I never wanted to write about grief. Grief is dark, lonely and destructive. Grief never gets easier, you just get stronger. I’m writing this because I know I’m not alone. Others grief, but we all do it in our own way.
In November 2017, my mother died of leukemia. Her death was unexpected and sudden. My mom and I had a strained relationship for many, many years. From birth till age seven, my sister and I lived with our grandparents. We only saw our parents once a year. Growing up, my mother could be very cruel to me. Yes, we had good days. Days when she was just a “normal” mom. Loving, caring, and sweet. Then there were moments, like my 16th birthday, when she casually announced that my father (her ex husband) wasn’t my “real” dad. “He may or may not be your dad,” she said. She simply wasn’t sure. Although my world stopped, she didn’t think this was a big deal. A few weeks later, she introduced me to my new “real” dad. I soon found out that I was nothing more but an inconvenience to him and his family. Eventually, he stopped coming or calling and I never saw him again. My mother, who was hoping to rekindle their relationship, was upset because it didn’t work out for her. Not once did she tell me she was sorry for what I had to go through. To this day, I still don’t know who my real father is.
This was just one incident. There were many others that left me shaken and unhappy.
The last time I saw my mom was August 2001. My daughters (then ages 6 and 4) and I flew to Germany to visit my mom and her new husband. She picked us up at the Frankfurt airport and drove us to their apartment, located just minutes outside of Heidelberg. She was thrilled to have us there… but only on the first day. On the second day, my mom started to criticize everything I did or didn’t do. In her mind I was a disappointment: a bad mom, wife, and daughter. Although my girls were the most loving, gentle and sweet kids, my mom was certain they needed to see a psychiatrist. I was devastated to hear such mean words from my own mother. At night, I laid next to my girls and cried myself to sleep. We traveled 14 hours on planes and cars, spent thousands of dollars, and this was all she could offer in return? I’m forever grateful that my girls didn’t speak German at that time. At least they couldn’t understand the hurtful words she threw at us. The next day, however, my mom acted as if nothing had happened.
My only highlight of this trip was seeing my sister and grandma. On my last day, my sister and I cried for hours. She and her husband were desperately trying for a baby. After many unsuccessful treatments, they considered adoption. They were very excited for the process to start. I was so happy for them because I knew they would make wonderful parents. All I remember was my mom saying that it’s” a bad idea because she could never love an adopted child”. My sister and I bawled like babies.
Countless times I wondered if my mom couldn’t stand to see us happy.
On our flight home to Los Angeles I swore I would never return to my mom’s house. I told myself that sometimes it is best to live your own life and go your own way. When 9/11 happened, three weeks after we returned, I truly lost the desire to travel abroad. The world seemed like an uncertain place… I didn’t want to leave home. Occasionally, we still talked on the phone and wrote letters to each other. She never once brought up our visit. In her mind, everything was fine. She didn’t do anything wrong. She never apologized for anything. Two years later, my son was born. My mom never expressed a desire to meet him.
In 2009, my mom and her husband visited my sister (she lived in Salzburg, Austria). One evening my sister called. She was in tears because mom “had lost it”. My mom yelled and accused my sister and her husband of being horrible hosts. She packed her bags and left. For my sister, this was the last straw. That night my sister told me should could not be around our mom anymore. The anger, the yelling, the toxic words… my sister didn’t want this in her life.
Around the same time, my mom stopped calling me. I continued to send her letters and photos of her grandchildren. Everything from birthdays, First Communion, graduations, soccer games, etc. – I never received a reply. Occasionally, she would send a Christmas card.
In October 2017, my sister called to let me know that our mom was in the hospital battling leukemia. My mom’s husband told my sister that “it wasn’t looking good”. I was shocked and numb. Half of me felt cold and vengeful, memories still vivid of things you shouldn’t say or do to your daughter. The other half wanted to be there for her, forgive everything and everyone. I wrote her a letter wishing her well. I contacted the hospital in Heidelberg, but they weren’t allowed to share any medical details with me. My mom and her husband didn’t own a cell phone. All the info I received came from my sister, who was still able to communicate with my mom’s husband.
