Times like these – when ‘I’m scared and worried – I wish you were here. When the seconds slow and shapes blur, and I genuinely don’t know if everything is going to be okay – I could really use your support. It feels silly to say because I’m a grown woman with children of my own, and you died over ten years ago, but sometimes I really need my mother.
When you were alive, I just liked to be near you. Your mere presence put me at ease. Once I was in my teen years, the affection between us grew less easy, but even then it brought me comfort just to be in the same room as you.
After I moved away, physical proximity wasn’t possible, so I had to settle for phone calls. You ‘weren’t the type of person who liked to chit-chat, so I always came up with a fake reason to call you. I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do that. I’m sure it wasn’t necessary.
Of course, you were always my first call whenever I was worried or upset. Try as I may to remain composed, the sound of your voice always brought me to tears, but it also always made me feel better. You never hesitated to share my burdens. And even though you were hundreds of miles away, knowing you were in my corner made me feel less alone.
Ironically, the first time I felt alone with a problem was when you were diagnosed with terminal cancer. Though we both faced the same beast, our battle was different, and I could hardly expect you to help me fight mine. In the end, you died, and I had to figure out how to live in a world where I couldn’t sit near you or call you on the phone.
Through the bleak lens of acute grief, I thought you were gone entirely. I could no longer expect to find you in my corner, or anywhere else for that matter, and I missed your love, comfort, wisdom, and support.
But acute grief often paints an incomplete picture and, in time, I noticed that your sickness and death was the first and the last problem I had to face without you. Not because my life was all of a sudden problem-less, but because I realized you’re still here with me in one hundred different ways.
Even today, you are my safe haven, which is not just a pretty metaphor but an actual grief-related concept.
‘Safe haven’ is a concept introduced by John Bowlby in relation to attachment theory. Attachment theory describes how children form attachments with their primary caregivers. In this context, the ‘safe haven’ concept refers to how a small child might seek refuge with their parent when they are sad or hurt.
In the context of grief, the safe haven concept explains how a grieving person might seek refuge with a deceased loved one by connecting with their memory for reassurance and comfort in times of strife. An anecdotal example cited by Stroebe et all (1992) describes instances of bereaved individuals conjuring the image of their deceased loved one when facing stressors like major surgery.
Along with holding a loved one’s memory close, a person may also connect with their loved one as a safe haven by considering wisdom they shared in the past, reflecting on their values, or thinking about what their loved one would have done or said if they were still alive.
Attachments are as nuanced in death as they are in life and so people connect with their deceased loved ones and rely on them in countless ways. So I ran to you, mom, as a child who fell off her bike or had a bad dream and, even though you aren’t physically here, I haven’t stopped running to you since.