Question: Dear Luise: I am 23 years old and I lost my mother about a year and a half ago, but I’m still unfortunately having a difficult time dealing with it. All my life, we had been extremely close and I’ve never lost anyone that close to me. When she got diagnosed with cancer, it was literally impossible for my mind to even accept the beyond harsh reality that she probably would die. She even claimed that she would eventually overcome her illness and insisted that i still continue to live my own life and go out with my friends, boyfriend, etc. and so i did. We never discussed how i would continue on in life or what she would want if worse came to worse, and I blame the reasoning for that on us living in denial and/or just being too scared to talk about “death.” The closest we came to talking about the scary topic was when my father forced me to tell her one day that it was okay for her to let go, that she didn’t need to keep living in pain and suffering just to try to stay around for the sake of her children. So I told her that even though I didn’t want her to hurt anymore, I also couldn’t ever bring myself to actually let her go because she’s always been the one person I always said I could never live without. Her response is what still haunts me today. She told me that she knew I could live without her, and that the past 9 months of her being sick proved to her that I could, and that it made her proud. While some people might think that was a good thing to hear i took it entirely different. Did she think that I didn’t love/care enough about her over the duration or her illness? Did I prove that to her by continuing to live my life, although I thought that’s what she wanted me to do? I feel extremely guilty and at the time I didn’t even know how to think or respond to what she said, I was still counting on her to pull through and live. It wasn’t until too late and after she passed away that I realized what the horrible reality was and that’s when all the pain actually really started to set in. I’ve literally been through hell since she’s been gone and it hurts to think that after all the pain I’ve endured since her death I can only remember her telling me when she was still here and still fighting that I somehow “proved” to her I could live without her; as if the situation and feelings then were to be the same situation and feelings now. I know all this sounds crazy and a bit much to get worked up about but I hate to think i proved to my mom that I didn’t love or need her when she was here and I really believe in my heart that this is the main reason why I cannot seem to find any peace and cannot move on. Please, please share your helpful and healing insight, I’m so ready to put this awful thinking behind me. L.
Answer: Dear L.: I am a mom, a grandmother and a great grandmother. Not only that, my great granddaughter is 18! I can tell you without question that your mother was giving you the highest compliment possible. None of us want our adult children to remain dependent. Our measure of success is when we see independence…that’s when we know we did a good job.
Independence is not about being selfish, superficial, or shallow. It is about being solid, normal, and able. There is no mom anywhere that wants her adult child sitting by her bedside 24/7 crying or even thinking, “Don’t leave me.” We all want peace for those we leave behind. I am 84. I can talk about this. My surviving son is 56 and we are really close. He is actually my Webmaster on this site. The last thing I want to do, when my time comes, is to have his life slow down or stop. I want him to go on celebrating life…it was my gift to him.
I doubt if there is anyone anywhere that doesn’t feel guilt when someone we love passes. We look back and see that we weren’t perfect and we think that we should have been. It’s just part of losing a loved one; wishing we had done a better job of letting them go. I get that your mom is smiling. Smile with her and give yourself a “thumbs up.” Blessings, Luise