That’s a heavy word and a challenging thing to experience. But , unfortunately, as humans, we all do. We all experience loss at some point in our lives, and grief is a natural response to loss.
This word may sting because you may have been hit by the death of a loved one. Maybe you’ve experienced a miscarriage or have struggled with infertility. Or, ended a relationship with someone you loved. Or, watched your parents go through an ugly divorce. There are many things we can list that bring on grief, and each one of those things becomes part of our journey.
For me, my great loss is the relationship I have with my mom. It has been challenging for me to get this post started because I don’t want to air out my dirty laundry on the world wide web, and I definitely don’t want anyone to be hurt or offended. The more I have thought about this, the more it weighs on me that I need to share this story because it’s mine and maybe it can help someone else who is going through a similar situation.
Growing up, I felt emotionally distant from my mom. I felt that other things took a priority in her life, and that priority was not me. When I was in middle school, things took a turn for the worst when my mom underwent a major life-changing surgery. She changed. It had changed her because her maladaptive coping skills changed from one thing to another. Unfortunately, the other was alcohol and prescription drugs. When I think back to that time, my life was filled with turmoil. It was chaotic, and I was fighting to survive. Sometimes, even though I am in a much different place in my life, I feel like I am back there in the mess. Growing up with a disconnect and complicated relationship with my mom was very traumatic, and it’s one of my greatest losses today.
I started to work through this loss (that I didn’t even know was a loss at the time), when I was in my early years of college. I wanted so incredibly badly to have a good and healthy relationship with my mom. To me, that would look like her asking about and taking an interest in my life. It would mean that I could be her daughter and not a caretaker. The relationship would be encouraging, supportive, and imperfect. However, the more and more I held on to that desire, the more and more I was disappointed. I wanted this “good relationship” more than anything, but at that time in my life, I couldn’t make it happen. One day in therapy, with the help of my therapist, I came to the conclusion that my mom cannot be who I need her to be. The grief that poured over me in that moment was intense. It was literally the hardest thing I have had to accept in my life, but accepting it has saved my life.
What has followed from this acceptance includes many years of grief. I had to let go of the expectations I had (have) for my mom and our relationship, knowing she could never be who I needed her to be (because of addiction). That was and still is painful, but taking on grief as it comes helps me to accept it. It’s especially difficult for me this time of year as my birthday approaches, and holidays are difficult. When I see a healthy mother/daughter relationship, the pain of loss creeps in. Thankfully, I am blessed with strong, beautiful women who have helped me to grow stronger throughout the years. Those women include, but are not limited to:
my Aunt Linda
my Aunt Chris
Mike (not a woman, but a supporter and encourager all the same) and Becky
and Cindy, my mother-in-law
They have shown me unconditional love throughout the years, and I definitely would not be who I am without them.
It’s been years since I talked to my mom. She didn’t come to our wedding even though she was invited. I think about her often and pray that she is doing well. I have heard from others that she is in recovery, which is a huge accomplishment. However, our relationship remains estranged. I have accepted it as that. Can things change? Absolutely, but I am not holding on to that as an expectation, and to me, that’s OK. Please don’t tell me what you think I should or should not do in the situation. A lot of well intentioned people have given me unsolicited advice. Trust me, I have thought about all of the possible scenarios, and your judgement and unsolicited advice won’t help me or our relationship heal.
When someone can’t be who you need them to be, it’s a loss. It incites grief, sometimes lifelong grief. What I have learned is acceptance is key to healing, and God provides in the midst of loss. It’s OK to let go, and it’s OK to feel the loss. It’s even more important that when you do let go to have a support system that can carry you forward. You don’t have to experience loss and grief alone.
That’s something we all have. It takes both of these things to keep going after a loss. If you are in the midst of a loss right now, I hope you find the strength to get through the most challenging days and the courage to show up and be seen in all your truth, pain and all.