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It's Been 25 Years Since My Mother Died

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It has been 25 years since my mother died. She died when I was six. My parents separated when I was three and I had been living with my mother. After she died I went to live with my father. I believe he tried to do what he thought was best. Instead of mourning we pretended that nothing happened. We put away pictures and didn't talk about it. We even got a new mother. She was there on my first day living in his house.

Here I am 25 years later and I want to start my grief journey. I don't really know what that means except that I have a lot of work to do. And I'm not sure how I'm going to get it all done. It seems overwhelming. Maybe that's why it has taken so long to start.

Thanks for listening. I hope this site will be a good resource on my journey.

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Welcome to these forums, lovely you, and thank you ever so for sharing with such courage your story. If you feel like writing more I'd be honored to read and listen (as I'm sure will so many of the others here), and all I'd offer (humbly) in the meantime is that it's okay to take one small step at a time, and that it's okay not to worry about getting it all done. And oh, goodness... twenty five years feels to me to be such a long time to carry that burden alone! That can't have been easy. What has it been like for you?

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Thank you for replying. It is nice to read some friendly words. I guess you never really know heavy something is until you put it down. I never realized the tremendous burden of what I've been carrying around with me. I learned early to care for myself emotionally and phsyically and I've just been doing it. Without thought to options or choices. Now that I stop and think about putting the weight down I feel so overwhelmed. I feel like I don't know who I am if I don't preface it with 'my mother died when I was six but please don't apologize.' I think overwhelming is the best word I have...I don't know where to go next...any ideas?

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I'm so sorry to learn that your mother died when you were only 6 years old, and I cannot imagine how difficult and confusing that time of great upheaval and change in your young life must have been for you.

I want to assure you that the sadness you are feeling still today, so many years after your mother's death, is both understandable and normal. Research indicates that the loss of a parent in early childhood does indeed have an ongoing effect on the life of a person, through adolescence and on into adulthood. In his book Children and Grief: When a Parent Dies, Grief expert J. William Worden, who served as Co-Director of the Child Bereavement Study at Harvard Medical School, states that:

It may be that the most important long-term consequence of parental death during childhood is neither depression nor anxiety disorder, as important as these are, because these only affect a small percentage of adults with childhood parental loss. Rather, the most important long-term impact may be their continuing sense of emptiness and an ongoing need to rethink who this parent would have been in their lives had he or she remained alive. This ongoing presence of the lost parent is strong for most people, even though they may have had adequate parenting by the surviving parent or parent surrogate (J. William Worden, in Children and Grief: When a Parent Dies, The Guilford Press, New York, 1996, p. 110).

Whatever grief you were not permitted to experience or express as a child hasn't gone anywhere, and I suspect the reason you 're still struggling with it is because your grief is still lying there in your mind and in your heart, unaddressed. You say that after you went to live with your father and his wife, "Instead of mourning we pretended that nothing had happened." Regardless of your father's good intentions or his not knowing any better at the time, this tells me that not much was said about whatever grief you may have felt right after your mother died and over the next several years as you were growing up. If your efforts to ask and learn about your mother were met with any sort of resistance from your father, your stepmother or your other family members, it only added to your feelings of loss, because without their cooperation, you were unable to construct any real memories of her.

You have discovered one of the realities of grief: If we cannot give it the attention it demands at the time of our loss, our grief doesn't get resolved -- it simply goes dormant and waits for us to take care of it. And sooner or later, when something happens to "trigger" it, out it comes, just as if the loss had happened yesterday. One of the greatest myths about grief is that, if we just let enough time go by, the day will come when we'll be "over it." Grief is a normal reaction to a significant loss, and it's something we all get through and learn to carry with us as we go on to live our lives, but we never, ever get over it. And there is no time frame for grief. Your mother died, but your love for her (and hers for you) did not die with her. Love is forever. The bond you have with your mother will continue as long as you hold the memory of her – or at least the memory of who you'd like to think she was – alive in your heart. Even though the two of you never got to know each other because she died at such an early age and when you yourself were so young, you still may find yourself grieving the loss of what never was and will never be.

Grief produces all kinds of conflicting feelings, most commonly those of anger and guilt – which over time can become quite distorted, unless we share them with someone else (a trusted friend, a relative, a clergy person, a support group, a grief counselor). Feelings exposed to the light of day can be acknowledged, examined, evaluated, worked through and resolved. Feelings that are stuffed just sit there and fester, making us feel miserable, crazy, sick and alone. You may have heard that "time will heal all wounds" but I'm sure you've learned by now that the passage of time doesn't do anything to heal your grief – time is neutral. It's what you do with the time that matters.

Grieving successfully requires the hard work of confronting, expressing and working through the pain of your loss. The good news is that it is never too late to do the work of grieving. That's because unresolved grief doesn't go anywhere - it just lies there waiting for us to deal with it - and when the pain of grief keeps coming up for us despite our efforts to ignore it, we are wise to pay it the attention it demands. So I strongly encourage you to find someone to talk to individually about all of this, my dear. I don't know where you live or what resources are available to you, but I think it's important to find someone who knows something about the normal grieving process, so that issues specifically related to the early loss of your mother can be addressed.

You've already begun your grief journey by becoming a member of our Grief Healing Discussion Groups and joining our Loss of a Parent forum, which is like a virtual support group in that it puts you in touch with others whose experiences may be similar to your own. I think it's also helpful to read all you can about grief to learn what is normal and what you can do to manage your own reactions. My Web site's Death of a Parent page is a good place to begin. Follow some of the links you'll see listed there. Find and read some of the wonderful stories written by others whose mothers have died; this will help you see that you are not alone, and will give you the hope that if others managed to get through such a devastating loss, then somehow you will find your own way, too. See, for example, Amazon's description and reviews of Maxine Harris's book, The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father. Alexandra Kennedy makes the point that relationships don't have to end when a loved one dies. In her insightful writings, she describes many ways to reconnect with a deceased parent, including with dreams, letter-writing and guided imagery. See also my article, Grieving the Death of a Parent.

Finally, I think it's important to recognize that even though you're still feeling sorrow over the loss of your mother now, it doesn't necessarily mean that you haven't made any progress in your grief journey. As we grow and develop through the years, our grief changes right along with us. This grief will change you as well, influencing who you are in the present and affecting who you'll become in the future. This death of this significant person must be worked through, adapted to, and integrated into your life repeatedly, as different situations and developmental milestones will require you to accommodate this loss of your mother again and again. You will re-visit your mother's death continually as you grapple with its meaning – emotionally, socially, economically and spiritually – and as you struggle to find a place for her in your present and future life.

I sincerely hope this information proves helpful to you, my dear. Grieving is very hard work, but it is manageable and there are many resources "out there" that can help.

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My grandkids lost their Dad 16 months ago and we talk about him but I don't want them to grieve 25 years from now.. How do I help them on a daily basis?He was such a JOY to be around and I see him in each of my 5 grandkids and I want them to remember him.


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