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Thursday, 23 November 2006

Motherless: A Therapist's Comment

Written by  Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

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Losing a parent, at any age, is difficult and painful. It clearly marks the "end of innocence" for us as children. Our aloneness and vulnerability become painfully clear.

Most of us face this emptiness as a natural consequence of our own aging process. If we are lucky, the tragedy and loss of a parent is forestalled until we have created alternate sources for unconditional love. That often helps us to put the pain into some sort of acceptable perspective.

However, when this type of loss occurs prematurely, there is often no opportunity for reflection, or guides willing and available to help instruct us in a healthy mourning process. So we just react to our misfortune in the best way we can at the moment.

Then as adults, as we raise our own children, the weight of the loss begins to really sink in, especially as we share in our children's important moments of joy and sadness.


That's when we again remember that our parent wasn't there at our recital, or when we broke a leg, or when we first had our first period, our first love, our first baby .

"Momma where were you and why aren't you here!?!?"

"God, why did you do this to me?!?!"

These types of thoughts and unanswerable questions usually aren't for the normal "light of day." They're the questions in the back of our minds, the ones we don't ask ourselves anymore.

It's only when we're finally sitting with our therapists, complaining of being so fatigued, or of the emotional distance we feel towards our kids or our spouses, or complaining about how little help and support we get -- that the picture really begins to come into focus.

She wasn't there for you when you needed her and it really hurt you, but you were never allowed to let it show. There's still a part of you that needs to cry about it, that needs to mourn, to feel the loss and vulnerability in order to truly heal.


This is when we need someone to tell us that it's okay to feel sorry for ourselves. To assure us that we won't really fall apart and to help us give ourselves permission for what we might think of as gross self-indulgence. Then we can begin to lift the heavy veil of avoidance, which we have used to blind our senses and avoid mourning until now.

The adult orphaned child, who scurries around busying herself with every conceivable errand and chore, being the perfect worker, spouse, and parent, of course has no time for such self-indulgence.

Self-indulgence is the type of word often used to describe what we think (and reinforce ourselves to think) about our permitting ourselves to feel!

How did little Elaine avoid and cope with the pain? She just kept busy and made her mom proud. Her mom probably became like the "Alamo" for her, her own personal rallying cry. Do it for mom -- be smart, be good, be beautiful, be nice...you get the picture. She became her own mommy way before her time.


Elaine probably cried herself to sleep on many occasions missing her mom, or would find herself staring at her friends and their parents, wondering, what must it be like? Would she be different, better, more understood if Mom was still around?

And when it comes to protecting her own kids now, no sacrifice is too large.

All of Elaine's energy has unfortunately been directed towards "not feeling the pain." Whether it's chemical dependency, "workaholism," depression, rage, or an addiction to being busy, they all have one goal in common: not feeling the pain.

One of the key elements for recovery and repair was avoided in this scenario by pushing the pain inducing-feelings and memories away. Ironically, the one thing that we must do in order to really heal and grow is mourn.

When is the right time to do this and how long is normal?

Everyone is different, and all of us heal in different ways. Some need to be alone and remember, others to think and write and others just to talk about it.

Children, who don't have the varied faculties of expression at their disposal that we do as adults, need to be encouraged to "act-out" their feelings positively through drama, drawing, and listening to others mourn.

But if Elaine couldn't mourn as a child, it is not too late for her to mourn now. And if she does, she might be surprised at how much she grows, at how much freer she feels.

She might even learn to sit down.


Last modified on Sunday, 03 July 2011 07:41
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Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson, MSW, ACSW, ACP

Marc Garson has a BA in psychology from the University of Texas in Austin, a MasterSs of Social Work (MSW) from Yeshiva University in New York City, and a Master of Science in Business Management from Boston University. He has been a practicing clinical psychotherapist since 1986. He is a licensed clinical social worker and advanced clinical practitioner in the State of Texas, and a longstanding member of the National Association of Social Workers. His clinical specialties include marriage and family, adolescence, parenting, and family therapies. He also has an extensive background in chemical dependency and codependence treatment. Marc is married and the father of three beautiful little girls: Daniella age 7, Ariella age 6, & Miera age 3. Marc's special interests and hobbies include football, rock and jazz music, boating, weightlifting, chess, philosophy, and business. He loves to travel, and is something of a gourmet chef.

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