if the feelings I have when holding my daughter are different from other women who hold their daughters, women who don’t need extra love from their daughters because they have a source in a living mother.  I try to assess every relationship and gesture on my part to see if I am expecting too much, or hoping for too much in the way of a deep connection between hearts. 

…what you say is true: losing a mother was not “meant” to happen.  It strengthens us and gives us character, but I for one am tired of being strong.  I’d give it all up for being wrapped in her scent and her hug.

I had always felt that after twenty-seven years I shouldn’t feel so sad near the anniversary of Mom’s death, that I shouldn’t feel so empty at the thought of her being gone.  But I did..  Mostly the pain was muted in my everyday life, but as my son has gotten older and  have told him about her, it’s returned.  She died of cancer, and I remember everything that happened in the six months she was ill as if it were yesterday…My mom was thirty-six when she died, and the day I turned thirty-seven was one of the oddest days of my life…Although I can remember the events of that time in my life with utter clarity, I cannot remember feeling the grief that surprises me at times now…I look at my sensitive fourteen-year-old son and can see myself in him I imagine how it would absolutely devastate him to lose me, and I see myself at thirteen again.  Suddenly the pain is as real as the events were.

…although my life has not been pathetic because my mom died, her death did affect me in ways I’m just now beginning to understand.  I was always a can-do, by-the-bootstraps kind of woman.  I think I got that strength mostly because I had to get along after Mom was gone.  And that’s good.  But I was also judgmental: Why couldn’t others manage their lives like I did through adversity?  I’m softening, learning to accept weaknesses in others, as I’m learning to accept the damaged parts of me. 

…I have met very few motherless daughters, and most people of my acquaintance have no idea what impact her death has had on me…

When a mother dies, a daughter grieves. And then her life moves on. She does, thankfully, feel happiness again. But the missing her, the wanting her, the wishing she were still here—I will not lie to you, although you probably already know. That part never ends.

I don’t know how to pull all of those different excerpts together for you.  I will thank you again for letting me enter your Thursday; for letting me write out words that have been written over time to help us realize life is beautiful.  There is “nothing new under the sun…”  Rain falls gently now.  Nature looks upward outside my window.  Flowers looking upwards towards the heavens.  Birds flying upwards towards the heavens.  Not caring what their particular songs are, just knowing that their song in itself makes their creator smile.  Our songs.  Regardless of how we’re singing, just the fact that we are continuing to sing, to fly upward, to look upward, to keep our eternal perspective.  Beautiful.  Life.  Our gift.  The angel of dawn is drenched at my doorstep, but she is singing.  Singing her song composed for my life today.  Handing me a rose with raindrops on the bud.  Life.  Beautiful life.  Susan

Latin for this week:
Tempus omnia sed memorias privat – Time deprives all but memories.
alma mater – nourishing mother
Meam amare matrem – to love my mother.

Works Cited:
Edelman, Hope.  Letters from Motherless Daughters.  Addison-Wesley.  Reading, MA.  1995.