Skip to content

a motherless child

January 28, 2012

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.  Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.  Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home,”.

Reading this post may be like sifting through a pile of scattered thoughts.  A reflection in itself of the fact that losing a parent is an experience that covers the lifespan.  My hope is that you will see it as a continuing conversation, not a final answer.  And that you may find some encouragement and strength for your journey.

The loss of a parent may be one of the broadest experiences of loss.  No stage of life guarantees us that our parent’s death will go unfelt or unmourned.  No stage offers us immunity from feeling that loss, or facing the change it brings.

The younger we are the more our loss may encompass grieving the parent we never knew.  For a child, the death of their parent can mean living with the nagging feeling of having been left.  Not unlike being left on a hiking trail without our guide, before we’re confident of our ability to find our own way.  When one parent dies, a child often loses the other parent to their own grief.  We may feel isolated as we try to protect the other parent from feeling our shared pain.  Sometimes we arrive in adulthood carrying the wounds of childhood losses experienced before we had an older, wiser, more forgiving language.  A language to help us both describe and soothe our pain.

The feeling of being left can come at any age.  As though the color of abandonment is present for each of us, just in different shades based on the time and circumstances.  When my dad’s mother died I recall him saying reflectively, “Now I’m the oldest living member of my family”. There was sadness, resolve, and a touch of uncertainty in his voice.  I was surprised.  There were ways he had lost her long before that moment, to the dementia that swallowed her up one bite at a time.  And even before that when her 13 year son died suddenly from spinal meningitis.  She was forever changed, and at age 11 my dad lost his brother and became the oldest son, bearing the weight of hopes and dreams not yet lived.  It struck me that all of those losses, sudden and progressive, did not protect him from the finality of that moment.  Of knowing that he would never have more of her in this life than had been gathered from his birth up to the time of her death.  And that in the starkest of realities, the buck now stopped with him.

Our experience of loss may also be colored by the gap between who we needed our parent to be and who they actually were.  We can believe that an abusive parent’s death will bring relief and freedom from our pain, only to discover that in being rid of harm we also lost all possibility that the parent we need would someday appear.  Whatever has been left unsaid, the acknowledgement of harm, the “I’m sorry”, the “Please forgive me”, will forever be unspoken, silenced by our parent’s exit.  It can be a devastating and confusing loss.

Words said that can’t be taken back.  Words never said that we wish could be spoken.  Questions never asked.  Choices never explained.  Stories never told.  All these and more are frozen in time for us when a parent dies.  Their weight varies depending on where we are in this marathon. From being parented in infancy through the love hate race of adolescence.  From the renegotiated relay of adulthood to the discomfort of accepting the baton to run this final leg of the race as our parent’s parent.  And if they cross the finish line before us, to know it is ours to grieve the success and failure of their life, ours to allow them to rest in peace in their death.  Ours to learn to run our own race untethered by what is now behind us.

“I am amputated, inconsolable.  My father has died.
Now I must invent him, perhaps fictionalize, mythologize him.
Most of all, I will have to find a way to mourn him.
E. M. Broner, Mornings and Mourning:  A Kaddish Journal

25 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2012 6:07 pm

    Such a beautiful and heartbreaking post. I loved reading it.

    • January 29, 2012 4:02 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to read it and comment. I truly believe talking about the hard things is our best chance of not only surviving them, but of discovering untapped strength in ourselves.

  2. January 28, 2012 6:21 pm

    Thank you.

    • January 29, 2012 4:06 pm

      I truly appreciate the time you take to read and share your thoughts. I have discovered such a wealth of insight in the tiny part of the blogging community I have entered. Far richer and fertile than I ever imagined, and I am the richer for continuing to visit there.

  3. January 28, 2012 8:00 pm

    Paulann, I am afraid to read this post. That is what a great writer you are…

    I am nominating you for the 7X7 Link Award!


    for details.

    I will be back…

    XO Jen

    • January 29, 2012 4:12 pm

      Oh, Jen, please don’t be afraid. Sometimes it’s our anger that gets us past the hard places.

      Thank you for the 7X7 award. I am humbled that my new blogging friends have been so generous in giving recognition. I am woefully behind in acknowledging and following through, but hope to take care of my giving back and paying it forward process in the next few days.

