The Complexities of Motherhood & Continued Bonds

Understanding Grief / Understanding Grief : Eleanor Haley

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I've been writing about my grief for my mother and how it has impacted my life as a mother since May of 2013, my first Mother's Day here at WYG. Looking back at some of my earlier articles, it's like reading an old diary. The people described on those pages still exist, but how we were is a distant memory in many ways. 

When my kids were young, everything seemed so precious and pure. Sure, there were tantrums and epic messes, but mostly I remember sweetness, closeness, and affection. And as I savored these little moments, I often thought of my mother and how nurturing and loving she was in my earliest memories of her. 

But ten years have gone by, and my kids are older now. Naturally, they're becoming individuals and developing unique ideas about the world and who they want to be. There's more distance, more shut doors, and I notice them tucking little things about themselves away from me. Though our love may be unconditional, their adoration is a little less unbridled. I'm now forever teetering on being cheesy, out-of-touch, or, lord forbid, embarrassing. 

I fret about the change, but then I try to put it into perspective -- this is normal; this is okay. Things about our relationship are gone, but wonderful new things have emerged. And wasn't I similarly distant, defiant, and honestly, a lot more trouble in my own teen years? I remember feeling a deep love for my mother that I couldn't find a way to express. She always had to assume I loved and appreciated her, which I now look back on with heaps of regret.

Complex and Evolving Continued Bonds

We often talk about how comforting it is to have a continued bond with our loved ones who have died. But as Queen Elizabeth said, "Grief is the price we pay for love."**

**Though Queen Elizabeth II popularized these words, the original source quote comes from grief theorist, Colin Murray Parks who said:

"The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment."

I think this quote applies to our ever-evolving continued bond as well. The price of continuing to love someone who's died is that you're reminded quite often just how tragic it is that they're gone.

You also may find yourself stumbling over new questions and realizations that you can't revisit with them. Though it's worth it to keep loving the person, realistically, having a continued bond may look like oscillating between finding warmth in your connection and discovering new pain points and secondary losses.

I think about my mom a lot these days. Maybe even more so than in recent memory. As I struggle to navigate this new chapter as a mother, I begin to look at my mother and our relationship through a different lens. And I see that as my relationships with my daughters change, so does my bond with my mother. 

Sometimes I find pain.

For example, I'm suddenly asking myself new questions. Sometimes, I even wonder what my mom thought of me in my young-adult years. How did she feel when I shut her out? Or when I made choices she didn't agree with? Did I hurt her feelings? Or did she dismiss my behavior as part of my stage of life? Though I know she always loved me, I don't actually know if she liked me, which is a thought I only allow myself to consider for a few seconds before I self-combust.

And sometimes I find positive.

I've discovered more positive things in our expanding bond as well, though. As I navigate my changing relationship with my daughters, I think I better understand some of what my mother was going through as a parent to six children. I can finally fully appreciate her patience and unwavering care towards our teenage angst, even though I know that must have been hard at times. I wish I could tell her how much I appreciate her, but I can't. So instead, I think of her during times of stress and worry and remind myself to give my children the grace and compassion she gave me. 

As I go through life, I learn that our continued bonds with people who have died straddle two parallel timelines. There's the path you walk with them in the present, and there's the path you revisit walking with them in the past. Though you may find beautiful treasures on both timelines, you may also discover new questions and things you wish were different. Your relationship with them was complex in life, and so it makes sense that it should remind multifaceted and dynamic in death.