About a week later, my sister called my mom’s husband’s home hoping to get more info on her condition. Surprisingly, my mom picked up the phone. After her first round of chemo, she was released from the hospital. For the first time in eight years, my sister and my mom talked. It turned out to be the most devastating conversation she had ever had with her. My mom wasn’t happy to hear from my sister. She was angry, rude and cruel. She accused me and my sister of being “horrible daughters” and said she never wants to see us again. She told my sister to never call again. My sister was sobbing but wished her the best.
A few days later, my mom was once again rushed to the hospital. In addition to having Leukemia, she suffered a heart attack. My sister, her husband and their adopted daughter decided to make the nine-hour drive to see her one last time. My sister described to me the way she gently took mom’s hand, assuring her that we love her. My mom looked at her and turned away. She didn’t say a single word the entire time my sister was there. She didn’t even care to acknowledge her grand-daughter. My sister said her final goodbyes.
The next day my mom’s sisters and brother came to visit her at the hospital. We were later told that mom was having “a good time with her siblings”. She was chatting away and laughing. Hearing this broke my sister’s and my heart in a million pieces. Our mother had dealt the final blow.
A then it was over. A few days later, my mom died in her sleep.
I didn’t visit my mother at the hospital nor was I at her funeral. So I have been living with the feeling of being a “bad daughter”. I believe these feelings complicated my grieving process. I thought because I didn’t have a relationship with my mom, I wouldn’t have a need to grieve. Boy, was I wrong.
I never know when grief is going to hit me these days. It could be a song. It could be a photo of my mother. It could be a conversation I have with my sister. Sometimes I’m driving and grief hits me so hard that I have to pull over. I sob uncontrollably. I cry for what could have been. Grief comes in waves but the rhythm is unpredictable. Grief resides in my head.
Her death has left me with a lot of unfinished business, including unresolved arguments , unspoken words, unanswered questions, and undeclared love. I’m left hanging in mid-air, unable to complete my relationship with her. My only solace is knowing that my mother is no longer in pain. I try to focus on the happy times I shared with her. I visualize her pink lipstick. I can almost smell her favorite perfume, Chanel No 5. I choose to let go of my guilt and not dwell in regrets. I ask God for healing and forgiveness.
Even though my sister lives on a different continent, after our mom’s death, we have become closer than ever. She even visited and I met my niece for the first time. I instantly fell in love with her.
Although losing a parent is a natural process, my mother’s death has forever changed me and how I look at the world. In an odd way it has made me a better parent. I want to make sure my children know how much they’re loved, and when I’m gone, those memories, will be my legacy.
Mom, I love you. You are finally pain-free and at peace. When we meet again we will have that long overdue talk and we will find peace together.
JaneneJanuary 9, 2018
You are not alone. God will bring good out of this disfunctionality. You are a good and loving person. Do not believe the lies of haters. God bless you and your family, Thank you for sharing.
sabinesJanuary 9, 2018
Janene, thank you for the kind words…they mean a lot me. And thank you for reading.
JuliJanuary 10, 2018
I am so sorry for your loss and grief. It sounds to me like you and your sister did everything you could to be kind and loving daughters. I am no psychiatrist, but it sounds as if your mother was probably suffering from some type of mental disorder. Thank goodness your grandparents were able to step in and take care of you and your sister. It may have been your mother’s feelings of guilt that caused her to act the way she did toward you girls. I hope that you and your sister find peace in knowing that you are in no way to blame for the emotional pain your mother was going through.
sabinesJanuary 10, 2018
Thank you so much, Juli. You’re very sweet and your words are very kind. Thank you for reading my story.
melodys100January 15, 2018
Love you mo. There is positive out of every situation and the fact that you and your sister were able to become closer as a result of all of this is a beautiful outcome in the midst of all of the pain your mom put you guys through.
sabinesJanuary 16, 2018
Love you too, Melody.
TilesbayFebruary 2, 2018
Nice post!! God bless you and your family, Thank you for sharing.
sabinesFebruary 5, 2018
Thank you so much.
