Losing a parent for me was one of the most tragic things I experienced as a child. Apart from not understanding the reason she left, I was not taught how to cope with my loss.
I was only eight when my mom passed. I remember having this deep-seated longing for her that nothing seemed to fix. When I thought I was over the trauma, something would happen and there I was again wishing I had her with me.
The hardest time of year for me was Thanksgiving. I became sad. That was around the time that she passed. Now, I’m married and have kids of my own, and guess what. I still miss her, but I’m okay with that because I learned something through my grieving that I would like to share with you.
When I think back about my mom, I remember some things well. But, other memories are kind of fuzzy. In the moments that I missed her, I found myself missing something I never had. I know that sounds strange, but I created the exact kind of mom I needed at each moment when I thought of her. I created a mom that would bake cookies for me, always show up for me, and make time for me. If I hurt, she knew exactly how to fix it. She was this wise woman who would show me life and how to get through it. Most of all, she truly loved her little girl. I was so special to her.
I was young when my mom passed, so I wasn’t able to experience some of these things. Yet at different points my life I would say, “If my mom were here, she would do this for me,” or, “I could go to her with this problem.” I built her up in my memory to the point where she would have fixed everything if she was still living. That is the fantasy I created. Later I realized my continuing delusion. I envied people who had their moms at times, but I realized something in those moments too. Having a mom does not ensure that my life would have been better. Not every mother bakes cookies, dispenses sagacious advice, and heals every wound. It is important for my mental health to remember my mother as she was, not agonizing over a fantastic creation of my need.
There’s a song by Cyndi Lauper titled, I Want a Mom That Will Last Forever. That is what I wanted. The song spells out everything a mom would do for her child. I remember looking in the faces of different women, and wondering if they would me my mom.
I experienced multiple disappoints, which made me feel that I should not bother hoping for someone to fill that space. There was simply no one capable, so I hung on to my fantasy.
What will be your imprint?
When I lost my mom, one of the thoughts that crossed my mind was, “How can I move on with my life?” Not knowing the answer to this question allowed the grieving to continually haunt me for some time. I had to come up with a plan for moving on.
I am fortunate to have a supportive husband who challenged me on the matter. I remember reading something he wrote about a mental health technique he called shelving. This technique would allow me to release her from the box in which I carried her memory. Shelving is an intentional construction of a mental and emotional place for my mom that she can continually occupy while I moved on with my life. I wasn’t forgetting her or in denial of her death. That idea stuck with me. But, I needed to put my mom on the shelf.
The technique is kind of like you would do a beautiful vase you admire. Rather than carry the vase around anxious about dropping it, hurt when others did not appreciate it, irrational about its beauty and perfection, I put it on the shelf. The vase, like my memories, are still beautiful. But, my hands are free to hold new vases—to create new memories, and to build on the legacy of my mother.
When I put that longing and fantasy related to my mom on the shelf, I focused more on a project I started. The project ensures that I provide the love, support, guidance, and wisdom that my girls will need. I am the mom that I wanted to my kids. I built on the legacy of my mom that I could remember: her smile and the warm feeling she gave me. That was the imprint she left me. Now, I will live my life leaving an imprint my kids will remember long after I’m gone.
I know it’s hard to lose a parent, but I had to realize that my current life still existed. No guarantee exists that my path would have been easier if she had lived. But, my life of influence is what is in question now. I still think about my mom from time to time. Rather than longing and fantasy that leads me to sadness about what I did not have, those thoughts energize me to jump forward and make my imprint on the hearts of those I love. One great thing about it is I see bits and pieces of what I’m giving in my kids today. Their smiles give me a warm feeling.