Read an Excerpt
Remembering the Past
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
The first part of this workbook is devoted to recalling the past to gain insight for defining yourself and redefining your loss. Our memories provide history and continuity to our lives, linking the present with the past. We encourage you to get out the family photo album or go through the attic or basement where family mementos might be stored.
We begin by discussing the nature of grief, the different stages of mourning, and why it's important to address these issues, even if your mother's death seems like ancient history. The chapters then look back at your childhood, your mother's life, your relationship together, and the interactions of your family. These recollections are the first pieces of the puzzle, and they provide important information.
The exercises in these chapters are designed to activate your memory and stimulate you to review and reevaluate events from your past. We'll ask you to recall the facts and evoke images of yourself, your mother, and your family. If she died before you really got a chance to know her, we'll offer suggestions on how to get more information about her. We urge you to talk to people who knew you and her, to write about what you think and feel, and to dig deeper for answers and perhaps new questions.
Why Deal, Why Heal, Why Now?
Grief is, by its nature, unmanageable. The most we can do is respect its might and then ride it, like some towering wave, until it dumps us back on the shore.
Barbara Lazear Ascher
Rita's Story: My mother died of colon cancer in 1934, when Iwas fourteen. It wasn't until 1976 that the pain about my mother got so intense. I was already a widow. It was then I started to write about her. I was sitting there writing two paragraphs, but the pain was so awful that I felt like a teenager again. From fourteen to seventy-six is sixty-two years of being a motherless daughter.
Bonnie's Story: My mother died from lung cancer when I was nineteen. Today, two years later, I finally realized my mother is really gone. At first it was a shock, and I denied it. I tried to keep myself very busy with school and working. After blaming everything else for my unhappiness and emptiness, I am realizing that this sadness is because of my mother's death.
The Past's Claims upon the Present
Two months, two years, two decades, or morethe balm of time may heal the wound, but the scar never quite disappears. The death of a mother so early in her lifeand too early in ourschanges us forever. It hovers over our shoulder and haunts who we areour experiences, our emotions, our dreams. Yet how many of us have turned and looked directly at this shadow, acknowledging its presence in our lives? Though we may have gone through the motions of societal or religious rituals designed to help us come to terms with her dying and leaving, how many of us have truly grieved?
How could we? How could we know how deeply this loss would affect us? How could we know how much our lives would change? How could we know the awful ache we would feel on birthdays, holidays, days that take on meaning in our lives, and sometimes just on any day? As Fran says, "I think the big times I'll miss her are yet to come: getting married, having kids, things like that. Those are the biggies. That's when I'm going to wish that she were there."
In the days, months, and years after her death, who really wanted to hear about the hole in your heart? Mandy has recently begun to explore the aftereffects of her mother's death fifteen years ago. "I'm grieving in a time where the event happened, years ago," she explains. "People are like, why now? They don't understand this delayed grieving thing. It's like, you had your time, you had your six months that society gives you, and then you get a boot in the butt and go on with life. I skipped over mourning completely, and so did my whole family. But it's safe now. I'm out of my father's house, I have a job, a place to live, a life, and my mind is clearer. It's OK to be mad now."
The last time I felt I should be over my mother's death was:
What provoked that feeling was:
Yes, we were supposed to have gotten over all of this. So we didn't speak about it and cried in silence. We tried to explain but couldn't get our message through. We tried to ignore the sadness or drown it in excesses. We mourned as best we could at the time. We continue to mourn today.
In Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, psychologist J. William Worden writes, "There is a sense in which mourning can be finished and then there is a sense in which mourning is never finished." Worden cites a letter of Freud's to a friend, explaining that while "we know the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute."
Five Myths about Mourning
1.Grief and mourning always decrease over time.
2.After the death of a loved one, it's healthier to put them out of your mind.
3.Mourning is over in a year.
4.You mourn the death but nothing else.
5.Grief is only psychological.
In skimming through this workbook, you've already acknowledged the importance of opening this chapter in your life. Remember, healing is a gradual process. Slowly we learn how to accept and accommodate loss, in our own time, in our own way, at our own pace. Since each of ustake Rita and Bonnie, for examplewill be at different points along a very individual path, it's a good idea to figure out where you are on this journey without end but not without purpose. If you're nearer the beginning of this process, you're discovering how you've been affected by the loss of your mother. If you're further along, your focus may be on using your insights about the loss to reinvent your life.