“I hope you’re somewhere prayin,’ prayin,’
I hope your soul is changin,’ changin.’
I hope you find your peace,
Falling on your knees, prayin.”
~ Kesha, “Praying”
“My mother died yesterday.”
It took me over 12 hours to post this on Facebook. I wasn’t sure whether to post anything—and then what to post. I didn’t want sympathy—it felt wrong to accept any. But it also seemed disingenuous not to acknowledge her death.
And even though we hadn’t spoken in years, I was sad she was gone.
In response to the Facebook post about my mother’s death (I was never allowed to call her mom), my friends sent their condolences. And some who knew the circumstances practiced Satya—the yoga philosophy that words should be truthful and impeccable. They wrote:
>> “I know this is complicated. Thinking of you.”
>> “You must be experiencing so many emotions. I am here if you need me.”
>> “I cannot even imagine. Take care of you.”
And others wrote, “I know you weren’t close to your mother, but this must still hurt.”
Those words singed me. Oprah says, “We all want to be heard. We all want to know that what we’re saying and feeling matters.”
Reducing my relationship to my mother to “just not being close” made her death land even harder—because it wasn’t true.
If anything, I was too close to my mother. I sought space to save myself, to be healthy. If I hadn’t halted contact with her, I would never have seen and escaped my painful patterns. I had been attracting people who were just like her—that treated me the same way she did.
And if I hadn’t acknowledged her behavior and broken the pattern, my kids could pass it down too.
Because that is what happens. Hurt people hurt people. And hurting becomes a tradition, like raisins in Thanksgiving stuffing. Without decades of therapy, yoga, meditation, and an Amazon cartload of books, I wouldn’t have had the awareness to halt the pattern.
Yet, I understood what people meant when they said, “I wasn’t close” to her. It was going to be easier to heal from my mother’s death, because she hadn’t been in my daily life. But her death was still painful—and I couldn’t understand why.
I texted my therapist for a session. Later I asked her: Why am I so slayed by this? Why am I shutting down?
“With your mother’s death, the dream of having the mom you deserved died too.”
I began to cry—for the mother I had, the parent I wanted, the mom I didn’t get…
It has been a few weeks now, and during this time, the following helped me grieve:
>> Find others with similar backgrounds. Writing about what happened has led me to a network of people with similar experiences. They have supported me during this time. They told stories of their difficult loved ones, wryly laughing about their “idiosyncrasies” (humor is a great coping mechanism). One friend reached out the day before Thanksgiving and sent a meme to cheer me up. I sent one back to her joking that we will get through this—one meme at a time.
>> Self-care. Make a list of 10 healthy self-care routines and follow as many as possible. Get a massage. Take a yoga class. Do something creative. Make time to do what it takes to take care of you.
>> Engage core beliefs. What do you care about? Re-affirm this by scheduling something that reflects those beliefs. It was important for me to break the mothering patterns I learned. So, I spent one of the days around the funeral with my kids doing things we had never done before. New memories were a soothing respite.
>> Commemorate. Find closure. I went to my mother’s newly dug grave and wished her peace. I silently apologized that I couldn’t give her what she needed. I also internalized that the happiness she sought was something she needed to create herself. Not something she could get from anyone around her—including her children.
>> Be appreciative and aware. Appreciate the positive, and be aware of the negative things the deceased has taught us. Both may come up during this time. We may be tempted to use the destructive coping mechanisms we have learned. Be aware of this, and take a deep breath if it happens. Apply one or more of the self-care routines established above, and decide that you can, and will, take a different path.
>> Take time to heal. Healing is going to come in waves. Sometimes we feel relief, which may make us feel guilty. Sometimes we feel despair for what is lost, the little good memories we had—and can no longer create.
>> Gain perspective and inspiration. The leader of Shambhala Buddhism, Sakyong Mipham says this about death: “We often conduct our life as though it’s going to last forever. With this attitude, we want everything. The fact of death puts a limit on what we can have, what we can do…it gives us perspective and inspiration about living our life. Death is supposed to have impact. It makes us look at our lives and what we have accomplished—and what is left undone.”
I took this time to follow the direction of an article by Waylon Lewis to create a life list. I listed what I had done, drew a big horizontal line, and then listed the dreams I still wanted to accomplish. This list is posted in the back of my closet—and I wouldn’t have created it if my mother hadn’t died.
>> Let others give you the love you deserve. Since her death, my fiancé has nurtured and taken care of me. My best friend hosted us in my hometown and sat with me morning and night. And a friend made me a salmon-potato casserole that made me cry—how did she know I had been craving those comfort foods?
My mother told me I couldn’t trust people. She was wrong.
Just because the person that gave birth to us didn’t love us in a healthy way, doesn’t mean we aren’t lovable—or deserve to be alone when grieving them.
If you are recovering from the death of an unloving parent, use the tools above. Fall into the open arms surrounding you. They will provide the ground and strength to heal.
“The first noble truth of the Buddha is that when we feel suffering, it doesn’t mean that something is wrong. What a relief. Finally, someone told us the truth. Suffering is a part of life, and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong choice.” ~ Pema Chödrön
Author: Donna Yates Kling
Image: Unsplash/Arno Smit
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Lindsey Block