Question from a reader…

A friend recently lost her mother and I think it sparked a grieving process in me. It’s as if my own mother was dead, the mother I always wished I had. My mother is, of course, alive and well and we continue to have a very difficult relationship. We live in different countries (my choice) so the situation is not as overbearing as it would be if we lived closer.

I have two small children and I wanted them to have a relationship with their maternal grandmother. Even though my mother “means well” she’s unable to have a constructive relationship with them. She emulates them so that they will relate to her. I am finding this stage of our relationship quite challenging and exhausting, too.

My question though is this: am I grieving because I have come to accept that things will never change? And if so, what is the next stage? How do I carry on after this stage of grief? I’m hoping it will get better and lighter for me, but I’m just feel a bit muddled right now to be able to see clearly.

Dear you…

It is normal to grieve the loss of a mother who is still living…the loss of the relationship you never had…the loss of the hope that it could be different. It is also one of the healthiest things you can do.

That said, our culture, while changing, tends not to understand or support the idea that an adult daughter might #1 struggle in her relationship with her mother and then #2 grieve the loss of something that never really existed in the first place. It doesn’t fit in with what we want to be true. It’s not simple. It doesn’t “make sense.”

It’s been my experience that there is lightness on the other side of grief, but not 24/7/365 lightness forever and ever.

You are human. You are built to experience the full range of human emotion. The lightness comes from allowing the darkness. It may seem simplistic to say, but just like you can not have “up” without “down,” you can not have “light” without “dark.”

You may fear your so-called negative emotions because you might believe those emotions prove something (bad) about you. Or that they will somehow overcome you if you don’t “control” them.

Grief is an important part of the process of healing, whether she’s alive or not.

It frees up energy that is attached to what has been lost so you can direct it elsewhere and create something new (with her or without her).

It also allows you to have a more authentic relationship with her (whether you see her or not) and most importantly, yourself.

Give yourself the gift of allowing it. Be gentle with yourself. Be curious about your experience of it. And don’t judge yourself or your process.

Trust yourself to feel it.

As you expand your capacity to feel and process your grief, you will increase your resilience, and your ability to feel joy and light.

On a more practical level, it’s always good to remember the five stages of grief as described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:

  • Denial: when faced with loss, thinking, “it’s no big deal.”
  • Anger: how could she? look at what I missed out on! look at what I endured.
  • Bargaining: if only… (a way to deny or resist the grief)
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Acceptance: your story no longer stands on you and causes suffering

It’s an imperfect process, for sure, but it’s how you learn to truly trust yourself. And you’re worth your own time, love, and attention.

Much, much love,

Karen

P.S. Speaking of grief…those of you who have been with me for some time will remember the experience I shared when my husband’s ex-wife died. It’s a story that just wouldn’t quit me. I wrote and re-wrote it over and over and over again, trying to do it justice, wanting to be as honest as possible, and wanting to honor the truth knowing that the truth never creates suffering. Not to mention that I kept learning. I have long believed that there are some lessons we can only learn when someone dies. That’s what makes them so powerful. Now my gratitude for Elizabeth and the lessons she taught me have reached an audience far larger. Please take a moment to read How I Made Amends With My Husband’s Dying Ex-Wife at oprahmag.com