If you are an adult woman and have lost your mother, then you are mothering without a mother and it is hard work to be a mother for your children or to yourself. If your mother was nurturing, then you will sorely miss her and grieve for her, the example of her as a mother, and the simple fact that you can’t pick up the phone to tell her what is going on with your kids or your life.
Mother-loss is a profound and life-changing event. When she is gone, it can feel like there is an empty place that no one else can fill. It may feel really hard to believe that she is not there and take time for the grief to come in waves as it usually does. Mothering is a symbol of nurturing and wisdom. But of course your mother, or you, don’t often feel perfect in these roles. However, there is a lot of power in the feminine to care for and comfort. When your mother dies and you are an adult, you become the matriarch in your family, even when you don’t feel ready to take on this role.
If you don’t have children, losing your mother can prompt you to do so, if you are not past child bearing age and have the life circumstances to do so. And if you never have children, there is still the child in you who will miss your mother and need nurturing from you.
One way to find help is to reach out for support. Being a parent is the hardest job out there, and caring warm-hearted support can make a huge difference in renewing your energy for the tasks that don’t stop. This support can range from friends, other family, parent or grief support groups, or therapy.
Howard Thurman, an author and theologian speaks touchingly about support in his poem A Time for Sorrow.
He says in part:
I share with you the agony of your grief…
I can but offer what my love does give…
The strength of caring…
This I do in quiet ways,
That on your lonely path
You may not walk alone.
–Howard Thurman, from A Time for Sorrow
If you do not have a positive relationship with your mother, your own self concept as a woman and mother can be challenged. Women whose mothers were/are critical, verbally, physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive may have problems deciding how much contact they want to have with their mothers.
Many women who have difficult relationships with their mothers fear judgement from others, especially if there is estrangement in the relationship. However, it is becoming more understood in our society that sometimes taking care of yourself by setting limits on toxic relationships, even when they are your parents, is an acceptable thing to do.
If your mother was abusive, neglectful, or a combination of the two, it can be really hard to reinvent yourself as the nurturing mother you want to be. You may be grieving for yourself and what you missed out on. You may struggle with how to become the parent you want to be or whether to even take the chance to have children of your own.
If you are estranged from your mother and she is ill or dying, it can be very hard to decide whether to become more involved with her in that process. Guilt can be a strong emotion in this complicated dynamic.
Getting support and learning how to take care of yourself are very helpful enterprises, especially support from others who are in the same situation. One online support group I discovered is about getting help if you have a parent with Borderline Personality Disorder.