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Transition to Being Motherless

November is a month of transition in Wisconsin. Mother Nature is deciding if she is ready to let go of fall and welcome in winter. One day the thermometer reads sixty-five degrees, and the next day, it’s thirty degrees colder. (or more!) The trees are bare. The crops are harvested. The horizon looks gray many days, and the weathermen start teasing us about impending drizzle and snow flurries. Even our wardrobes must go through transition as we dig out warmer sweaters, coats, hats and gloves from dark dusty closets.

This month of weather transition makes me think about other transitions as well.

Life is one series of transitions. Puberty, graduation, entering the work force, marriage, parenthood, divorce and retirement are just a few major life transitions experienced by many. Some transitions bring joy and happiness, but some are devastatingly difficult and cause considerable upheaval, confusion and trauma.

Two of the hardest transitions for me to this point, have been my mother’s death and my breast cancer diagnosis.

November takes me back to three years ago when my mother was gravely ill. Her health was declining rapidly before my eyes, and I felt helpless. She was transitioning between life and death and we all knew it. During those months I felt as if I were standing on a bridge between two time periods of my life just waiting to be pushed off.  

Even though I had a few months to prepare, I still wasn’t ready when the end came. Some people would say I was lucky to have had those final months to prepare, say goodbye and well, transition. I guess I was. If you lose a loved one instantly in a tragic accident, you aren’t given those final moments to say goodbye or just be together.

When my mother died in 2008, I had no idea how to be a daughter without a mother. On the day she died, it seemed as if I unwillingly entered the second phase of my life, the years I would be motherless. A woman’s life can be divided into two parts — the years she has a mother and the years she does not.

How many years one gets on either side of this “divide” seems to be randomly and unfairly determined, but regardless of how much time you are allotted for the first part, it’s not long enough and you enter part two unprepared.

I wonder why this is sometimes.

Why we are so unprepared for death and why isn’t it talked about much in our society? Why do people struggle figuring out what to say or do for others when a death is involved? Why do they sometimes even avoid the person who has experienced loss because it’s just too hard to face them?

Do other cultures do a better job dealing with these issues? Do other cultures embrace aging and incorporate death more into everyday life, thus making it easier to at least talk about and therefore prepare for somewhat better?

I think perhaps they do.

I realize loss of parents is in the natural order of things and in no way compares to the loss of a child. I have several loyal readers who have experienced this nearly unbearable tragedy, and I have witnessed it in my own family as well. Nothing compares with that excruciating loss. But still, when you lose your parent(s), you are transformed, or at least I was. The void left is immense.

In addition, you are forced to step forward in life’s line so to speak. You are forced to face your own mortality more seriously.

You are transitioning.

What was one of your most difficult times of transition?

Or what was one that brought you great joy?

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Elizabeth J.

Sunday 10th of November 2013

So sorry that you lost your mother. It is so very hard. For months after mine passed, I would find myself starting to pick up the phone to tell her something or ask her something.

My mother somehow knew and told us for months that she was going to be with Jesus soon. Dad even took her to the doctor. One night she died unexpectedly (at least to the rest of us) in her sleep. She had survived breast cancer with no recurrences 17 years.

I grieved for my mother, but I felt blessed to have had her as long as I did. You see the biggest transition in my life was actually when my mother lost her mother. I was 14. I watched the rock and foundation of the extended family quickly and painfully slip away from breast cancer in her bones. I watched the adults of my family struggle with both daily caregiving and grief. I never doubted God could send a miracle, but I was so very angry that He didn't. I know I didn't suddenly turn into an adult, but I mark that summer as the end of childhood. There had been deaths in the family before, but this was real in a whole different way.

A lot of years have passed since then. Now I have cancer. I cannot hope for a long life like my mother's for it has already recurred. My biggest fear of my cancer, breast cancer in my bones, is my young adult children may find themselves motherless way too soon, even younger than my mother lost her mother. My one grandchild, and his future siblings and cousins, will miss knowing me the way my youngest cousins missed really knowing my grandmother.


Monday 11th of November 2013

Elizabeth, Thank you for sharing about that painful memory. So much loss and so much heartache... hugs.

Elizabeth MacKenzie

Saturday 9th of November 2013

Nancy, I am so sorry that you lost your mom. I know that the two of you must have brought so much love to each other's lives, the sweet that makes the loss so sad.


Monday 11th of November 2013

Elizabeth, "The sweet that makes the loss so sad" - that's poetic and so true. Thank you for reading this oldie and for the kind words.

Kate of Kate Has Cancer

Saturday 9th of November 2013

Nancy, your post has made me think about how grateful I am to still have my mother now that I'm dealing with cancer. She helps me with my new disabilities. And I help her with hers. Will I lose her before she loses me? I don't know. But we are sitting here together on a train and I think I will close the iPad now and talk to her ...while I can.


Monday 11th of November 2013

Kate, Enjoy all those moments with your mom. Sometimes I'm glad my mom didn't have to be around to witness my cancer diagnosis and then again, sometimes I get almost angry that she hasn't been here for it. Emotions are so complex. Thank you for reading this early post of mine and for taking time to comment on it too.

The Accidental Amazon

Saturday 9th of November 2013

When my mother died, it was sudden & unexpected. I was shattered. And my dad had already been dead for nine years. What astonished me most was how, even at the age of 40, I felt my 'orphanhood' acutely. I was suddenly very conscious of mortality, of being thrust on the front lines, as it were, with no one protecting me. I felt that a tangible part of my life, my entire childhood, had disappeared. I've had patients who have been much older when their moms have died. Even women in their 70's experience the feeling of being orphaned, I've discovered. It's such a huge loss. We don't 'do' death very well in our culture, I don't think. I was grateful that I could talk with other friends who'd also lost their moms. I still miss mine, 19 years later. Now, at least, I have grown more comfortable and comforted by my memories. But it took a long time. Hugs & love to you, Nancy. xoxo, Kathi


Monday 11th of November 2013

Kathi, I think it's true that no matter how old we are when our parents die, we do feel orphaned and yes, even abandoned. It's a life-altering passage that's for sure. And like you, I don't think society does a good job at all of allowing a person time to talk, grieve or whatever she needs to do after losing a parent. We're expected to get over it quickly. I'm sorry you've been without your parents for so many years. Hugs and love back.


Friday 19th of November 2010

Nancy, I hope you can take great comfort in the fact that you had a wonderful relationship with your Mother.

It appeared to me, that your Mom was one of your best friends. Which is something so special, that so many never do experience. I know I always enjoyed talking with your Mom. She was always so caring and genuine. She took a true interest in how our family was doing, as well as her own (Very lucky).

I always remember how your Mom would love to bake, and decorate. I'm talking years and years ago at slumber parties at your house with your big sister. She put the true meaning of making a house a home.

You have to be thankful you were given 53 years of memories to cherish.

I so enjoy your blog. Very proud of you!! Love, LaVonne


Friday 19th of November 2010

LaVonne, Thanks for your comments! Yes, I do take great comfort in the fact that my mother and I had a good relationship and also because I did get to spend so much time with her at the end. I was lucky to have all those years, but still would have liked more. Also, I really have no regrets about anything done or not done. That's a good feeling too. Thanks for sharing your memories and for your encouraging words about my blog. It means a lot to me.

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