TataJuly 28, 2018
Thank you for your story. My sister and I have lived a similar story. My mother decided that she didn’t want anything to do with either of us, or her grand children. Through the years she’s insulted me, was extremely cruel to us, yelled at us in front of our children, she actually told me that I was the devil reincarnated and that I would go straight to hell. I was with her as much as I could. I helped her through both her knee replacement surgeries, her pneumonia and subsequent withdrawal symptoms from cigarettes, drove her to her appointments, groceries, friends, church…it was never good enough … and then every time we called, she would screen the calls and not pick up. She surrounded herself with terrible jealous judgemental people. Then two months ago we found out that she had terminal cancer – she had a couple of months. My sister and I were there day and night right up until the very end. Now we are being judged. Never once did I say a bad word about my mother – I was only speaking as a confused person and daughter. What did I do to deserve being treated so badly for so many Years.. what did her grandchildren do? Finally today I was able to
Connect to my last aunt in Italy and she told me that she was unable to forgive me because I allowed my mother to die. What she doesn’t know is that my mother had nothing nice to say about her sister – right up until the very end. Her exact words were « don’t you dare call her, let her cry when I’m dead ». I can’t handle that people think that I’m a bad daughter, but they have no clue of anything. I’m devastated of my mothers passing and then to be accused of her death has devastated me further.
sabinesJuly 29, 2018
Tata, I’m weeping reading your story. What you and your sister went through, is emotional and verbal abuse. It’s devastating and nearly impossible to get over, especially if inflicted by your own parent. You are not a bad daughter. Clearly, your mother had her own demons, as did mine. I hope time will heal your heart and your wounds.I still have days when I sob uncontrollably. Sometimes it’s a song, a photo, a memory. Thank you so much for sharing your story… it means so much to me. Thank you and god bless you.
LInda cunninghamAugust 9, 2018
I’m in the same place. My mom died 10-17-2017 from ovarian cancer. We were estranged at the time. Hadn’t spoken in almost 2 years. She was often mean to me but I could count on her if I was in a bind. And I miss her and I hurt so badly sometimes. I will never be the same.
sabinesAugust 10, 2018
Linda, I’m so sorry for your loss. Grief is a very dark place. We can never completely escape from it and it changes us forever.
LoriOctober 3, 2018
I went through something similar with my estranged mother in May of this year. Thank you for sharing your story…it really helped. Especially the statement about grieving. “I thought because I didn’t have a relationship with my mom, I wouldn’t need to grieve. Boy was I wrong.” This has been the most surprising part to me…the grief is almost unbearable at times. I never in a million years expected that after all the pain she put me through. Thank you for sharing.
sabinesOctober 5, 2018
Lori, thank you for commenting on my blog. I know exactly how you feel. I, too, didn’t think it would be so hard after what she put me through. Grief really is dark and lonely.
LisaNovember 5, 2018
I have just lost my Mother, four days ago, we were not speaking as of August last year. I was told to stay away from her because I would just further upset her. The details….really do not matter other than there were several other family members involved and lies told to which my Mother believed without hearing my “ side”…. These other family members were my younger brothers, to which being the only daughter, many times I have felt my Mothers love for her sons far outshined, her love for me. Now, some may say that’s not possible but through all of my life, there have been many times my Mother pushed me away, sometimes it could be weeks, months or a year. I always came back to her and my family because family is EVERYTHING to me. People say that, but I sometimes feel that the love and pride and compassion I have for them is more important too me. I’m not saying, I’m more capable than others, I’m just saying I love deeply and wholeheartedly to such an extent that it’s consuming. I’m not sure I can explain it and do justice too those feelings because just reading that doesn’t convey, as I wish it would. That all being said, when this falling out happened… I lost my Mom, my Dad, whom knew the truth yet wouldn’t stand for me against his wife, my brothers, their wives and my nephews. Completely alienated. My Mother’s health wasn’t the best then, so they all refused to allow me to communicate with her for fear of upsetting her, which I accepted. For this last year (plus) I have felt angry that they all threw me away. That not one of them missed me enough, to stand up for me. To stand up against the two more aggressive brothers, that were the perpetuators in the initial argument. Now my Mother is gone, I was refused at the home where she died. I was refused to mourn with them at the funeral home. I was refused to hold my Mother and tell her goodbye and I’m sorry. I was refused at the Private memorial held for her at our home. Now I have no family, I’m broken-hearted that brothers I have been there for my entire life ( they are all 15, 17, and 19 years younger than I) have done this too me. I am broken-hearted my Father, to whom I have had the traditional Father & Daughter relationship, could hurt me so deeply. They tell me my Mom, refused my being there if something happened to her, and they are respecting her wishes. How could a Mother do this to her child? I have two daughters, who I love unconditionally and could NEVER treat like this. I’m so destroyed from this loss, alone from the estrangement from family that I valued so much. I simply feel that I was not valuable to my Mother, my Father, my Brothers…. I was angry my Mom couldn’t love me without conditions, now she is gone and I just miss my Mom.
