When I was 11 years
old, my mother Rose died suddenly of an aneurysm/blood clot at the age of 40.
She had suffered heart trouble since childhood and lived with complications
resulting from open heart surgery performed in 1960, a year after her wedding. I
am her only child.
On that appalling
Friday night, May 5, 1978, my Mom and Dad were customarily watching television
together on the living room floor. About an hour after I went to bed, she turned
to him in a panic and said "Oh, Tony ..." and immediately went limp. I
awakened to the sound of my Dadís voice calling out "DEB! Weíve got to take
Mommy to the hospital, hurry and get dressed." I flew down the stairs and
was met with the scene of numerous paramedics scrambling around trying to
resuscitate my mother. Iíll never forget the horror of watching them
unsuccessfully attempt to revive her still body. They took her out the front
door on a stretcher as her arm dangled off the side. "Maybe thereís still
hope -- they can help her in the ambulance, or at the hospital," I thought.
At the hospital we learned that she had died instantly at home. All I remember is my Dad
and I clinging to each other in the lobby as he wailed "Sheís dead,
sheís dead ..." I felt an overwhelming urge to blurt out what my small
brain was silently screaming -- letís die with her. I wanted to be dead
too because the pain was just too much to bear. How could we possibly go on
without her? I never even got to say good-bye.
Partially because I was
so young when she passed away, I didnít really have the ability to grieve
properly. Kids just donít have the same coping skills adults do. Since talking
about it was far too painful, it was easier to lock the feelings away in a
sealed drawer, so to speak. Iíve been suppressing the emotions connected with
this loss for these past 20 years -- the hurt, anger, despair, the feeling of
being cheated out of a normal life, etc. What has resulted is an accumulation of
pent-up feelings and a stunting of the grieving process. Coping and healing can
only arrive after you face your feelings head on. Iíve come to learn that
trying to bury grief merely postpones it and intensifies it. Refuse to allow it
a healthy outlet and it will surely seep out in its own harmful way.
Losing my mother so
suddenly, especially at such a crucial age, has unquestionably been the most
life-altering, atrocious thing that has ever happened to me. We were very close.
She was a nurturing, vivacious woman admired by many, a shining example of
unselfishness and compassion. It has only been in very recent times that I
have discovered just how this loss has shaped my life. For one thing, I always
feel like someone is going to pull the rug out from under me at any minute. When
all is going well, this is a bad thing because certainly it will be short-lived.
As a result, Iím constantly worried and anxious inside. I have "What If
Syndrome." What if my life is cut short too? What if something tragic
happens to yet another person I love? It drives me nuts. These worries, along
with a constant need for closure, are by-products of sudden early mother loss.
Secondly, by reading the book Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman (which
by the way I would HIGHLY recommend -- it turned the lights on for me and helped
more than words can describe) I came to understand why I immerse myself in more
projects in a week than most people dare to take on in six months ... staying
busy is really a diversionary tactic. You donít have time to think when
youíre perpetually rushing around. And if you donít think about the pain,
maybe it canít overtake you. Also, an abrupt death so close to home sends the
message that life can end at any moment. Youíd better get the things done that
youíve always wanted to do, for time is running out. Thirdly, the severing of
this mother-daughter bond -- perhaps the most influential and powerful bond
there is, one that is supposed to feed you well into adulthood -- leaves
a child just hanging emotionally. So itís no longer a mystery to me why I have
such a need to connect with people. Itís a subconscious attempt to close this
gaping hole in my chest. Perhaps thatís why I have always been a person with a
considerable number of close relationships. I get so attached to the individuals
in my life, bonding with so many yet still experiencing deep within the soul an
emptiness and isolation that lingers like London fog. I thrive on being close to
people, yet the closeness scares me. It probably frightens me because I worry
they will go away someday and this fragile heart will be slashed yet again.
The ironic thing about
all of this is that on the exterior, I seem to be a very "together"
kind of person. Those who know me describe me as highly organized, motivated,
successful, confident, strong, the one who always comes to peopleís emotional
rescue, a friend to all. But no one knows that at the core of my being lies a
scared little girl whose soul constantly pines for mommy. That assortment of
inadequate feelings described in the above paragraph remains invisible to the
outside world. The emotional security and wholeness I seem to possess are merely an
illusion. In this regard, I am The Great Pretender. How could I possibly let on
that I really feel like an incomplete human being, almost a species of another
sort because my mother died when I was a child? Nobody would understand anyway
-- best to keep it a closely-guarded secret. Just let them think youíve got
life all under control, and everything will be fine.
