by Julia K. Morin
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly — that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” – Anne Lamott
At some point following the incredibly sudden, jarring death of my mom in May 1995 — which left my family without the glue that had held our lives together, making my father a single parent (and my sister and I “motherless daughters”) virtually overnight — my dad started reading self-help books. I had turned eight years old almost exactly two months earlier to the day of my mom’s death; my sister was 12, just about three months from turning 13. I was still very much a child; she was on the precipice of adolescence and young womanhood. To add another layer of cruelty to this enormous, unfathomable loss, we lost her six days after Mother’s Day that year. Some things in life can simply never be understood. They can only, eventually, be accepted.
One of the books I vividly remember seeing on my dad’s bedside table and later in the living room bookcase was Letters from Motherless Daughters: Words of Courage, Grief, and Healing by Hope Edelman. In hindsight, it’s hard to comprehend the desperation he must have felt trying to relate to and support two young daughters through the most significant loss and grief they would ever experience in their lives…while somehow also navigating his own grief in losing his spouse without warning. These books must have felt like a lifeline; a rescue boat on the horizon as a violent storm raged on and our ship was going under. My father was tasked with playing music to calm us as our Titanic was sinking and icy water poured into our safe vessel. He couldn’t stop it. He couldn’t save us. All he could do was play, and hope that we all survived.
The day my mom died was just the start of a series of losses that have rippled throughout the rest of my life since. She wasn’t at my art shows, my sporting events, my chorus concerts, my graduations, my wedding. She has been missing from holiday and birthday celebrations for 27 years. She has never seen my home. She has missed and will continue to miss so many moments, milestones and memories…for the rest of my life. And that will hurt for the rest of my life.
Anne Lamott — aside from the quote I opened with, which is one of my absolute favorites about loss – also describes the death of someone we love as “a lifelong nightmare of homesickness.” I think that is the truest and simplest way I can describe the pain of living so much of my life without my mom…and probably a very accurate description of death/loss/grief for just about all of us. It is an endless longing for someone who is gone forever; for something that can never be. It is a persistent feeling of wanting to go home. But you can’t ever again, really — because “home” died with that person the day they left.
Finding meaning in loss and grief doesn’t happen overnight. Not even close. But it can happen eventually if we open ourselves to it. For me, it has come in the form of writing (I’ve been a writer since childhood) and sharing my story with others, and last year, taking the leap to pursue a path of grief support. I completed two programs in 2021 to become both a Certified Grief Educator and a Grief Support Specialist, as well as launching my Instagram community — which has since grown far beyond I ever imagined, to over 1,600 followers. I have had essays published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, as well as online platforms The Mighty, The Manifest-Station and The Motherlove Project.
It has taken many years for me to begin shifting my own narrative around the loss and grief that have so deeply affected my life. I’ve discovered that there is a delicate balance between acknowledging the undeniable impact that early mother loss has had on me, and on who I’ve become…and not allowing it to define me — as big of a part of my identity as it is. I now view it as a very important chapter, but not the entire story. It is a piece of who I am, but it is not all of who I am.
It’s a monumental reality that has shaped me in more ways than I could ever fully understand or articulate. And yet, there is so much more to me than “motherless girl” — the identity I spent so many years self-consciously fixating on as I tried to navigate childhood and adolescence as the “other,” reconcile my new place in the world, and relate to my peers. Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to view that reality through a different, broader lens. Doing so doesn’t make it any less significant; it just allows it to exist along a spectrum of other things that I am.
Alchemizing pain into some semblance of positivity does not take the pain away. It just makes it a little bit more bearable and less heavy. Helping others in their own grief journeys will never bring my mom back, or undo the years of anguish that losing her has brought into my life…but I think it would make her proud. And it’s also a way I can do something constructive with her death, my lifelong grief and longing for her.
She is gone; that is an indisputable and irreversible fact. But I have been able to keep her memory and legacy alive by sharing her, and my grief journey, with others — and walking beside them as they navigate their own unique paths of grieving.
Grief is love in another form. If love never ends, why would grief? We will never stop loving those we have lost, and we will never stop grieving their absence in our lives.
Love is forever. Grief is forever.
For more information about Julia, you can check out her website.
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