sabinesNovember 11, 2018
I’m so sorry for your loss, Lisa. It’s heartbreaking to hear you weren’t allowed to see her. No matter how strained your relationship with your mom was, you should have been allowed to say goodbye to her and find some closure. reading your story made me so sad, and like you, I don’t understand why parents do the things they do to their children. I, too, have two daughters and I would never inflict the kind of pain on them as my mom did on me and my sister. We can’t change what happened to us but we can move forward and love our children unconditionally. Grief never leaves us. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my mom. But I feel peace knowing she is in a better place. I’m praying for your peace, Lisa.
SylviaDecember 2, 2018
Sorry for your loss. I too, was estranged from my mother for several months and have a similar story of alienation from my own mother at the hands of one brother… I live with the guilt that I should have fought harder to fight him to see her. She passed away on November 13t unexpectedly from stomach cancer. I would give anything to have my mother back and I too am inconsolable at times. We had a complicated history because our stepfather was abusive and she allowed it. I am grateful that I got to spend a couple of hours with her while she was alert and oriented but this grief is so overwhelming that at times I cannot get out of bed. I pray for forgiveness and asked her to forgive me before she passed but by then she was as unconscious. My family does call to check on me but it is hard to vocalize because I have always been a strong person. I also find peace that she is no longer in pain because watching her was torturing. I will pray for all of u ladies.
sabinesDecember 4, 2018
Sylvia, I’m so sorry for your loss and everything you’re going through right now. Grief is overwhelming and reading your story made me cry. But time is a healer and things will get better. Hang in there. 🙂
Michelle HenigeApril 9, 2019
I am so sorry for your pain and what your mother put you and your sister through. Please don’t believe those lies that your a “bad daughter”. You and your sister were kids when she was doing this at first. No child ever deserves to be treated like that. When you became an adult you went over and above being kind to her, giving to her even when she was abusing you and your sister. One of the weird things that comes from abuse, is that the one who is abused feels shame and guilt for what happened. But, they haven’t done anything to warrant that. You and your sister didn’t do anything to warrant feeling guilty or shame. I’ve been through some of the same things with my mom, she also died of cancer. Afterwards I felt grief over the mother I never had. I tried everything to please her, but it wasn’t ever enough. I read some books and learned it’s important to let yourself grieve, don’t feel bad for it and let it take as long as it needs to. Don’t bottle it up, it won’t help. I read books about having a narcissistic mother. One of them is “Will I ever be good enough”. I don’t know if that was your mom’s issue. But some of the things your saying seem like it. You can also google, daughters of narcissistic mothers and there’s a lot. I learned that it wasn’t my fault. It took about 2 yrs., but I was able to see that the way my mom treated me had nothing to do with me. It was her issue, I felt validated and understood. I’m also a Christian and the Lord Jesus healed me with His love. His love is not based on what we do, He loves us because we’re His and He knows evyabout us and loves us perfectly. I’m healed and feel free! I can love my mom for who she is, and not feel sad or pain. I don’t know if any of that will help you, but I pray you will be healed!
