When a daughter loses a mother, the intervals between grief responses lengthen over time, but her longing never disappears. It always hovers at the edge of her awareness, prepared to surface at any time, any place, in the least expected ways. – Hope Edelman
Losing a mother forces upon you uncomfortable levels of maturity and independence with no time to truly adapt. Those of whose mums have passed become hardened because we feel abandoned by the one person that was supposed to take care of us forever. When your mother dies young, she takes with her your childhood and your choices are either to grow up really fast or crumble under the grief.
That was the ultimatum I faced when I was fifteen. I barely knew what it meant to function without my mum. So, what did I do? I grew up, switched off my emotions and went straight into survival mode. The hypervigilance and hyper-independence that already existed within me as a black woman became amplified x100. I thought if I could just keep moving, continually finding new areas to focus on that were outside of my grief, that eventually I would become numb to the pain.
Now in my early twenties, I’ve come to learn that grieving someone you love is not linear and the healing is never complete. I’m yet to fully make sense of the loss of my mother, or the way this tragedy shaped everything that came after it in my life. I simply find new ways to cope.
I still default to unhealthy defensive mechanisms to endure the pain sometimes- I throw myself into my work, indulge in codependent relationships while simultaneously keeping others that I love at a distance because I subconsciously fear losing others the way I lost my mum. The distress of her becoming ill and dying suddenly is a trauma burnt so deeply in me that almost everything I’ve done since has been an attempt at protecting myself from anything that might hurt me that way again. The irony is that I never stopped feeling the hurt in the first place.
I have, however, become skilled in self-soothing and distracting myself from the pain but on Mother’s day, that feels near impossible. Every advertisement, social media post and shop-window gift I encounter triggers me anew. And this horrible experience recurs year after year, culminating in a hellish and hollow Sunday of watching others enjoy and celebrate the one thing I long for the most. I try to “mentally prepare” but then the day comes and things don’t quite go how I expected. On Mother’s Day I feel conflicted and sad and angry and guilty all at once, while ashamed to express these feelings for fear of shitting on what is objectively a lovely day for others. Kate Spencer describes it perfectly in her article, “How I’m Making Mother’s Day My Bitch” where she wrote, ‘The world became a sea of mums who weren’t mine, and I drowned in sadness every time.’
If you’ve lost your mum and, like me, you were never really given a second to pause and digest what had happened, the feeling kind of just sits with you, as the years go by. As you go through the natural processes and progresses of life, you get to a point within yourself where you “accept” that she’s gone but you also recognise a part of her is still with you and will always live within you. What helps me the most is my faith, and the belief that, though I may not encounter my mother in this physical life ever again, she remains with me as an intuitive and spiritual guide; she shows up for me in the blessings that I experience daily. That warmth I sometimes feel in moments of gratitude pushes me to detach from the resentment I feel towards anything that reminds me of her loss. It makes me want to celebrate the life of my mum and it makes me want to be better.
So I’m reclaiming Mother’s Day and using it to honour my mum and to love on myself a little harder. I purposefully take some time away from social media to give myself space to think and feel out my own emotions. Censoring what I allow myself to see helps me gain a sense of control over my feelings and stops my day from being influenced by what I see.
You see, losing my mum felt like I had lost half of myself. She was a fantastically loving mother and a hardworking woman. She was my real-life superhero, doing everything at once and never dropping the ball as a caretaker for me and my siblings. My mum gave me the ultimate gift of life, the spiritual gift of faith and all the physical gifts that came from her dedication to nurturing and pouring into me.
Whatever I asked for she would provide, I could close my eyes and fall back and know she would be there to catch me. When she died, I thought I had to adjust to life without that safety net but now I’m learning that the net is still there, and though I can no longer see it, in many ways it’s larger and further reaching now because the power she has in spirit and the mountains she’s moved for me since her passing have been greater than I could’ve ever imagined.
It still hurts that I cannot thank her with a hug, or see a prideful smile beam from her face as we celebrate my achievements together. One minute I’m up and feeling on top of the world and then something reminds me of her- a thought, a song, a smell- and the stinging returns. If she was here she would cook me something delicious, tell me ‘Osh ya.’ and reassure me that everything is going to be ok. I’m lucky to have such sweet memories of her and today, I’ll try to focus on the sweetness underneath the sting.