I found myself a motherless daughter at age 26. In fact, I’d just turned 26 two months prior. I remember everything about the day my mom died. It’s like watching a movie on repeat that you wish you never sat down in the movie theatre to watch. After returning to work some time afterwards, one of my co-workers asked whether I had been on vacation. No, my mother died, I said. Now, that’s a conversation stopper right there.
Reading about the stages of grief I kept wondering which one I was in. Holidays seemed like a cruel joke that year- and to be honest, for so many years after. It seemed unfathomable that life would simply move on as if nothing had happened.
Years later, while in graduate school to become a therapist, my research focused on mother-infant bonding. I do wonder if my loss inspired me to study the one thing I was deeply missing- connection with my mother. At one point, a professor suggested that I speak to my mother about her experience of bonding. I felt a pit in my stomach. Learning about others’ experience of bonding with their baby felt magical in some ways; stories about cuddling and singing and stroking their baby’s hair. In contrast, it felt jarring not to be able to speak to my mother about her experience of those early days. Fast forward several years later and my husband and I were expecting our first child. This time it was my doctor who recommended that I speak with my mother about whether she had stretch marks, any pregnancy complications, and her labour.
That pit in my stomach returned as I knew that I could not ask those questions. I was missing out on getting to know my mother in a way that was new to me and lacking crucial health information that may apply to me. I was about to become a motherless mother.
My mother would miss out on yet another major life event of mine. She wouldn’t be able to see me pregnant. Be at the birth of my child. Get to be a grandmother. Bake cookies with us, or celebrate birthdays. And that hurt(s).
Becoming a mother can feel lonely at the best of times. But, when you become one without a significant attachment figure in your life present, it can make this journey feel even more isolating. I searched for local resources for people like me, but the resources were slim. And the reminders of other parents having their own parents in their lives were plentiful, which stung like pouring alcohol onto an infected wound.
I want my mother to be present in my children’s lives too. For them to know her- her laughter and hugs, warmth, creativity and unconditional love.
“Ich bin immer in euren Herzen” (I am always in your hearts) – my sister and I grew up with our mother repeating this sentence all our lives. And she was right, she forever does live there. Knowing this has brought me great comfort and it has led me to seek out experiences to share with our children that remind me of her. We often talk about their “Oma” (grandmother) so that they do in fact know who she is.
We love going on walks by the seawall; my mom used to be in awe of the salty ocean smell. We love visiting parks and gardens and marvel at anything from ladybugs to dandelions to rocks to hidden waterfalls. Did you know that the duck pond at Queen Elizabeth Park and VanDusen Garden both have hidden waterfalls? Basking in the sun is one of our favourite things (sunscreen and sun hats on, check). It makes me think of my mother who used to love doing so also. Every year we bake my mom a cake on her birthday.
And, we go to the German Christmas market every year, longing for that connection to my childhood and to feel closer to my mom as well.
So maybe it isn’t a coincidence after all that I decided to study maternal-infant bonding. Or that I eventually opened a private practice to support other parents on their journey to parenthood, including parentless parents on that same unimaginable journey I found myself on. It definitely wasn’t a coincidence that we moved to a city surrounded by the ocean and wonderful breezy days that carry the sea salt through the air. It makes those sunny days even more special.
The pit in my stomach feels like a gaping abyss on some days, but what I have found is that we grow with our grief. And each calming walk by the seawall, every sunbeam shining down on us, or that mouthful of cake made using one of my mom’s old recipes, is part of what keeps me connected to my mom.
One of my reminders to myself during this holiday season is to make space for both longing for my mother and lost traditions, while also focusing on simple moments of joy and the delight of new traditions which our growing family has brought. While it may not negate the abyss, it does bridge it. It’s all part of the growth.
Guest post by Jasmin Abizadeh. She is the mother to two young children, a first generation immigrant, and works as a mental health therapist. Jasmin’s private practice is called Geborgen Therapy; geborgen is a German word used to describe a state of comfort and well-being.
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