SabineApril 14, 2019
Michelle, you’re such a sweet lady. Thank you for your comforting words. Everything you said is true and I’m sorry you had to experience similar pain. “Afterwards I felt grief over a mother I never had.” Exactly how I felt. Thanks again for reaching out with your kindness. God bless!
Marina CatalanoAugust 9, 2019
In July of this year I found out my mom died on 10-19-2017. We hadn’t spoken in 7 years or so, even though she and I lived across the street from on another and, she raised my eldest son. He and I have yet to speak. I’ve tried reaching out to him but my mom has filled his head with who knows what. She, like your mom if sounds, could be quite toxic and hurtful yet never saw it that way. I am autistic and so is my 18 year old son. My son’s dr. Feels that my other son may be autistic as well, as do i. (Hes a physicist) my family history is strange, sad and dark and my mom had a pretty rough life growing up but always said that lifes a b#$%h & then you die so you better try to make what you have as good as you can while you can, which makes sense to me still, so. I’ve no doubt that she did me wrong with my eldest, and I’m a twin who never knew my twin because mom sent her to live with my grandparents as an infant because she was overwhelmed and feared she might hurt her, and more. But I loved my mom very much and she raised me well by working her tail off. she was the strongest little woman I’ve ever known, she literally saved my life twice (maybe more) and she did the best she could, you gotta respect that especially these days. I wish I could’ve told her I love her one more time. My heart is broken over her death, the fact that I didn’t know til now and it’s really messed with my head, it’s harder too because I don’t want to tell my 18 year old and havnt but I’m very aware that I’m acting different, no matter how hard I try not to. I just don’t feel like I’m handling this very well, but I’m trying my best. I miss my mom. I wish things could’ve been different. I should’ve told her I loved her once more while I had the chance because now I can’t and I have to live with that.
SabineAugust 15, 2019
Marina, thank you for sharing your difficult story. I’m so sorry for you loss… I know how much this hurts. Toxic relationships are just that, toxic. They “kill” you slowly and surely. Please don’t feel the guilt and forgive yourself. You are not responsible for your mom’s action or behavior. Pray for her and your family. Enjoy life and be there for your children. In my opinion, that is the best thing we all can do. God bless!
PhilJanuary 13, 2020
When I found out my dad died, he was already buried and I had no clue he had cancer. My dad has died 2 years ago and I still don’t know where he is buried. I haven’t seen my father since february of 2001 AND i HAVEN’T TALKED OT HIM SINCE 2005. I’m only 31 years old. Every body tells me to “get over it” but its so hard.
SabineJanuary 13, 2020
I’m so sorry for your loss, Phil. Losing a parent is very, very hard, even if you weren’t close. I think it changes you forever. You were only a teen when you last talked to him. I hope your pain lessens over time. I hope you find comfort in knowing that your dad is no longer in pain. I wish you the very best. God bless you.
DonnaApril 26, 2020
Thank you for sharing your story about your mother. My story is very similar and very fresh. You see, my mother just passed away three weeks ago. My father, who died in 1989, my sister, who died in 2018 and my brother and I all tried to please her but there was no pleasing her. She was truly a sad narcissist. It seemed she just could not be happy in this life. I’m a Christian and tried to love her as Christ loves me but could never reach her. I believe that my mom made her peace with the Lord before she died and she is no longer suffering. She can truly be happy and at peace now. I realized today I’m no longer suffering over her actions and I don’t need to feel guilty. We all make our choices of how we will live our lives. Even though I mourn what might have been in a healthy mother/daughter relationship with her, God blessed me with two wonderful daughters that I’m very close to. Because my Mom had Hospice Care the last 6 weeks of her life, I’m able to receive Bereavement Counseling. I’ve already had one session and can see how this will help me with the healing/grieving process. I would encourage anyone who is struggling in this way to get help. Thank you again for your openness and God’s blessings to you!
SabineMay 6, 2020
Donna, my condolences to you and your family. I know how you feel right now. You are correct in saying that we all make our own choices of how we live and treat others. You and only you are responsible for your actions. I wish you healing throughout this process. God bless you.
Andy.August 23, 2020
My dad died almost three months ago.
We never had a close relationship and at times it was a bad one, especially when I was grown-up.
