Blogger’s note: I posted this blog three years ago but, since I still have such strong feelings about the topic, I’m reposing. Blessings!
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trail and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. Helen Keller
It breaks my heart to read the posts of women in motherless daughters’ groups telling a woman who is in despair over having just lost her mother that “it doesn’t get any better.” I shout out at my computer screen, “For Heaven’s sake, give the poor grieving woman some hope!” Most of us, if we’re over thirty, have suffered at least one significant loss. If all of us never recovered from loss, we would all be walking around like the Zombies we were the first week.
Even Helen Keller, with no sight, hearing or voice, offered a message of hope for those who are suffering and in distress. I believe it’s important to acknowledge a person’s grief, be with her in the reality of the moment, offer no platitudes like “she’s better off now” or “you’ll be fine.” Saying nothing is always good. Your presence is what matters. Reminisce with her about her loved one. But please, please, don’t take away hope for her future. Hope may be the only thread attaching her to this Earth—sometimes, literally.
Affirmation: I will be a healer and do no harm.
Coaching questions: What helped you most in times of despair? What words or presence brought you the most comfort? How do you show up for your friends and family in times of distress?
What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we deeply love becomes a part of us. Helen Keller
(This is a repurposed blog from a few years ago but I thought the message important enough to repeat.)
Loss of a loved one is always difficult. It’s the price we pay for having a great love. However, we can be joyful again as we learn to accommodate to life after loss.
C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed likened accepting your life after loss to a man learning to walk after a leg has been amputated. Lewis writes, “The amputee may get along quite well, may even become facile and agile on crutches or on a carefully designed artificial limb. But the amputee must accommodate to permanent loss. He or she will never walk as before; repair does not mean a return to the way things were.”
Our life will never be as it was before our loss but those we love are always a part of us.
Affirmation: I can learn to be joyful again after loss.
Coaching questions: How are you different after loss? In what ways have you accommodated to your loss? What will you do next?
We are lonesome animals. We spend all of our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—‘Yes, that is the way it is, or at least that is the way I feel.’ You’re not as alone as you thought. —John Steinbeck, author
Not only does sharing important stories from our past help us feel less lonesome, as Steinbeck says, it also helps us move forward after challenging life events. As a friend listens, nods, understands, or personally relates to our story, we feel validated. We begin to understand how our experience is not only meaningful to us but also to another person.
In addition to sharing with trusted indivIduals, invite storytelling into your groups. Use a “Getting to Know You” question or share a story related to the topic at hand. This can happen in book clubs, Bible studies, planning committees, wherever caring people congregate. Tell your stories and invite others to do the same.
Affirmation: I benefit from telling my story.
Coaching questions: To whom can you tell your mother loss story? What difference will it make?
Reframing is a term from cognitive psychotherapy which simply means seeing something in a new way, in a new context, with a new frame around it. Elaine Aron, author
At a recent, online, author event, I spoke with a woman who had lost her mother as a child. Now, in mid-life, she’s losing her precious step-mother to Alzheimer’s.
She and her sister are devastated by the prospect of losing two, beloved mothers. Their attitude, however, is keeping them positive and strong. She said, “We tell each other how lucky we’ve been to have two mothers who loved us so much. Our sadness comes from an abundance of love.”
Affirmation: I will reframe my life experiences.
Coaching question: What message do you need to reframe?
Meaning and purpose can come from deep in the heart of what hurts us the most. Dr. Edith Eva Eger, Auschwitz survivor and author of The Choice
Dr. Eger’s book, The Choice, is one of the most powerful books I’ve read this year. It is her Auschwitz story and much, much more. It’s how she learned to move forward and find meaning and purpose in her life by choosing to heal as she embraced her feelings, then acknowledged and forgave her past.
Her message of CHOICE is addressed to all of us who have experienced loss—loss of freedom, loss of a loved one, and even, the loss of our humanity. As a psychotherapist and author, Eger’s passion is to help people who have experienced loss move forward with their lives in a positive way as they find meaning and purpose in their pain. Eger writes, “How easily the life we didn’t live becomes the only life we prize.”
