Healing from the Loss of a Mother

healing loss of mother claire bidwell smith

I recently led a retreat with Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, so it seems only fitting that I talk about mother loss today.

My mom died of cancer when I was eighteen years old. She’d been a wonderful mother and we were incredibly close. Her death shattered life as I knew it, and forever changed who I would become.

In the last twenty years of her absence, I’ve learned an enormous amount about the effects of mother loss. I lived through my own experience of it and I’ve also worked with countless women on their own journeys. In my book The Rules of Inheritance, I wrote:

“Her death leaves me both depleted and emboldened. That’s what tragedy does to you, I am learning. The sadness and wild freedom of it all impart a strange durability. I feel weathered and detached, tucking my head against the winds and trudging forward into life.”

While there is no sense in comparing different kinds of loss, I do know that mother loss has a long-lasting impact on a woman’s sense of self, on her relationships (romantic, familial and fraternal), on her sense of self-worth, and on her ability to feel nurtured in the world, no matter how much support she may have around her.

Over the last few years of working so extensively with motherless daughters, I’ve seen myself mirrored in dozens of women. I’ve sat in rooms filled with these women and seen the same themes emerge over and over – depression, anxiety, fear of more loss, difficulty with attachments, control issues – but also positive themes like fortitude, resilience, independence, ambition, and empathy.

I’ve often found myself wishing that certain people in my life – family members or partners who have struggled to understand me in the face of my loss – could hear these rooms and understand that my feelings and issues are not abnormal; that I am part of a sisterhood I never asked to join, but with whom I now clasp hands in gratitude that we have found each other.

If you have lost your mom please know that you are not alone in missing her months, years, and even decades later. This loss comes with its own subset of varying impacts on your life. Seeking support and understanding around this loss is incredibly healing and rewarding. Pick up Hope’s book, work with me individually, or join us on a retreat (there’s one coming up on February 16 – 19 in Ojai, CA). It’s never too late to begin healing.