I remember it like yesterday. I woke up to my father sobbing and my life was changed forever. The pain I felt at the realization that my mom was gone was inexplainable. I knew I was going to miss her, but the reality of her death was a stab in the heart, like a piece of me was gone.
I had just turned twenty when my mom died, but at her death I felt like my thirteen-year-old self finding out that she had cancer for the first time. I’m grateful my mother didn’t die when I was thirteen, but I needed her just as much at twenty. In her book Motherless Daughters, I found Hope Edelman’s knowledge of mother loss as a twentysomething insightful and relatable.
If adolescence is all about forming an identity, the 20s are about taking the identity and putting it to use in the larger world. That’s why a woman who loses her mother at this time may well be the most overlooked and misunderstood daughter of all. She’s the one most likely to be living outside the home, already caring for herself or for a family of her own — which also makes her the most likely to feel frustrated and confused when the loss of a mother reduces her to an emotional puddle.
Although I was still living at home when my mom passed, I was already at this stage of life. My mother’s death set me back a bit, but it forced me to find a purpose and motivation without her. It was my life and no one could live it for me. But I still didn’t want to live it without my mom around.
Twentysomething daughters often leap ahead to imagine the secondary losses — no one to help plan a wedding, no one to consult about child rearing, no grandmother for the kids — they envision as long-term effects of mother loss. This is a scenario ripe for idealization. The mother who bandaged an eight-year-old’s knee probably would not, if she had lived been able to fix an 18-year-old daughter’s heartbreak, or stop the pain of a 26-year-old daughter’s labor, yet that is the mother we long for, the only one we can remember, and the one who we desperately want.
Thankfully my mother and I talked about family, marriage, and children while she was alive, but there was no way she could know what my life would be like now or what I would go through after she left. There is so much I wish I could share with my mom, the good, the bad and the ugly. I would give anything just to talk with her again, but she can no longer speak into my life. Instead, I try to honor what she taught me and reach out to others who can help guide me through this stage of life.
I didn’t expect to miss my mom more in college and I really haven’t. Sure, I don’t have a mom to call with life questions or updates like my roommates, but it always feels like she is back home in Oregon and I am just really bad at communicating. In all honesty, it doesn’t bother me to see others love on their moms. In fact I find it encouraging. So many don’t have a relationship with their mothers for whatever reason or don’t appreciate them the way they should.
This Mother’s Day, I encourage you to think of what your life would be like without your mother. It should drive you to appreciation but also compassion toward the motherless.
Although this song by Lukas Graham is about the loss of his father, it still hits home for me. You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.