Grieving the Loss of Your Mother on Mother’s Day

I dream about my mother at this time of year. I awake drenched in sweat and remember, she’s gone. She’s not here. I can’t pick up the phone and call her. I can’t buy her a gift for Mother’s Day. I cry at the stupidest little thing. A commercial. A post on Facebook of a tea party for a mom. A picture of fresh-cut flowers.

In the dreams I have of her, I never seem to say anything meaningful or profound to my mother. She is just there, like she used to be, rushing around in the kitchen in her pink and blue plaid robe over her flannel pjs. She’s working over a skillet on the stove or a stainless steel pot or that scary pressure cooker.

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My mother didn’t die a few weeks, months, or years ago. It has been a few decades and still the wound seems to gape open on holidays and especially on Mother’s Day. I awake to it taunting me. I see others celebrating their mothers and I’m jealous. I hear others complaining about their mothers and I want to whack them on the back of the head with a rolled up newspaper and say, “Be thankful! Stop your whining! Celebrate your Mother while you still have her!” That wouldn’t make my pain any less potent. It wouldn’t make my mama come back, so I don’t.

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Grieving the loss of a Mother is like having a learning disability. I am learning to live without a Mom and every once and awhile I have a slew of great days and I think, “I’m recovering!  I’ve got this grieving thing down!” I’ve run through the stages of grief like running a gauntlet. I am whipped, bruised, scarred, but I have made it through again and again. I’m learning.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

“It’s frustrating to be in the midst of learning. It is like sitting in algebra class, listening to a teacher explain a subject beyond our comprehension. We do not understand, but the teacher takes the understanding for granted.

It may feel like someone is torturing us with messages that we shall never understand. We strain and strain. We become angry. Frustrated. Confused. Finally, in despair, we turn away, deciding that formula will never be available to our mind.”- Melody Beattie

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Sometimes I feel as if I will never be finished grieving the loss of my mama. It won’t work for me. I will keep cycling through, keep picking up the phone to call her, keep dreaming about her  I have good days and then I get catapulted back to the beginning of the process. Scars open to expose old wounds, festering, seething with loss.

And then I think of my adopted children. They had a mother before me. They had a loss different, yet similar to my own. They had an Eden. A beginning with someone who birthed them. She didn’t die and leave them like my mama did. She abandoned them. Rejected them. I hear adoptive parents try to sugar coat this and say things like: She couldn’t take care of you. She was too young. Addicted. Whatever.

I know I am guilty of this. The truth is you can’t fool a child. The grief and loss are as real for them as it is for us. And at this time of the year, when mothers are being celebrated, they may be confused, especially if they were older when they were adopted. They may be wrestling with grief and it often masquerades as anger. The children may not want to buy new mom a card or celebrate. They may be missing something that never was. They may have a picture in their mind of a perfect mother from their past. It is an illusion. We didn’t adopt these kids in a perfect scenario. We adopted them in the midst of trauma. They will run the gauntlet of grief just as we do. The wounds will re-open, fresh or old, and be festering, infectious.

After Mom’s death, I began life as a new kind of orphan. A motherless adult. At first, I had a strange sense of surreal detachment, watching my life play out, walking through the normal activities of the day. I also felt a profound sense of peace- a peace that surpassed all understanding. Then, I moved into a period of anger. I couldn’t fathom while people still grocery shopped, went to work, bought new clothes. My mommy had died!

Gradually, my outlook changed. The pain of the loss remained, but God changed my perspective. There is a point when death makes way for new life. It is when we accept the death of a loved one that the platform of love and remembrance can be constructed. The legacy of that beloved person births a new life: A ministry, and organization to help others, a continuation of the work, an act of compassion and empathy.

“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming Joy.”- Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering

My adopted kids had a magic carpet ripped out from under them, too. Their beginnings may have not been ideal, but it was their beginning. Their mother, their grandfather. The abnormal life of neglect was normal to them because it was the only life they ever knew. When that was taken from them, it was death. I understood death. All those years ago, in a courtroom, they stood a the threshold of a new life.

New life is birthed out of death. A seed must die before it bursts forth with new life. Life begins in a dark place. Deep within the soil. So, if you or your child are grieving right now, don’t despair. Grieve, but don’t despair. There is a coming JOY. There are moments of if. Remembering the good times. Enjoying the good days. Accepting a homemade card from a child who is beginning to warm up to the idea of a new mom. Looking through old photos of your mama with flour on her apron and fresh-baked cookies on the counters. Be patient with yourself and your child. Allow yourself time to grieve. Allow your child to grieve. Grief is a job that must be done!

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“We are promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.”-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Oberved

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