To my children, if you ever find this article. I have loved every stage of your life, and that's why I mourn to see them pass, but at the same time, I treasure each new one that comes. Perhaps my mother's death has made it so I'm always a little sad because it reminds me of how quickly this can all pass by, and if I had it my way, I'd be here to walk with you through life forever. I know, I know- awkward, cringe- but I had to say it.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

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6 Comments on "The Complexities of Motherhood & Continued Bonds"

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  1. Marilyn  June 1, 2023 at 12:11 pm Reply

    Having just lost my daughter at 35 yo I guarantee I loved her at every stage of her life. From tge moment she was born until her last breath, love was never a question. Of course there were times I knew her choices were misguided, blame youth and inexperience, but she was very independent and always wanted to do things on her own. That was a trait that helped her through many trials but ended up hurting when she really needed help and couldn’t ask me. She always said, “don’t worry mom, I am ok” even though she wasn’t. I never understood the depths of her pain, and now know the helplessness i feel with her passing maybe could have been different if only I knew. But that is the guilt I hold, and the reality is that I may have been able to save her but maybe not. I have learned a lot from WYG, thank you for putting my thought in perspective and making it ok for me to feel the grief.

  2. Shari  May 11, 2023 at 5:51 pm Reply

    After the loss of my father in recent months, I found that I was grieving my mother who passed 6. years previously more than mourning my father. I loved my father very much, but his way of coping, as well as my sister was to say, She is gone. To me, she has never left and has always been with me. I am so happy to know that it was ok to feel connected to my mother without having to deal with those who would say, “She is gone, get over it, we all die”. To me, she never died, she is with me. As for my father, our relationship was not the same. He was not there when I was born due to stupid youthful actions that at the time were seen as a mistake. Granted, I did survive because of my mother. I am not a mistake. I was meant to live. So, not being there, and not because of my decision, was not there when my father died. My sister failed me, failed to consider my feelings, and my position as his daughter too. I could never accept the woman Dad let latch on to him weeks after my mother died. It was not about letting him be happy, the go-to statement to attack me. I promised Mom to keep him from being stupid, I will never feel guilty or feel I should have accepted anything my father did in the name of happiness. That alone fails to acknowledge the 30 years of their 50-some years of marriage which were filled with happiness. She never asked for Parkinson’s, disease, and the hardship that brought her and my father. I had nightmares from a kid that he was caught cheating on my mother. I always told him, while we all thought joking that I would never ever allow any woman to step in. He chose this woman, and my sister enabled them both, as it did relieve her of the time, care, and last months of hell taking care of him when he got ALS unexpectantly and died within months. I was not selfish, angry, or hateful as I could not go up if not wanted. I was not allowed to come home until I accepted her. What a cold-hearted case for both my father and I. In that, it shows what a selfish woman that lady was to keep a family torn even after his death. Shameful. I lost my mom, dad, and sister. None of it makes living easy, as grief is even stronger for my mother. We all have different relationships with those we grieve.

  3. Kelley Hymes-Chinigo  May 11, 2023 at 1:28 pm Reply

    Eleanor ~ Thanks for sharing this as I could relate to much of it, despite not having children. I know there were so many times my Mom didn’t like my choices/decisions/behavior & knowing I’ll never have a chance to talk to her about it feels so despairing! In the past 4 & a half years, so many things have come up that I would have talked to her about & it still breaks my heart. I’m really struggling with navigating through death with so much left unsaid ~

    • Eleanor Haley  May 11, 2023 at 3:28 pm Reply

      Hey Kelley, I think this is something we all do, whether we have kids to remind us of the past or not. I agree with you, so much I’d like to revisit with my mom…or at least acknowledge. As always, my heart is with you.

  4. Lizlostwithoutmymama  May 11, 2023 at 1:26 pm Reply

    I can’t say enough how much I related to this post and how much I needed to read this right now. I’m experiencing a lot of the same lately watching my little guy become an almost 12 year old preteen and missing my mom’s advice even more lately. We have to be able to trust ourselves as mamas without our own mamas around physically and that’s hard sometimes. Thank you for writing this. 💔🙏🏼❤️

    • Eleanor Haley  May 11, 2023 at 3:30 pm Reply

      I’m glad (but not glad?) to know you can relate. I guess what I mean is, I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way as their kids grow older. But NOT glad anyone else has to go through it. :). You’re right though, learning to trust ourselves, or at least knowing we’re doing the best we can, is so important!

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