Two weeks ago, I received news that made my stomach turn. One of my closest friend’s mother passed away so suddenly. In my friend’s distraught voice was a lot of pain about “how could this be?” and the natural questioning of the order and God himself. Everything shook her to the core.
Like any mother and daughter, they had their fair share of tumultuous times, but we all know that anyone would rather have bad days with their mom than good ones without her. Losing a parent is a recipe for a lifelong lump in your throat, and the pain has countless layers you will never get through.
Her cry rang such a loud bell for me. Thirteen years ago, when I was 13 years old, I arrived home, eNgcobo, to what was supposed to be a relative’s funeral, and found out that it was actually my mother we were burying. My family was completely traumatized, and never spoke in detail about how devastating it was that my mother was gone. When you experience that amount of pain as a child, it is difficult to process it, especially when there is no adult available to help you through it – and children always latch on to their survival instincts and tactics.
My tool for survival was to block out everything, because every time I spoke about my mother, I would relentlessly cry and would be apologetic about crying. I would tell myself; “By now, I need to be fine, I need to get it together, I can’t be as emotional about it anymore,” although deep down, I was. I was so angry at my mother for leaving me, and I was more angry at the fact that I wasn’t supposed to be angry at her, by virtue of her being dead. There was a lot I wanted to say and the list keeps increasing each year.
So, for years, I was looking for shortcuts and instant coping mechanisms of how to speed up the healing process, until this year. I realized that all the shortcuts I have taken have led me back to my initial position. That, I still want my mom back and that, I still dream of her as if she is not on the other side. I was still angry at myself for not being healed yet, more than a decade later. Other things in my life were happening, which required me to examine family pathologies, and found that how broken I am as a woman resembles how broken my mom was as a 26 year old woman back in her days.
I started looking at my late mother as a woman, not my mother.
What were her struggles as a woman? What had she been through? Who abandoned her? How did she feel about it? What did it make her do? What were the classic mistakes she made that most women make? What was she looking for? What did she do right? What were her hopes and dreams as a woman? What did she need?
The answers (derived from looking closer into her life) juxtaposed with my current predicaments made dealing with her death even harder. As a woman, I needed to ask her these questions and get her answers – but most importantly, I needed my mom to sit with me and narrate her story as a woman to me from her heart. As a daughter she didn’t raise, who always felt empty and always looking for approval, I wanted my mother to acknowledge what that did to me, and I wanted her to get the opportunity to fight for her dignity.
I needed my mom to say “I was abandoned by both my parents, I was looking for love from anyone who could give it, I met a man who was also broken, we made you guys – and you are in this situation right now because I didn’t love myself enough. I didn’t choose myself. I was lacking in self-worth and self-esteem, and so I took everyone down with me. It was never my intention. I am sorry.”
This would have made me realize that I am performing the same script as her, because she is my mother. It would have also made me more empathetic of her situation because if she felt empty, I know what that feels like because I feel it too.
In my opinion, this conversation is at the core of any daughter’s healing, whether they got the best or the worst of their mother. It is from there that you get to understand your mother was standing on a broken foundation, and all that she gave is all that she could give. I get that now, and I have learned from my mother’s mistakes, some which I have also made as a woman in my own life.
Women who still have their mothers should try initiating this process. Why? Because emotionally, you and your mother are probably the same age, if she’s not younger than you. For example, my mother’s life was shattered by being abandoned by both her parents – she probably came into that realization at age 6. So, my mom was always a 6 year old. If me and her were to have the conversation, I would be 7 years old, because that’s the age when I went to live with my aunt, my first encounter with the reality that my mom and dad didn’t have the means to raise me.
Trust me, this is a good place to start. Ask your mom to go back to that experience which has shaped her, and ask her to speak from that little girl, not in hindsight. You must also do the same – so that the process of healing and forgiveness can begin, and so that you can live in the fullness of who and what you are supposed to be. You need to let go of pain, so that you can make space for love to flow in and out of your heart abundantly. It’s a long process, but you will come out better and lighter.
As my friend continues to pick up the pieces of losing her mother, I yearn more to facilitate and ignite these conversations between mothers and daughters. I wish I emphasized it more to my friend before she lost her mom; I wish I told her what I am missing as a motherless daughter, so that she could fill in vacant spaces in her relationship with her mother. A woman truly becomes her mother, by default. It is only when we put the issues on blast and let them hurt us as deep as they can that we finally interrupt the patterns. Mothers and their daughters are so important to each other.