Affirmation: I choose to embrace the life I have.
Coaching questions: What helped you find meaning and purpose “in the heart of what hurt you”? If you’re stuck in thinking that the life you were denied is the only one you prize, what will help you move forward?
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ Mister Rogers
Mister Rogers’s mother knew that if her son acknowledged the helpers he would feel calmer about the tragedy, knowing that someone was there to take control and put order to the chaos. It’s no wonder it is comforting for people to acknowledge health care workers and other helpers in this time of crisis.
As I talk with daughters who lost their mother to death, abandonment or Alzheimer’s, the trajectory of their grief is often changed by the helpers who show up. The support and love of an older brother or sister, a grandmother, neighbor, friends in support groups, hospice worker, or a loving dad, can calm the chaos of the moment and become helpers in their lives.
Affirmation: I’m thankful for the helpers in my life.
Coaching questions: Who are the helpers in your life? How do they a difference? How do you show up as a helper for others? What difference do you make?
Getting physical and improving is how we can continue to thrive among the living. Twyla Tharp, choreographer
In her new book, Keep It Moving, renowned choreographer, Twyla Tharp, 79, gives readers a piece of her mind writing, “Shut up and dance!” She goes on to write, “With the time you’ve got choose to make your life bigger. Opt for expression over observation, action instead of passivity, risk over safety, and unknown over familiar.” In other words, make the most of your life.
One of the ten steps to help daughters move forward after mother loss in my upcoming book, Mom’s Gone, Now What?, is “Stir Up Your Creativity.” Another step is “Take Care of Yourself.” As we take these steps, we embrace what Tharp is suggesting—express yourself, be active, take a risk, and “shut up and dance!”
Affirmation: I am creative and take care of my body.
Coaching question: What risk, action, expression will you take to expand your life and make it bigger?
It’s really pleasant to be with, familiar, faithful, complaining a little, continually going about its business, loving to lie down. Lillian Morrison, poet, excerpt from her poem, Body
This excerpt from the lovely poem, Body, reminds me how fortunate I am to have this old, familiar body that complains only a little and generally goes about its business. I’m missing going to the gym during this time of COVID-19 but I’m committed to staying active with walking and swim aerobics.
As a motherless daughter of a motherless daughter…both dying in their 30s…I’ve always felt that, for me, all the years past 35 have been gravy. So as I approach a healthy, happy 75, my life is better than gravy. My life is a second helping of mashed potatoes with the gravy.
Affirmation: My body is “pleasant to be with.”
Coaching questions: What’s your motivation to keep your body healthy? How’s that working out for you? How do you view the years following the “anniversary” year of being the same age as your mother when she died?
P.S. It’s sad that I couldn’t find any photos on the Internet of older ladies working out
Secrecy is a vacuum and nothing fills a vacuum like paranoid speculation. Max Brooks, author
One of the tragedies of mother loss is when family members are discouraged from speaking about the details of the person’s death or sharing memories about the loved one. After talking with motherless daughters who grew up in environments ruled by secrecy, I learned that the secrecy itself was as much of a problem as the actual death of their mother.
Healthy families have open discussions about the death of a loved one and frequently share their memories.
Affirmation: I am open and honest about the death of a loved one.
Coaching questions: How have family secrets kept you from becoming your best self? What will you do about it? What difference will it make? Be specific.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. New Living Translation of Matthew 6:35
When I read Matthew 6:35 in light of today’s world, I want to shout, “No kidding!” It seems like every day brings new “troubles” and “today’s trouble is (certainly) enough for today.”
I’m a planner. In doing research for my book about mother loss, I discovered that it’s not unusual for people who have experienced early loss like to feel in control since they lost control of their life’s narrative so early. Planning is an artificial way to feel “in control.” For the first time in my life I’m in a circumstance of not planning beyond a few days. Plane travel—who knows when? House guests—who knows when? Meetings in person—who knows when? I’m going to reframe my frustration into an opportunity to learn to live more fully in the present and let the future just “be” for now.
Affirmation: I can be content without a plan.
Coaching question: In what way does Matthew 6:35 speak to you?