It’s OK to Miss Mom

“You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?”  ― Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

I stopped by a colleague’s office to grab the jacket I had left at her house the weekend before. We talked about the upcoming Christmas holidays and our plans for the time-off. The conversation turned a little poignant as we talked about families and loss and how difficult the holidays are for those who have recently lost parents, children, spouses and those they held dear to them.

She lost her mother to breast cancer about three years ago. Her father has recently met someone new and while she (my friend) is happy for him, there are moments of awkwardness as she embraces this new normal.  She acknowledges the difficulty in seeing her father with his new partner, and though no one can replace her mother, she inherently feels a little betrayed (for the lack of a better word) as he moves on in this new phase of life.

My friend’s children are very young. Her mother had only started enjoying time with her grandchildren and relishing her role as a grandmother before cancer robbed her of that joy. As a daughter, my friend misses those shared moments with her mom, especially around the holidays when every one reminds you of the importance of family. While she looks forward toward Christmas, it’s difficult for her to watch her father’s significant other playing with her kids, buying them gifts and sleeping in what used to be her mother’s bed. Things that her mother isn’t able to do because she was taken away from this life far too soon.

She feels the need to “get over it” and “move on” and be supportive of her father. But the truth is, she misses her mother in ways that I can’t understand (at least not yet). Watching her struggle with the words (and tears) to explain herself, I found myself telling her that there was absolutely no reason to be upset or frustrated about wishing her mother was here to share these moments with her grandchildren.

And that it’s perfectly alright to feel this continued sense of loss as she watches this “other woman” play with her children, as if they were her own grandchildren. I simply told her that it was OK to feel that sense of hollowness when you miss someone so much that it absolutely makes your heart ache just thinking about it; even if time has passed and people expect you to move on and be grateful for what you have. After all, they had a relationship that spanned over 60 years before her mother passed away.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with missing your mother or wanting her here.”

Why shouldn’t she want her mother here to share in the joys of her grandchildren? The holidays are rough enough on those of us who have dealt with or are dealing with loss this past year, that we forget how deeply loss can effect us when we least expect it. Like my friend today, as she heads into the holiday season, missing her mother even though it’s been three years. Who put a timeline on loss and mourning anyway? 

Part of societal norms in the United States dictate that we quickly move on from loss, but where I’m from; loss is recognized in ceremony and in some ways, honored through tradition. When my grandmother passed away, we shed tears, had a service at church, buried her and spent the next three days in prayer, which then was followed by a memorial service 30-days later. Sounds overwhelming to the average American that’s used to the basic “in and out” funeral tradition, but it’s important part of how we recognize loss in our families and the significance of celebrating their lives after they are gone. As the holiday season approached that year, we didn’t put up a Christmas tree and decorations were kept to a minimum. It signified the loss we had that year and that time of mourning even though months had past since my grandmother had passed away. Obviously, we do “move on” because you simply don’t have the choice to stay in that constant state of grief, but by recognizing that loss in a way that’s meaningful to those who are left behind, it allowed us to mourn for them even when we missed them at times of emotional significance (birthdays, holidays, family gatherings).

[Not sure if this makes sense to anyone else, but it does to me.]

My friend shouldn’t feel any guilt about missing her mother. Shoot! We’re all allowed to miss our moms/dads/sisters/brothers/husbands/wives even time had past beyond what society considered the average time of mourning and grieving. We’re allowed to get teary eyed at the sight of an old photo or memories of dinners around the table with our loved ones. She shouldn’t have to justify  the emotions that come from seeing her children with a surrogate grandparent who isn’t her biological mother.

[I know I’d have some pretty complicated feelings if my dad was seeing someone new after my mother’s death.]

I haven’t experienced the death of a parent, but I understand a little of how she feels because my parents are abroad and they literally – for the lack of a better description – live across the planet. There are times I simply miss my family and would rather share much of my joy, sadness, accomplishments and all that life throws at me with them, but I’m regularly forced to “move on.” I’m constantly reminded that “I made the choice to live abroad” and therefore, that somehow means I shouldn’t feel that sense of missing or loss as deeply.

[I won’t even speak of how pregnancy loss is treated because the “unborn” don’t matter except to those who have lost.]

I’m pretty certain my friend isn’t the only one feeling this way. The holidays magnify loss a hundred-times fold.  Still, it should be OK to miss your mom without having to explain why you miss your mom or the complicated emotions that come with realizing your dad has moved on without your mother.

[Alright, so I got a little lost at the end here. It’s 1:48 a.m. and it’s possibly I may have rambled a little.]