Our Editor reflects on growing up without a mother and how life can change in just an instant.
It seems logical that for people who have grown up without a mother, Mother’s Day would be a time of reflection and possible pain, but for me, the other 364 days of the year are just as problematic. Little things can trigger the strangest reactions, and being caught off guard is often the trickiest part.
In an instant
I feel like people who have lost a mum or dad at a young age seem to automatically get drawn to one another. Or maybe it’s just a certain crop of us. Our (sometimes recklessly) carefree attitude leads like to attract like and, more often than not, we speak openly about what we’ve been through.
My parent-less friends and I have spoken often over the years about whether or not it’s easier if you lose your loved one in an instant or if you know they are going to pass. The truth is, there’s no easier way.
In 1994, just a few weeks after my 13th birthday, my mum died after suffering a major pulmonary embolism. We’d travelled from New Zealand to Perth to visit one of my sisters, and she’d been feeling unwell during the majority of our trip. Not long after our return, she was gone.
The thing is, how the heck is anyone prepared for a situation like that? As a teenager, so many things are new anyway, that this just seemed like another part of life. Of course, I knew that none of my other friends had been through this, but they had their own things: divorced parents, illness, coming to terms with adoption.
At the time, it felt like things moved quickly. My family all came home, so many flowers were delivered, the funeral was held, more flowers arrived, and then it was kind of over. We’d gone from a family of eight to just seven seemingly overnight.
My plans of going to the local college (I’d worked so hard to get my parents to let me stay in our small town rather than send me off to boarding school like my older siblings) vanished in an instant. In my last few months of primary school, I took on the role of chef while my dad and I muddled through life without her together. I hated when he tried to talk to me about her; it just felt so unreal.
Reminders of her
Moving on wasn’t as easy it seemed.
Things like growing older, Dad remarrying, and school got in the way. Then there was university, getting a job, moving across the world. But it was the reminders of her that always caught me off guard.
Whenever I smell Anais Anais perfume I’m reminded of going through all her perfumes and playing with her purple eyeshadow. When I see her beautiful handwriting or hear her voice on video, a lump starts in my throat. The sight of daffodils brings back memories of working on flower arrangements together.
Once, when I was working in a shoe shop, a mother and daughter were trying on winter boots together and I completely lost it. I had no idea why, but I needed to go out the back and hide for a while, unsure as to why I was weeping. It was really quite simple: I missed her.
Nobody teaches us how to grieve (but they should)
Life would be a lot easier if we added grief and grieving to the curriculum. It’s the one constant we’re assured of, the one thing humanity has been living with for years, yet we hardly talk about it at all.
I read once that grief isn’t just about loss. It’s not so much that they’re gone, but that the way you interact with them will never be the same.
Since my mum died, I’ve seen therapists in different parts of my adult life to talk about how her loss affected me. Sometimes, I wonder how my life would have changed if I’d been able to see a counsellor back when she first passed away. But I’m not going to spend too much time thinking about that.
Grief is continual. It’s not a period that happens and is done with. It’s ongoing; it changes over time, all 365 days of the year.