Nearly fifty years ago, my mother died. I was twelve at the time — teetering on the brink of adolescence. But I still played with Barbie dolls. I lived in that no man’s land of emotional, physical, and psychological transition.
Enter Dennett. Also a Motherless Daughter. Someone who struggled with the very same issues I had back then. An emotionally distant father, sisters who couldn’t get away from their family of origin fast enough, a step-mother who wasn’t up to filling the shoes of our Real Mothers, and a black, dark void full of All. The. Emotions we were too young to process.
To have another Human in my circle of friends who understands what it feels like to go through Life as an observer to all things Mother/Daughter has been a priceless gift. Dennett understands my anger at my friends when they criticize their mothers. How do I keep from telling them they are so fucking lucky to have a mother to bitch about? To hear Dennett write about her own struggles with motherhood validated my own experiences. How do you mother without a role model? Without a playbook from your own experiences? To know I am not alone with my trust issues. How do you learn to trust anyone when your whole Life has been written in the ink of abandonment?
And then, The Universe whispered to her. And she recommended I read Hope Edelman’s book Motherless Daughters — A Legacy Of Loss. I started the book this week with fascination. Every chapter reveals more and more of My Life after my mother’s death. On every page, I see myself. The insights this book has given me into the grief I bear have been a priceless gift.
To know all the motherless daughters out there shared so much of my experience — I simply thought it was me. I never knew I wasn’t alone.
I wasn’t alone when a year after my mother’s death my grades plummeted. I nearly failed Earth Science that year. Per Edelman — older children and young adolescents don’t necessarily have an immediate grief response. That happens later — when their home life has stabilized a bit. Kids don’t grieve in unsafe environments.
I wasn’t alone when I didn’t cry at my mother’s funeral. Twelve-year-olds bury unsavory emotions. The spectacle of public displays of grief makes them feel even more vulnerable. They cry in private — as I did. Sitting in a safe and isolated place — like My Special Tree in the forest or while petting my horse’s muzzle in my aunt’s barn. Alone with their pain. Letting just enough steam off to face the world again, but not enough to adequately process their grief.
I wasn’t alone when I stepped into my mother’s shoes. I developed OCD around this time of My Life as I sought to lessen the impact of my mother’s absence. For me and my father. I did the housework & the laundry. I made myself TV dinners because the food my father attempted to make was inedible. I became The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus to my 62 year-old-father — keeping up my mother’s traditions.
I wasn’t alone when I looked at my family of origin with a critical eye. I heard the still small voice in my mind speak, “Those people are fucked up!” Everything about My Life was fucked up. It took decades for me to realize — I was just a kid. Those fucked up people should have been taking care of me — not the other way around.
I wasn’t alone when I tried, unsuccessfully, to woo my step-mother into liking me. I even went so far are to call her “Mom” — thinking it would ease her transition when she moved into my father’s house with her daughter. The marriage lasted seven months. She eventually took her daughter and moved back to her previous residence. I was equal parts relieved and sad. Relieved because I didn’t have to pretend everything between us was fine. Sad because now I was again alone with my father and re-promoted to chief cook and bottlewasher.
I wasn’t alone when I threw myself into relationships with strangers who became friends. Since the day of my mother’s death— I found support and comfort among friends. I expected nothing from my family of origin and that was pretty much what I got. I never trusted that said family wouldn’t just up and die on me. They had already abandoned me emotionally — certainly, they would one day also abandon me physically. But my friends were always there for me. I met The Irishman shortly after my mother’s death. I still chat regularly with My Person, my best friend from high school. They were just two of the many anchors in My Life over the last five decades.
I wasn’t alone when I left home at the earliest possible moment. I married at eighteen and never looked back. The anger and vitriol my family rained down upon me then was completely toxic. I learned that when you choose your own life first — people who claim to love you will be pissed as hell at your audacity. I learned how to say “Fuck you” and mean it. And to live with their disapproval.
I wasn’t alone when I became a mother. A brand new mother with no female family members to come and stay with me. No elders to share their wisdom. No grandmother to dote on the miracle that was my child. That last thing was the deepest cut. I added to my pain the grief of my children who would never have a grandmother.
I wasn’t alone when I reverted to being a teenager at age 50. I regressed to the developmental stage I never got to live. After my mother died — I was promoted to adulthood. My teenage years were a blur of adult responsibilities sandwiched in-between moments of normalcy. I’d go home from school to do laundry as I studied for exams. At age 50, newly divorced, I started dating. I went to concerts. I found out just how high my tolerance for tequila really was. I danced until I dropped. My coworkers even officially began referring to me as The 50-year-old Teenager.
I wasn’t alone when I celebrated my 55th birthday with trepidation. Motherless daughters all struggle the year their age matches the age of their mother when she died. Part of me was convinced I would die before turning 56. Part of me didn’t know how to live past 55.
I wasn’t alone when I sat on my therapist’s couch as a middle-aged-woman struggling to make sense of it all. Struggling to find my true path. Struggling to release the lifetime of anger and pain I had suppressed. Struggling not to repeat generational patterns of neglect and abandonment with my own family.
I wasn’t alone.
Every single event, emotion, situation I experienced was there — in black and white whispering softly to me from the pages of this book. It wasn’t me — it was never me. Everything I went through as a motherless daughter was NORMAL. My Life explained to me in the grief-stricken voice of another motherless daughter.
Thank you Dennett for your friendship and support, for sharing this amazing book with me, for knowing that I was never alone.