In the Letting Go: Words to Heal the Heart on the Death of a Mother [NOOK Book]


"A mother is she who can take the place of all others, but whose place no one else can take." -Cardinal Mermillod

When a mother dies, often the center of the family is gone. The holiday rituals, the special birthday celebrations for children and grandchildren--the memories are often held by the mother. A mother is a caretaker, a best friend, a source of sage-like wisdom. Losing her can be a traumatic experience.

In the Letting Go is not a guide through the stages of grief. ...

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In the Letting Go: Words to Heal the Heart on the Death of a Mother

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"A mother is she who can take the place of all others, but whose place no one else can take." -Cardinal Mermillod

When a mother dies, often the center of the family is gone. The holiday rituals, the special birthday celebrations for children and grandchildren--the memories are often held by the mother. A mother is a caretaker, a best friend, a source of sage-like wisdom. Losing her can be a traumatic experience.

In the Letting Go is not a guide through the stages of grief. Instead, it acts as a place of refuge for your memories and emotions. It is a space where you are invited to discover solace through the experiences and feelings of others-simple or profound.

A collection of quotations, poems, ancient proverbs, and stories from the likes of Winston Churchill, Madeleine L'Engle, and Jonathon Lazear himself, this book acts as a companion to your grief whenever and wherever you might need it.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781609257057
  • Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
  • Publication date: 3/1/2006
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,338,149
  • File size: 433 KB

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In the Letting Go

Words to Heal the Heart on the Death of a Mother


Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 1994 Jonathon Lazear
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-705-7



Loss. It is at once different for everyone, and yet the same. As Maya Angelou says, "We are human. Human beings are more alike than unalike."

But this first morning I wake, after my mother has died at a little past two A.M., I am numb. I have slept late; my wife has returned from taking the children to school, and so here we are, together, looking at one another. My first inclination is to call my father, to make certain he's "okay." I had said goodnight to him at about four A.M., but now it is nearly ten, and I am afraid of how I will find him.

I call, and am relieved to hear his voice. He tells me he has begun calling those who were close to my mother. There are few left. She died just short of her eighty-second birthday, and, I am reminded many times, most of her contemporaries, friends, and family members of the same generation are gone. Those are people she had to mourn, to grieve over, to say good-bye to.

I feel the need, and I believe so many of us do, to take care of my father. They were together some sixty years. I begin the arduous task of submerging my grief, anger, guilt—my sense of loss.

I have begun my role as caretaker.

There's a real cliché that is prevalent, and, I think, potentially damaging. It tells us that we should "get busy" after a loss. Go back to work; become immersed in the day-today routine.

Getting busy is denial in action. If you fill your days with appointments, obligations, meetings, and deadlines, you'll successfully bury your sorrow—but you'll later harvest more anguish than you can believe.

I've actually heard survivors say, "I just don't have time to think about it, and that's good."

The best thing to do is feel. You need to take that first step, and it's probably the most painful step you'll ever take. You have to face your mother's death; you have to admit your loss and remember what she meant to you, including your disappointments, your sorrows, your anger. Only after this step will you be able to take others.

"Death came very easily to her. She had lived such an innocent and loving life of service to others and held such a simple faith, that she had no fears at all and did not seem to mind very much."


My friend Bob began confronting his loss over a long period of time. His mother's fight to conquer her cancer was so protracted that Bob felt his loss, little by little, over two and a half years.

The days his mother raged against her pain, her surgeries and her chemotherapy never allowed Bob to begin the process of saying good-bye. While he wanted her to do battle with this disease, he also knew it could never be won.

His grief began before his mother died. He felt her lost her some months before her actual passing. So determined was she to win, she began to deny what was happening to her. This left Bob and his brother to either confront her with the reality of her terminal illness, or to join her in denial. Bob's grief began when he started to see that her self-delusion wouldn't save either of them.

"A man never sees all that his mother has been to him until it's too late to let her know that he sees it."


It has been nearly a year since my mother's death. I want to become "unstuck," as some professional grief counselors put it; being "stuck" is the need to play the same memory tapes over and over that retain the same inner messages—

If only I had ... If we had just another ... I hope she knew ... Wouldn't she have loved ...

"My mother nearly smothered me with love." Joan is angry and frightened, and she doesn't know what to do about her mother's sudden death.

"She controlled me from birth until yesterday. Yes, I loved her, but I had no idea that she has such a hold on me. Now I feel almost betrayed, like she dropped me into the ocean and said, 'Swim.'

"I don't know where to begin with this grief business, because I guess I'm just too angry to face it yet. Why did she have to be on top of me all the time?

