Grieving My Mother & The Relationship We Almost, Maybe, Might Never Have Had

grieving my mother
Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva

I was listening to one of my favorite songs by Camera Obscura on repeat—a beautiful piano and strings track with soothing, gentle vocals—crying on my partner’s lawn on his wool, blue blanket. Letting it come out. Not caring if anyone saw me in his T-shirt with only underwear on, barely covering my butt. It was almost midnight; the stars were finally coming out. It was cold, but the trees were crying with me as they moved in the breeze, and I let them watch me break down. I could list so many reasons for why I felt the urge to cry on the grass that night, but there was really only one.

I was missing my mom, and I was tired of missing her for 21 years.

I wanted nothing more than for someone to scoop me up, hold me, rock me, and tell me it’s going to be okay, that they love me, that I am loved, no matter what. I cried at how juvenile I must have looked, crying like a child for her mother. But I was just that. I remained that lost and confused three-year-old who didn’t understand why her mother wasn’t coming home, why I lived in a different place with different people, and why the darkness kept coming for me in my dreams.

The death of a mother at a very young age, not unlike the death of a child, at any age, feels like such an unnatural thing. It is assumed that we are meant to lose our parents in their old age, after they have taught us all they know and prepared us, to the best of their ability, for this beautifully complex world. Our kind is perhaps unique in that sense. We stay with our children well past childhood to protect them, guide them, and nurture them.

Harp seals abandon their young to the desolate and dangerous ice after just twelve days. Pandas have a high chance of birthing twins, yet the mother will typically kill off the weakest one to raise her and the other twin’s chances at survival. Snakes and lizards don’t even stick around to see their eggs hatch. These are all parental patterns that perhaps make sense in the worlds of these other animals.

We, humans, have traditionally stayed with our kids for a very long time, even after they reach adulthood. Countless societies and cultures have traditions of remaining in their adult children’s lives. Some of the most well-known reasons being marriage or the birth of a first child, however that may look for us now.

It can also be in the smaller moments. Calling them when we don’t remember the specifications of a recipe we watched them make our entire lives, or how exactly to change a fucking tire when you’re trapped in the middle of nowhere. Our parents are meant to guide us in all aspects of our lives, especially into our adult years. There is so much to learn. These two individuals are supposed to have decades of experience to kindly share with us wandering souls.

And yet, even in this supposed traditional mindset, mother-daughter relationships can also be fraught with tension, broken, or completely non-existent. Even if my mother had not been taken from me, I wonder if our relationship might have been tortured by a deep difference in life values.

It was on this cold night with the swaying trees and cool breeze where I had the dawning realization that, if my mother had been alive, we might not have had that rose-tinted fantasy of a relationship I’ve always childishly imagined for us; where we love the shit out of each other and are each other’s best friends.

I never knew her. But I knew her to be a devout Christian—a faith I neither share nor will ever care to share. She was regarded as painstakingly traditional—marriage, then kids, then homemaker—which are all objectives I have always felt very unattracted to. She saw men and women as the only two options for a relationship; meanwhile, I have found myself drawn to a spectrum of human emotion, sexuality, and attraction. Might these have caused rifts between us, far too large to repair?

As I’m getting older, my family has opened up with more stories of her. Most of them are the same ones I’ve heard for years. That one time, she took out an entire female gang in high school because they were bullying some of her less popular friends, or when she would leave the house three to four hours earlier before church just to pick up those who did not have a car to attend service. I have always heard of her otherworldly generosity, her beauty, and her resilience. Her hard work as a business owner and mother of three children who she was basically raising on her own. Meanwhile, my dad gambled our money and came home only to brandish another fist at whoever was standing in his way that day.

She was a victim of domestic abuse, and she was stuck in an especially bad cycle. I have always been haunted by images that I conjure up in my mind of my beautiful, kind mother being dragged around the home she created for her children, my two older siblings watching with pure fear and helplessness. I have struggled with immense guilt for being conceived and subsequently born. Maybe if they didn’t have me, she would have found the resolve to leave.

But I know she wanted me to have a father, no matter how fucking shitty he was. A delusional idea that came from painful years in her childhood of never having one and, instead, having a mother who was also abusive, both physically and emotionally. Maybe she felt she could change my dad. That my existence could change him. That she alone could finally materialize this perfect, nurturing idea of a father she never got to experience.

