I am a changed person. Extraordinarily different than who I was before this healing journey began, before God gave me the chance to mourn my mom. I’m entirely different than the person I was a year ago, even months ago. Yes, the change is so great that it is surprising even to me. As I have faced the trials in my life head-on, I have come to know my God more and more. But I have also come to realize just how much He knows me, something that I hope I never stop learning. He knows me. He knows me greatly. And that has changed me as a person in profound ways. Being known by God has made me capable of things that I have never been capable of before. As I have seen how I have been known by God, I have also come to know myself so much more deeply than I ever have before. And I like all of these changes. They are a result of my God’s all-sufficient grace that He has demonstrated over and over again in my life. They are a result of the gift of suffering–yes, gift. It is a gift. Aside from my personal salvation, the number one thing in my life that I am most thankful for is the gift that God gave me of mourning my mom, of standing in the midst of complete brokenness in that valley of the dry bones. Oh, I am so thankful! It makes me cry with joy even as I write this. Yes, it has been a supreme gift of grace given by my loving God.
As those in my life can testify, this healing journey has taken so many twists and turns, many that I never expected or could have ever anticipated. And I am thankful for all of it. My life could not have gone on without this time of mourning my mom. I am much more aware than I ever have been before that there are many people out there, especially girls who have lost their mothers, that are never able to mourn. They are too afraid to give into those feelings. And not giving into them can be more damaging than the pain of doing so. The only way to lead a healthy life that is open to future possibilities, whatever they are, is to first go to that broken place.
At the suggestion of my counselor, I did a search for books about young girls who have lost their mothers. She encouraged me to read these books so that I could begin to distinguish between the parts of me that are the way they are as a result of this thing that has happened to me, versus the personality traits within me that are just me. The answer: both. I am me as a result of this thing that has happened to me and because of the unique way that God made me. However it has allowed me to deconstruct certain aspects of my personality to realize why I am the way that I am. The book that I read is entitled Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman. It is a suggestion I would make for a girl or woman of any age that has lost her mother, but specifically for girls in their twenties and younger. There is a lot that I resonated with in this book. Although I do have to say before I dive deeper into this book, that it left me just as equally unfulfilled as it did fulfilled. No one out there yet, as far as I can find, has written the book about girls that lose their mothers before they ever got to know them (perhaps that will be my job). And it is a completely different situation than those girls who had lived many years with their moms before they died, or even just a few. It is completely different than those girls who have even just one memory. That being said, although reading this book led to a week of anxiety and heartbreak, it helped lead me to new heights as it normalized so much about what I feel inside and about this journey that I have been on. I cried after reading the very first page, and many other times throughout the book. But it has radically changed how I see certain parts of my mom’s death, and my life as result.
For the first time, it made sense to me why the mourning doesn’t ever truly end. This three-year journey that I have been on has been the height of my grief and healing for my mom. It was the first time that I was ready to grieve. And although there will continue to be moments of my life when I will once again have to grieve my mom, I know that those moments will not be like these last three years. Yet, as the author states, “When a mother dies, a daughter’s mourning never completely ends…it is a lifelong process of accommodation and acceptance. Everything. It affects everything. 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.” The author talks about why the grief of losing a mom as a young girl becomes cyclical throughout one’s life. Part of it is because as children, we are not developmentally capable of dealing with loss and grief in the way that an adult does. Therefore as we age, we grieve in stages as we reach each new developmental stage of our lives, and also because each new developmental task reawakens the daughter’s need for her mother. “At each milestone, a daughter comes up against new challenges that make her long for a mother’s support, but when she reaches out for her, the mother isn’t there. The daughter’s old feelings of loss and abandonment return, and the cycle begins again.” It helps me understand why I wasn’t able to grieve until three years ago. It helps me understand while in England especially, I had to reconcile for the first time the fact that my mom has never been there, and she never will be. I was mourning what I had lost, and for the first time I was also mourning what never will be.
I have also learned so much about the person that I am, and why I am that way. As the author states, “When everything is gone all at once, you cannot bend your mind around the idea that fast. There’s been such an assault on the way you’ve conceptualized your world, which includes that person. And especially with your mother. Your mother is your mother. How can she not be here?” That happened to me at an age when I was too young to understand where she went, and too young for anyone to explain it to me. I had to deal with it completely on my own–this abandonment. Because that is what happened to me, I was abandoned. Definitely not willingly, but still in an instant left without the single most important person in my life. This is where my fierce independence comes from–my dependence on independence. My self-reliance and resiliency. Because I had to deal with this loss completely on my own even at eleven months old, and I adopted a response to the world because of that. The most secure part of my life was taken away without any warning. The fact that I am independent to a fault makes complete sense to me as a result of that. I learned far too young what loss is, something that children who grow up without losing a parent cannot even conceptualize until they pass through adolescence and tend to distance themselves from their parents, and still not in the same way. “To be a motherless daughter is to live with the awareness of a presence, but not a physicality. Something is missing, yes. But we must not forget that something has been given to us, too. To be a motherless daughter is to be riddled with paradoxes and contradictions, to live with an eternally unresolved longing, but it is also to know the grit of survival, to hold an insight and maturity others did not obtain so young, and to understand the power of renewal and rebirth.”