My dad was a narcissist. I never felt close to or loved by him. I always felt he saw me as a threat, or as someone to dominate. As I never let him dominate me (even when I was very young), he mainly ignored me. He blew hot and cold with my sister. They had a love-hate relationship. He was never physically abusive to either of us – just emotionally cold. He wasn’t around very much when I was growing up – which I regard as a blessing.
Thinking about it, he didn’t get on with anyone except his own mother (who also doted on me – much more than my sister — but nothing to do with how either my sister or I behaved) and our mum, who did love him for sure.
As I grew-up, he became more and more critical of me. My sister and him fell-out and didn’t actually speak for 9 years. That only ended when my mother died in 2011. Since then, my relationship with him went in the deep freeze and she had a functional but never warm relationship with him.
He hadn’t sent any of my 3 children so much as a birthday card since my mum died. He said to me on a visit to his flat in 2017, that ‘my lot can f### off’ – that was within 60 seconds of walking through the door! He did so many mean things to me there isn’t the space here to recount them. I ignored them and never rose to his provocations. I saw him once, maybe twice a year since my mum died.
I always stayed deliberately distant and ‘outside his locus of control’ as the psychologists say. I think this was one of the things he most disliked about me – the fact that I would never be dominated by him.
He wasn’t the worst person in the world, but he was a nasty person to everyone in the family – but especially me – who he regarded as a threat. Reading these stories of other people’s experiences and reading other stuff, I’m beginning to see how common having a lousy parent is. And actually, just knowing that helps – I’m not alone and it isn’t my personal fault.
It also helps that everyone thought as I thought of him, but perhaps a little less intensely; I was his son, after all, so it’s going to be more intense.
When I found him dead in his flat, initially there was a lot of stuff to sort. After about a month, I started to grieve – feeling very sad and tearful. I was very annoyed at myself for mourning him. I didn’t feel he or our relationship deserved it. This grief acted as a catalyst to cause me to be annoyed at the state of the world and all it’s stupidity. I don’t think I’m grieving the relationship we never had – I didn’t like him (though I don’t think I hated him either). Just knowing that lots of parents are like him makes it easier. It helps put it in context. I delivered a eulogy at his funeral – initially I wrote a warts-and-all description of what kind of person he was.
After taking advice not to use it as an opportunity to ‘get back’ at him, I played it for laughs and made it light-hearted. Everyone there was a family member (during lock down) so they knew him in person and how we didn’t get on. Then my sister stood up to read a poem – but not before she said ‘What Andrew didn’t mention was what a complete git he was’. Brilliant – I got to play a straight bat and the fact that he was an utter #### got said too! 🙂
It helps to forgive him although he doesn’t deserve it in just the same way Christ forgives us when we don’t deserve it.
It just seems that some parents reserve their worst behaviour ( a strong field where my dad’s concerned) for their children. It actually makes you more self-contained and less needy, I think. One of my co-workers said something profound, when I discussed it with her – especially that I didn’t want to grieve him; she said that fact that I am grieving him means I’m normal and not like him – better than him.
That’s a great insight. So even if your parent is a complete ass to you, if you’re mourning (even unwelcome mourning), that means you are NORMAL and not like them: you won – they didn’t turn you into the emotional hate-ball they were. You put-up with their shit, and came through emotionally intact and normal. NB: emotionally normal and intact people grieve those they have known all their lives when they die.
I’ve had a couple of counselling sessions and just relating the story to some one neutral helps. Better really than a partner or friend in some ways because you don’t feel like your imposing, like you would going through this with people who have their own busy lives to lead. I recommend it. And it’s getting better. Thanks for providing a great blog-site.
SabineSeptember 14, 2020
Andy, sorry it took me a while to reply to your comment. Just reading this and replying gets me all choked up. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am for your loss… and yes, it is a loss no matter how strained your relationship with your dad was. I hope you can find peace with counseling and time. And you are right, the fact that you’re grieving means that you’re better than him. It means he didn’t “turn” you into him. I can tell you’re a strong person and you’re going to make it through this o.k. God bless you, Andy.