"We fought, but it always got resolved. Now she's really abandoned me, and I'm feeling really lost."

"People are like puzzles, and when somebody special dies, there's a feeling that those particular pieces will never be assembled again—that particular picture is gone."


"Death is as casual—and often as unexpected—as birth. It is as difficult to define grief as joy. Each is finite. Each will fade."


Their repeated memories became enshrouded in a web of self-imposed isolation. This act of self-flagellation gets us nowhere—which sometimes is exactly where we want to be. But what of the rest of our lives? Would our mothers not have wanted us to carry on, to be happy?

"A mother understands what a child does not say."


"We just lost Mom, and after almost two years of taking care of her, I feel relieved and feel guilty for feeling relieved."

Those were the words of Nancy, our friend who, with the help of her brother, had taken turns looking after their Alzheimer's-afflicted mother. It wasn't just relief she was feeling. Nancy was also angry and hurt. After all the time and effort of taking care of her mother, at the expense of caring for her family and herself, her mother would never be able to thank her or realize how devoted Nancy had been. Their roles of caretaking had shifted. Nancy's guilt and anger and relief were intermixed with her feelings of loss.

At first, I want to talk about my mother—even the details, her last days, hours, minutes. I think this is because I'm supposed to be one of the "enlightened" ones regarding loss and mourning and grief and "processing" feelings. But now it is too hard. I see my father, my sister, brother, relatives, and friends. At the funeral I have successfully submerged my profound sadness. I no longer want to talk about her, reminisce, look at old photographs, even reenter my parents' apartment. It is too hard. And it really should be. I will talk about her and confront her death when I can.

"At first, we just walked—together. As I look back, when she first joined me, I shifted from wandering to walking. At the time, I was barely conscious of her being at my side, and yet, I did know that someone had joined me. I was aware of a presence walking with me. Still, in the engulfing enormity of my pain, I could only respond inwardly with integrity, and those walks were my time not to have to care for others' grief. She did not seem to need response, so I gave none. We walked in silence. After a time, we walked in companionable silence. There was no need for anything to pass between us. We were alone, together."


"Mother died today, or maybe it was yesterday."


The finality of my mother's death really does not sink in. Because there were periods of time when I did not see her, her absence from my day-to-day life does not seem abnormal.

"When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part."


By nature, I'm an emotional loner. For a variety of reasons, so many of us are the same with respect to showing our sadness as well as our happiness.

But something odd happened to me. At the funeral home, when relatives and friends came to visit, I was open with them; I allowed them in. I needed them; I needed to hear what they said about my mother, and somehow, and for some reason, for once, I did not turn away, but instead began to feel a connectedness with others in the room. I realized all of us were grieving, and we all needed one another.

"Had Julie not been deceased, it was a funeral she would have loved.

"The minister, in her desperate struggle for an analogy of comfort, said to her three sons sitting rigid in the front row, 'Think of your mother as the spirit leaving the body. The shell is here, but the nut is gone.'

"The organist forgot the music and the only song she knew by heart was 'The Days of Wine and Roses.'

"And her middle son, Steve, flew in from school with only the shoes on his feet ... a pair of red, white, and blue Adidas with stars that glowed in the dark, which he wore with a three-piece brown suit.

"It was hard to believe Julie was dead, at forty-eight, the victim of a 'kind' cancer that acts quickly and with accuracy."


"The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."


In some ways, we lose our way when our mothers pass on. We may have jobs, obligations, social functions that must be attended; but when our mothers are gone, suddenly we're rudderless.

Our world, when Mother dies, is upside down. Our emotional equilibrium is threatened, and most of us don't understand why we're adrift for so many reasons.

Mother was everywhere. We sought her assurances and acknowledgments in the most peripheral ways. We miss her for reasons we don't understand.

After all, we were barely able to see when hers was the hand that rocked our cradles. We do go on, though, and remembering her love is what keeps us going.

In the days following my mother's death, I adopt the same erratic rasping cough she had the last few days of her life. To my ears, it is identical. I wonder how I could mimic the sound of it, how completely I had taken it on, as if I were somehow extending her life by imitating her. Later I learn that this phenomenon is not unusual. Often people who are very close with the deceased have "unexplained" components of the illness that befell their loved one. It's called sympathetic illness. I am surprised by this, but in an odd way, I'm comforted by it, too.

"Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden, Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to set still Even among these rocks. Our peace in his will And even among these rocks Sister, mother, And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea. Suffer me not to be separated And let my cry come unto 'Thee.'"


Losing Mother has meant, among many things, that the remaining family, my father, my sister, and my brother, must now come together, if only figuratively. We now share an undeniable experience: we have lost a mother; my father, his wife.

