Mothering After Loss: Five Mothering Lessons That Carry On

Mothering alone. I have pondered this since my mom’s first cancer diagnosis in early 2012, right after my son turned seven months old.  By the time she passed away, so very recently, in January 2017, I had almost come to terms with mothering without my mom.

Mourning a Mother

When I first planned this post, I wanted to write about mothering with a sick parent. Or maybe about mothering while knowing that your own mother is dying.  I worried about what she would think of the post, if it would cause her harm for me to talk about missing her while she was still here.

She cried with me when she read about me having to adult a bit more, when she went into the hospital one last time before ending chemotherapy.

We both knew she missed so much of my early mothering, and we both hated that. 

The question plagued me during her illness and haunts me now that she has passed, how can I mother my own two children without my mom?

Mothering Forward

Rather than mourning the loss in this space, I would prefer to take action.

Lists.

I make excellent lists (so did my mom).

Countless women join me in this journey of mothering without a mother, whether through death, distance, or something in between.

So, instead of crying, I move. Call it my coping strategy (or an extension of my fascinating personality).

Five Mothering Lessons from My Mom

Respect Your Body:: 

Facing a lifelong battle with her weight, her feelings of self-worth, and her admitted hatred of a healthy diet and exercise, my mom never felt comfortable in her own skin. Sometimes I judged her for not wanting to exercise. At other times, one of her long-term health battles would surface and force her to quit. Before her cancer diagnosis, she had every intention of getting back in shape.  When we started sorting her belongings, we found a healthy pile of brand-new work out clothes.  In her struggles, my mom showed me to love and respect my body for all that it has accomplished. I will teach my children that fitness is a lifestyle (not a series of yo-yo diets).

Treat Yourself:: 

My mother learned this lesson far too late in her life.  I had grown into adulthood before she allowed herself to deserve anything new. Once she freed herself for treats, her closet quickly filled with adorable shoes, red purses, and oh-so-much LuLaRoe.  It took a long time, but she showed me that life is far too short for cheap purses and bad shoes.

Build a Tribe:: 

Through the years, my mom cycled in and out of friendships, but her truest friends messaged her every day. They held each other up through parenting worries, marital questions, talks about the best wine to drink when your adult children don’t call as much as they should.  That tribe, however small, kept my mom sane.  I’ve learned from her that family crosses blood ties. I strive to keep those relationships intact. I will benefit as a woman and a mother, and my children will benefit from having lifelong friendships.

Love Them Through It ::

While I mostly met my parents’ expectations (with a strong mother and a law enforcement father, I don’t think I had much choice), I know that I broke my mom’s heart at times. Sometimes her heart broke because mine did.  She loved me through it all. She loved me through a snappy, sarcastic attitude (though, really, she couldn’t blame me for that…). She loved me through asserting my independence.  I always knew she had my back. I want my children to feel that, too. 

Prioritize Your Spouse::

This lesson came after some harsh realities. My parents knew each other for over 45 years – since they sat on the high school bus together. My dad always put my mom first, but my mom clung to her miracle child. I know that their marriage suffered because of me (not that they made me bear that burden), but they figured out how to get back on track. I saw them save their marriage again and again, and I learned from their journey. They showed me that children need to see a healthy marriage and parents who are willing to fight for each other. I will fight for my husband, even if it means making personal sacrifices.

Remember the Mothering Lessons

I could write a book about everything my mom taught me and everything I learned from watching her.  

In weak moments, I feel like I can’t handle this. I know, in my heart, that I can. My mom raised me up to fight, to protect, to think for myself. She knew how much I wanted my children, and she showed me, everyday, how to love them.

I feel her loss. She is missing from me.  

But she is with me in the way I speak, in the ferocity with which I love, and, of course, in my sarcasm.

I can mother without her here because prepared me well.

I can roar because she showed me how.

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