My mother was also a woman with a temper. She was a fiercely strong and independent person determined to see things through the way she wanted. I see a lot of that in me. I see her kindness, as well as her quickness to anger, live on through me. She was a woman with strong opinions that she immortalized as if they were facts, undeterred from whether they may be right and wrong. As a person of faith, there was little anyone could convince her of anything but the grace of her God. Her view of right and wrong were binary. I fear I might have considered her embarrassingly old-fashioned, while she might have shamefully regarded me as a follower of this modern, ungodly world.

It is for this reason, amongst others perhaps, that I wonder if she and I might have butt heads more so than not. Would I have had a tense and challenging relationship with my mother, as I have seen so many of my friends have with theirs? Maybe. Maybe not. Or perhaps our relationship would have been like every other relationship we all have in our lives, be it with our mothers, siblings, or partners: complex and non-binary. We would have our hard moments as well as our happy ones. We would have loved, and we would have angered. We would have understood, and we would have misunderstood. We would have been what we always are when we come together with another human: two wildly different people with different backgrounds, experiences, and emotions that, despite the odds, choose to come towards each other as opposed to away.

Then again, these are all musings about a reality I will ultimately never get to know. My mother’s death, occurring when I was just three years, took a lot from the lives around her. I have felt her absence for a very long time. It has been in the small and in the big moments of life. A lonely prom night getting ready for my date by myself. A confusing day at the grocery store following a checklist of “easy, college meals” found on Pinterest. A frustrating night of tears over a shitty ex-boyfriend who I thought was the meaning of life. A quiet night crying outside on a cold lawn on a blue blanket, longing for the touch, words, and presence of the woman who was supposed to know me better than anyone else.

Her death made me feel cheated. I was robbed far too early of the one person I might have genuinely needed for guidance and comfort. I have wasted far too much time trying to find this in people that simply cannot provide it for me. I have tried to follow self-care tips on Instagram to do that for myself, but I don’t want to. I have been angry and tired trying to be that for myself. I am slowly choosing to accept the emotions that come with loss and grief instead of morphing them to make sense in my life.

I have also been trying to be less binary in my own thinking.

I can be grieving over my mother and also be successful. I can be angry with her death and also be a kind partner, friend, and sister. I can be confused over her absence and also be resolved in my personal life to follow a passion.

Regardless of whether we were children or adults, whether we had a Hallmark relationship with them or a frustratingly complicated one, when we lose our mothers, the loss will still feel unbearable at times. If you have experienced this, I am here to say I understand and that you are not alone. If you find yourself crying outside on the grass with a blue blanket, yearning for comfort from an older soul, I may not be that, but I am here to let you take up that space and to hear you. I wish I had a beautiful, happy-ending message for those grieving their mothers—whether you are grieving them in death or in life.

And, perhaps I do. Because my message for the time being, as I figure out this ride, is that you will always be normal for feeling exactly how you are feeling. You are loved if nothing else but by the stars that created you. That is a far greater and unconditional love than any other human love anyway. You are cared for by the Earth around you and nurtured by the child within you. I wish you kindness as you navigate these emotions, and I applaud you for your bravery in taking on this world on your own.

The pain and the anger may always be there, simply because she will always be gone. But that does not mean the joy and newness and the wonder of life need to escape you. You are allowed to find true happiness, and you are allowed to make the healthy changes you need to make to secure that for yourself. The loss of a mother, while great in its pain in our lives, does not and will never need to mean the loss of our own lives.

I invite you to reflect on your own mother’s life: what loss did she endure in her time that she, regardless of how perfectly she did it or not, did not allow to eat up her entire existence?

If we so choose, we can be the best parts of our mothers. We can carry on the resilience, the bravery, the courage, the determination, and the love. We can do it for ourselves, and we can do it for those who love us. We are not alone and, though there may be tears, we will never truly be without hope because we are made strong by the women who came before us and by the women who will come after us.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Avatarsays: Maha Nasr

    Thank you for sharing your story and pains of losing your mother. It brought tears to my eyes. I too lost my mother 20 years ago and the pain and anger are still there. I agree that our mothers will live forever through us and I feel that I am here on earth to be personify who she longed to be in her life but could not. My message in life is strongly connected to her and helping other women reclaim their inner power.