We all feel the loss differently. She was a different person for each of us. Looking at us as honestly as I can, I see that she left behind three extremely different children. But now we share the commonality of grief; now we are forced to reflect on what we've lost and what the loss means to us.

I cannot dictate how my brother should feel, nor can I expect my sister's bereavement to echo mine. I do hope this inevitable tragedy brings us closer together.

"Grant me the ability to be alone; May it be my custom to go outdoors each day Among the trees and grasses, Among all growing things And there may I be alone, And enter into prayer To talk with the one That I belong to."




Although I do not know why, and perhaps never will, one of my siblings had not been in touch with my mother at all for over two years before her death.

I don't now whether it was because of fear—seeing Mother deteriorate—or because of denial, but it hurt those of us who remained in contact with her.

Mother never got to say good-bye—nor did they even share a "last" conversation.

I believe that my family member who was aloof and unreachable during those years probably suffers silently, secretly, now.

The death of our mother is a major change, one that brings about a profound change in our lives.

We do so well with denial, and death is one of the "events" in our lives that we're quick to turn from. If we know it's coming soon, we face the other way. If we are taken by surprise by an "untimely" death, then we can easily fall into denial coupled with anger.

"Right now that word 'joy' may choke you.... For anyone, newly grieving, to take even this first step is as difficult as learning to walk for the first time. You are, in fact, back at the beginning of learning to live again, to function, to participate in life. You are learning to live the second part of your life, so be patient with yourself."


"The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well."


This vague otherworldly feeling must be similar to what is known as "going into shock" as a result of an accident. Days, even weeks after her death, I don't have the same self-awareness that I normally do. I feel out of body, an onlooker; I feel like an observer, not a participant. Secretly, I know that this is another way of distancing myself from the reality of her death.

"Each person has his own safe place—running, painting, swimming, fishing, weaving, gardening. The activity itself is less important than the act of drawing on your own resources."


I do not think I have consciously decided to prolong my bereavement. In fact, I'm fairly aware of how I want to move through the stages of grief. But things remembered pull me back, causing depression and suffering. The holidays are upon us, her favorite time of year.

I know I must not dwell on this, but I also know that, to some extent, I must give in to it. Part of my process is to allow myself to feel the grief, not just talk about it.

"Sorrows cannot all be explained away ... In a life truly lived, grief and loss accumulate like possessions."


"What restraint or limit should there be to grief for one so dear?"


You need to give yourself to grief. It does no good to deny it. It does no good to attempt to rationalize it, overthink it, intellectualize it.

You would not rise up from the pavement and go about your business after being hit head-on by a bus. The pretense of strength, willpower, or stoicism will protect you for a while but later, just when you think you're above and beyond it, grief will have its way. Then you will feel profoundly and suddenly alone. Not allowing the process to direct you in a natural healing way will create a festering and incapacitating isolation later.

"He sows hurry and reaps indigestion."


If I feel detached—and I've created a distance with reality on purpose—I know it is because I do not want to acknowledge her absence. Still, in middle age, I want to feel the buffer, certainly imagined, but real to me, that she created for me. She was my protector, my comforter, my ally. I feel adrift when I begin to acknowledge her death. But I am still numb, and try to hide behind the numbness, and let this strange limbo take over, like a mist, like a fog.

"I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of."


This is hard. One of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I'm supposed to be well equipped to deal with emotional upheaval. I know how to cope.

But I find myself going inward, gradually creating a silent emotional habitat. Strength is a virtue, we've all been told. So be strong; remain stoically silent. Hide your bereavement and it will go away.

I know this is a damaging thing I'm doing. It causes a decaying of the healthy coping I've tried to adopt and practice. So each day now, I try to express my grief in outward ways. I read about loss, or I look at family photographs, or I go to sleep with pleasant memories of my mother, from earlier days, when we didn't think of losing one another.

"Beware the easy griefs that fool and fuel nothing."


"Half our mistakes in life arise from feeling where we ought to think, and thinking where we ought to feel."


I feel like I'm operating on two levels: One is the outward me—the one I project to those close to me. It's cordial and reserved. The second level is the dark harbor I have been left with—my point of view of the world is now totally skewed. I feel withdrawn, aloof, almost watching my own life from above. I believe this atmosphere of detachment comes from anger and denial. But now it is a vivid, memorable feeling.

Excerpted from In the Letting Go by JONATHON LAZEAR. Copyright © 1994 Jonathon Lazear. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2007

    Healing from the death of my Mother in October 2006

    This book by Jonathon Lazear is a collection of thoughts and quotes that were very useful in helping me work through the grief of losing my mother...Thanks, Jonathon!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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