Sixteen Years Without Her


Dear Mom,

You have been gone for 16 years. Almost half of my life. All morning I’ve been trying to imagine what you would think of me now.

I’m thirty-four years old. I live in California. I’m married with two little girls. I’m a writer, and a therapist. I keep wondering if these are the things you imagined for me. If you ever saw into my future, if you ever had glimpses of who I would become. I wonder if you ever imagined me as a mother, you as a grandmother.

I don’t know. But I know that you would be happy if you could see me now. I think you would be proud of me. I know you would adore your granddaughters. Their names are Veronica and Juliette.

Veronica is three and a half. She is blond and blue-eyed like you. And she is funny and serious, fiery and sensitive, imaginative and vulnerable. She reminds me of you a lot. She is kind of brave and beautiful in this totally unaware way. She’s also maddening in her determination to do things her way. A trait of most three year olds, sure, but you were like that too. Once you got something in your head it was impossible for you to let it go.

Juliette is only seven months old but I feel like I know her personality already. She’s so different than her sister. She’s sweet and happy and utterly content as long as she’s riding around with one of us. Whereas Vera seems to have a constant furrowed brow, Jules breaks into a smile at the drop of a hat. She has this funny habit of chuckling all the time, even when she’s upset.

I can’t believe you’re not here to know them. That you’re not here to see me as a mother.

I think about this all the time in terms of the girls. How all I want in this lifetime is to see them into adulthood. I want to be there for all the things you weren’t there for with me. I want to see them graduate college and go through their twenties. I want to hold their hands through painful breakups and watch them try on wedding dresses. I want to see their passions develop, their careers unfold. I want to get a call when they’re going into labor with their own children. And I want simple things too, like when they’re sad and confused and lonely and they just need their mother.

There’s been so many times in the last 16 years when I’ve needed you, when I’ve turned and turned and turned in circles trying to find you, trying to find anything to hold onto. In doing so I’ve become my own woman.

I once read that a girl doesn’t become a woman until she loses her mother and I know that has been true for me. I’ve had to learn to mother myself, even when I desperately didn’t want to. I haven’t always done a very good job, but I’ve gotten this far.

I think a lot about who I would be if I still had you. I think about trips we could have taken together. I think about all the times I’ve made terrible decisions because you weren’t there to guide me, and I wonder where I would be now instead. I wish I could have had you to teach me how to cook, to give me fashion advice, to help me decorate my home. I look around at those things, at what I’m wearing or how my house is arranged – trivial things, I know – but suddenly it all looks pathetic to me. My little attempts at these things, and how much better it would all be if you were here. In those moments I see myself as a little girl, flailing without you.

But motherhood is the thing I most wish you were here to see me through. I have so many questions and so many moments I wish I could share with you. You were a great mother. You were so generous, so funny, so creative and so, so weird and impulsive. You brought magic and make-believe and pure joy and excitement into my life. Even when I was being serious, which I often was, you knew how to open me up, how to make me let go, how to make me believe, even when I was resisting the most. You were charming and utterly impossible to turn down.

Most of all, you were always there. I can’t think of one time when I needed you or called for you and you weren’t there. Sick days and sad days, loneliness and doubt, throughout all of those you never failed to wrap your arms around me as tight as you could, and tell me how much you loved me.

And all these years later, sixteen long years later, I can still feel that love. I really can.

So I guess what I hope for most is that I can give that same gift to my girls, that the love I have for them will be so strong and so true that it will transcend time and space, life and death.

For that is what you gave to me.

Love your only daughter,





  • Posted January 24, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Crying hot tears on the airplane. This is so lovely, Claire, just heart-wrenching. What an extraordinary testament to a woman whose influence reached far, far, FAR beyond the too-few years you had with her. xox

  • Posted January 24, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    You really need to add disclaimers that readers need tissues to the beginning of your posts. How brave and generous of you to always be so honest, Claire. Thank you.

  • Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Beautiful, friend. She would be so proud. xo

  • Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    This is so beyond wonderful, beyond words. I’m honored to know you and your sweet girls are insanely lucky to have you as their mom. Xox

  • Posted January 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Yep, she’d be proud and so much more….I never knew her, yet there isn’t a flicker of doubt in my mind. Thinking of you and sending love.

  • Karen
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh so beautifully said. She raised a wonderful daughter and she would definitely be proud of who you are and all that you’ve accomplished. Being without a mother is difficult, as I speak from my own experience. We always do the best that we can given our circumstances.

  • Patricia
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink


  • Posted January 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    wow; my mom died when my twin and i were 17 – still now at 74, i felt a twinge of a tear after reading your article; it’s the beauty of your piece, the love.

  • Evelyn
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    The part about wanting your girls to call you when they are in labor got me. That moment is very real. Something I took for granted with my two labors. Your loss is so palpable in that moment. Thank you, as always, for sharing your deepest thoughts.

  • Posted January 26, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I found this through E, and I am so glad I did. It’s beautiful and sad and I’ve got tears running down my face. Just beautiful.

  • Posted January 26, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    I empathize so much with this; I think the same thoughts often about my late mom and my young daughter, how they never got to know each other. Every single day I wish I could pick up the phone and talk to my mom, ask her advice about every little thing.

    “I once read that a girl doesn’t become a woman until she loses her mother.”

    ^^ Truth.

  • Stephanie
    Posted January 27, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    I am in awe of your ability to put your thoughts and feelings into words. I was so touched by your memoir. As a psychologist who supports hospice patients and their families, as a “motherless daughter” and “motherless mother”, I applaud your ability to capture on paper what so many of us feel. Thank you for sharing your story. Copies of your book will have a special place on my office and home bookshelves.

  • Judi
    Posted January 29, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I’m a new reader. Read this to my husband and cried through the whole thing. Beautiful letter and beautiful sentiments. I’m sorry for your loss, 16 years later.

  • LJ
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I too was a teen when my mother died of cancer, I too have a 3 and a half year old sprite (also with maddening, and fierce, determination). Twenty years later I still find my self looking for my mother in a crowd. Oh this struck me, thank you.

  • Posted February 16, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi Claire,
    I just found you through Kelle Hampton’s blog. My father died when I was 16. It’s been 20 years so he has been gone for more than half of my life now. I was Daddy’s little (and only) girl. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about or miss him. Not one in 20 plus years. I don’t dream of him much anymore, but when I was pregnant with my second child (I have three boys) I had vivid dreams about him, so much so that I named my son after him. And you know, he doesn’t look at all like my father, but he has his personality to a tee. He even started whistling when he was two which was something my father always did. Our kids definitely connect us to our parents in ways we never thought possible. My heart aches that he isn’t hear to hold them or to brag about them to his friends. My husband never knew him, which I think made naming our son after him a bit more difficult for him. My heart goes out to you! I will have to read your book.

  • Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Just re-read this…I lost my mom when I was 23 (almost 11 years ago now)…and wish she was here to see me through motherhood as well. Mine are 2 and 4. Wow how they are growing fast. Your words echo my thoughts, and this is the first place I feel like someone knows what I have been feeling for these past 11 years.

  • Posted July 16, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    ….just wanted to say thank you. Reading your posts comforts me in a way I’m unable to describe…Can’t wait for you to start writing again.

  • Takondwa
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I have discovered your blog recently, I lost my mom when i was 9 and my dad when i was 18 and my only sibling when i was 23… I am 31 a single mom but reading your blog has been like therapy to me…. Finally there is someone out there who although our experiences are different, i find comfort in your words, although we are worlds apart (I am in UK) but grew up in Africa your words break through barriers. Keep on doing what i you are doing. God bless.

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