A profound loss I feel
is the inability to share a friendship with my Mom in adulthood. From what I
knew of her during those 11 years we were together, I know she and I would have
become the best of friends. In fact, I have recently discovered that I look for
her qualities in my friendships and bond closely with people who are
characteristically similar. There are so many things I want to ask her. Though
we were close, I deeply sense the loss of not getting to know this wonderful
woman on an adult level. She remains somewhat of a mystery to me, and I must
piece her personality together through distant memories, photographs and movies,
and the tidbits of information accumulated through relatives and friends. I
canít just pick up the phone and ask for advice or feel the warmth of being
wrapped in her arms when I need encouragement. She wasnít there to share the
excitement of her daughter falling in love. She wasnít there to see me walking
proudly down the aisle in her wedding dress.
On a more positive
note, I feel blessed to have had such an incredible mother, even if it was only
for 11 years. And my Dad took such good care of me in that difficult role as a
single parent, even treating me to a trip to the Azores Islands two months after
her death to see the house she was born in and to meet my great-grandmother so I
could connect with Momís past. He is an absolutely marvelous father, and I
could never had made it this far without him as my anchor. In time he married a
friend of the family, and a year later I had a new baby brother. Iím
fortunate, too, that my stepmom has given me so many wonderful gifts -- a
reconstructed family, love, and the joy of seeing my Dad happily in love again
and so well taken care of. To this day they are "soul mates."
(Note: Sadly, 16 months after I wrote this, my father passed away on December 2, 1999. See
on Grief and Loss for what that ordeal of grief has taught me.)
Despite the deep wound
motherless daughterhood has inflicted upon me, I have managed to find happiness
and live a full life with no regrets. I honestly have to say that what has saved
my life and kept me sane all these years is the support and connection of my Dad
and relatives, my extraordinary husband, and my friends; being involved in a
special volunteer work, and the dream I have of seeing my Mom again.
In this vivid dream,
Iím gardening in the back yard and a familiar voice says "You missed a
weed right there." I turn and itís HER! Now vibrant in health, sheís as
beautiful, jovial, and loving as always. We scream in delight and hug each other
and cry and laugh for an hour. Then I say "Mommy, I want you to meet my
wonderful husband Jody, and your grandchildren! Letís go in the house!"
Our walk up the path is intercepted by the bouncing lioness and her cubs which
frequently play with our family in the yard. My husband has cooked up a fabulous
dinner and bathed the children because he watched the reunion from the upstairs
window and wanted everything to be just right. We come inside and Mommy
ecstatically hugs and kisses everyone as we all snuggle on the oversized sofa
and exchange stories of childhood and the changes the years have brought during
the time she was asleep in death. She knows why the lions donít harm the
children and why her new heart beats strong. She learned about this back in the
early 1970ís. She gazes at the sun setting on the horizon, as the brilliant
colors reflect off both the sea and her tear-stained face, and thanks God above
for His magnificent grace. And we all live happily ever after. Only, surprise!
-- this is no mere utopian dream that consoles me in the night. This will
someday come true. Serious students of the worldís best-selling book, the Bible, are
comforted by the picture it paints of the future, when "the lion will eat
straw just like the bull ... and a mere little boy will be leader over them ...
no resident will say ĎI am sickí ... all those in the memorial tombs will
hear his voice and come out ... death will be no more, neither will mourning nor
outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away." (Isaiah
11:6-9; 33:24; John 5:28; Revelation 21:4). In the words of John Lennonís song
Imagine, "You may say Iím a dreamer, but Iím not the only one. I
hope someday youíll join us, and the world will live as one." This is the
solid hope we cling to and stake our lives upon. Weíll all have to pinch
ourselves to believe we are really living this dream.
© Copyright August 10, 1998 to present, by Deborah McGeorge, St. Augustine, Florida
observations on grief and loss