There is so much more in this book that I truly resonated with, such as the quest to learn as much as possible about the person that was lost, which is especially true of children who have lost a mother at a very young age, and even more so to murder and acts of terror. It talked about anxieties that children develop, the desire for a mothering figure. Yet mostly what I got out of this book is an awareness of how protected I have been by God my whole entire life, especially from that dark day nearly twenty-four years ago and on. There were so many difficult stories that were shared throughout this book, and so many things that I never had to deal with. So many daughters that lose their mothers end up losing their fathers too as they cannot cope with the death of their wives, instead drowning their sorrows in habit-forming ways, entering deep depressions, or immediately remarrying and not allowing the daughter to mourn or even speak of her mother. I side-stepped so many things that others had to deal with by the grace of God and the gift of my wonderful, amazing dad, whom I have always been eternally thankful for, but never more so than after reading this book. Because my dad stepped up in that very moment that I lost my mom. I have said it hundreds of times before, and I will never be able to fathom it. I don’t know how he got on a plane that day, right after she died, but he did it to come to me. Because she was supposed to come home to me that night. She would have come home and picked me up and held me in her arms of love. And suddenly she was never coming back. Yet my dad came to me. I had the loving arms of a parent around me that night, and although it will always kill me that it wasn’t my mom, I will always be equally grateful that it was him. And he has been there every moment since. I love him so much. So much.
Am I as I am–who I am, what I am, how I am–because my mother lived or because she died? Both. Always both. Our lives are shaped just as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. She is a part of me, in so many ways. And that is something else that God has been teaching me over these last few months, since that final release of my house. That will always be painful in many ways. Leaving that house was leaving the only physical representation I had of her, the only place that we were together. Yet I haven’t lost her. Not at all. Because she is in me, and that will never, ever change.
In the epilogue of the book, the author describes taking her family on a road trip to see the California Redwoods, something that she had seen in photographs that her mother had done. She actually stopped and took a picture in the same exact spot that her mom did years before she passed away. She mentions coming across young trees that are growing around a dead stump, which a park ranger explains to her is called the “circle of daughters.” This is what she has to say: “In the Redwood ecosystem, buds for future trees are contained in pods called burls, tough brown knobs that cling to the bark of the mother tree. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire–when, in other words, she dies–the trauma stimulates the burls’ growth hormones. The seeds release, the trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes them when she dies. They receive the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother’s root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above the ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.”
Oh yes, I understand that in every way.
Part of what has been difficult to digest in these last few weeks is the fact that I am no longer in this period of mourning. I am not. Honestly, I don’t now how to not be in mourning. I have been pretty good at it these last three years, but the winter season is over. I passed through that final door to this particular healing journey. I know that I will see it again in other ways throughout my life–when I finish graduate school and she isn’t there, when I get my first teaching job and I can’t probe her for questions about her first teaching job, when I get married and she isn’t there, when I have kids and she isn’t there. There will still be periods of mourning up ahead, especially as I miss out on that almost rite-of-passage that other girls have with their moms when they reach adulthood and the two form a friendship outside of their mother-daughter roles. My counselor asked me if I felt grieved about these instances of mourning that still await me, and my honest answer to her was no. I am not. This is the thorn in my flesh. This is what I have to live with for the rest of my life–the never-ending pain of missing her and constantly wanting her. But because of the past three years, I am capable of going forward with joy. I know that my God will see me through. I know that I am stronger than I have ever been before. I know that those future instances of missing her will never be as painful as what I have already experienced as I mourned her for the first time. Because I have found her as well, and she won’t ever be gone to me. I would never let that happen. And in a slightly twisted way, the pain shows me how great that love is, that bond between the two of us.
Yes, this is the thorn in my flesh, and I do not hate it. I will always hate that this happened to me, but I will not hate this thorn. Because I know that suffering and faith go hand-in-hand, and I know that what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I know that He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion. I rejoice in this thorn in my side because I have come to know God more fully as a direct result. I have learned the joy of difficult circumstances and the unique opportunities that they present to trust God in deeper ways than ever before. My suffering is a sign that I belong to Christ, of His power made perfect in weakness, of His all-sufficient grace, of contentedness despite my circumstances. Living amid life’s difficulties has taught me to trust God in such a way that I can confidently say that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Without this thorn, I honestly don’t know if I would realize how much I need Him. To quote a woman who shared her story in the book, “I’m sorry for different things that have happened to me, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The losses are so entwined in my life and so much a part of my personality and my maturing, and so much a part of the person I am today. And I like who I am today. It stinks that these things had to happen to me, but I can make the decision to let them be a plus or a minus.”
I am changed in every way. Even in the deepest parts of me. And I am now enabled to go forward in my life, with God’s leading and the promise of future blessings that will one day lead to the restoration of all that I have lost. That I know. There are now so many possibilities of what awaits me in the future that have never been there before, and it is because of this gift of mourning my mom. I’m looking forward now, ready to go on. This is in every way a part of me and always will be, yet I am ready to leave the pieces of it in the past, and journey forward with my God. As for what is up ahead? I guess we’ll have to stay tuned. I have no doubt that it will be exciting. It has always been exciting.