This is one of the only photos I have of my mother and I. Looking at the background of the photo and our appearances, I would guess this photo was taken within a couple years of her death. I keep it in a picture frame in my room – the fuzzy, out of focus, blurred image sometimes matches my memory of that entire time period of my life. When you lose a parent, especially a mother, a tailspin can occur that makes self-preservation and survival your only parachute. For many, the day your mother dies you forever lose the person who was your true confidant, your cheerleader and fountain of unconditional love. I was 15 when my mother took her last breath. 15.
Unfortunately, my family was dysfunctional and not intact and all of us, my step-father and brothers, where left on our own to process this huge loss – which at our ages, we did not. There did not seem to be the resources or support available today to help us grow, understand and support us through this loss. All of us went our own ways and still struggle. I decided not to become a ‘victim’ and became a master at surviving.
About 4 years ago, I entered therapy and began the work necessary to ‘go there’ to face many issues of loss, abandonment, trust and anger. Oh, the anger. I had so much anger inside of my heart. This anger would come out of me and at the people I loved the most – my husband and my children. To many, I always appeared happy (and I was) but there was the dark, bubbling river of rage inside me too. I never was violent, but I could become so irritable, use loud, hurtful tones and also could throw or slam things. I would always feel terrible after I did it and I knew anytime I indulged this anger I was causing damage. Through this work, I realized I WAS angry. I was angry my mom died, I was angry I had a sick and dysfunctional home, I was angry I had no one on my side, helping me, guiding me or taking an interest in my life. What I know now, is the day my mother died I lost unconditional love.
I have several friends and I am aware that to be “motherless” can look many ways. For me, it was the actual death of my mother. For others, it can be a mother who has abandoned the family, is not present, distant, or abusive. There are so many ways this motherless existence influences our lives, but the one area I had a personal revelation in and hope that perhaps can help someone else is in the area of ‘self-care’. When you are motherless, self-care looks different.
Self-Care has many forms and for this, I am talking about unconditional love. I so desired someone in my life to love me and care for me (like a mom) unconditionally. So, I looked for it – in my boyfriends, husband, friends and children. And, unfortunately, they cannot and should not fill that void. They can love me, support me and encourage me, parnter me, but I am talking deeper – maternally…
To ask my husband or worse, my children to fill that void or loss my mother (or your childhood) left is such an unrealistic expectation to place in their hearts. They could never fill that ache in my heart. What I have discovered, honestly, makes me sad, but I know to be true. I will never have the unconditional love of a mother, ever again. Period.
I had to let that settle inside me. I had to allow that to be acknowledged and embrace that truth. When I became aware and accepted this truth, I felt a lifting of expectation or disappointment of unmet needs in my relationships. I could look at my family and appreciate them and enjoy them without any attachment to how they could help me feel better. I also had to work on healing damage I had inflicted on others and empower them to realize my anger had nothing to do with them.
Then, the bigger revelation came in a day of reflection. I am the only person that can give myself unconditional love. Me. I am not talking about self-care like exercising (although that is important too). I am talking about loving yourself 1 million percent. Even the aspects of yourself you keep secret or hidden from most – loving all of it because it is who you are. It is your unique path and journey and all the pieces of you are worth love. The best gift of self-care is not a trip to the nail salon or massage therapist, but to a therapist. A good therapist or life coach with the talent, insight and awareness to help you unconditionally love yourself and integrate all those pieces of your past to become your highest, best self.
While good therapy and reflection I believe are the key to living an awakened, intentional life, I also have some rituals and traditions that I nurture to try to ‘mother’ myself. I think, due to the length of this post and the sounds of a house waking up – I will save for tomorrow.