      I look forward to many more days of reading and responding to each other’s thoughts as we both journey on. Ride home to peace on your angry storm. ~ Paulann

  4. January 30, 2012 6:17 am

    Paulann, I too started reading this post and decided to save it for later when I had time both for reading and reflection. You have said so much here, all of it insightful and heart wrenchingly accurate, from my own observations. I am one of the lucky ones who still has parents, now in their 80s, who are still living in their own house. However, I still relate to much of what you said, due to the losses and experiences both parents have endured.

    Ours to learn to run our own race untethered by what is now behind us.That phrase will reverberate in my thoughts for some time, Paulann. If I ever need a therapist, I hope to find someone with a heart and mind as expansive as yours.

    • January 30, 2012 10:43 am

      Carol, your words are so kind. The reflections I’ve discovered in your “wondering out loud”, and in the writing of others in their blogs have certainly expanded me, giving me a lot to feel and think about.

      Tracy Kidder wrote a wonderful book titled “Old Friends”, about life in a nursing home. He sums up many of the changes in those final years with a line from Robert Frost. “What to make of a diminished thing.” I think that is part of the dance we do with our parents as they age, determining when to step in and when to respect their management of their own lives. It seems like an awkward dance at best, with many chances to stumble. I guess it’s sort of like having to become the one leading the dance when you spent all those years learning to follow. Thank you for reading and wondering out loud with me.

      Maybe you could portray that parent child dance visually through your art. I would love to see it!

  5. January 30, 2012 6:18 am

    P.S. Those photographs are priceless. That has to be you and daddy on the last one . . . .

    • January 30, 2012 10:48 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. That is a picture of me and my daddy before going to church. I think I was about four years old. My dad died December 5, 2009, which made me cherish the photo even more. My little brother thinks dad’s tie is “the bomb”.

      The four children are my dad’s mother, aunts, and uncle. My grandmother is the darker headed child on the right. This photo was taken just prior to her father dying of cancer, which left the family destitute.

  6. January 30, 2012 7:12 pm


    I did it. and I am glad I did.

    Beautiful You shed MORE light on my mother for me too. She lost her mom at 5 years old. 5.

    OK I am going to go cry now. That is a good thing.

    thank you for this gift….

  7. January 30, 2012 7:15 pm


    I want to repost this on my site. I know how to link it BUT not everyone will click the link. May I copy paste AND link it?


    • January 30, 2012 9:09 pm


      I would be honored for you to use the post in any way you see fit.


      • January 30, 2012 10:44 pm

        Paulann ! I copy pasted and made a link to your blog.

        Thank you
        Thank you

        XO Jen

        • February 1, 2012 2:32 pm

          Thank you, Jen! I’m glad that you read and the thoughts became a gift. I would never want my words to harm. And you’re right, crying is a good thing. Sometimes I think of it as a bath for the soul. Tears are cleansing. Thank you again. ~ Paulann

  8. February 1, 2012 7:37 pm

    Paulann such a beautiful post. It is hard to lose a parent and we never truly are prepared it was funny as I was cooking supper tonight – the first wish that came to mind was I wish my father was still with us. It would be wonderful for him to see how big his grand children have grown.

    • February 1, 2012 8:39 pm

      I remember reading about your dad in one of the first posts I read on your blog. It may be the supreme dilemma that the more we have been gifted by another person’s presence in our life, the more we feel the gaping hole left when they’re gone. To try to protect ourselves from that kind of pain would mean vowing to have no closeness, no connection, and that seems like a pain beyond description. Thank you for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.

  9. February 5, 2012 5:51 pm

    I am new to your space. Will definitely be back! I’ve loved your comments and finally have internet again, so I can enjoy your wisdom. Great post.

    • February 5, 2012 10:05 pm

      Thank you Heidi! I’m glad you stopped by and left a note. I really appreciate people who take the time to read the GrowthLines blog.

  10. February 8, 2012 8:17 pm

    Clarissa Pinkola Estees has an audio called Healing the Stone Child, where she talks about the motherless child. I was fortunate in the sense that both my parents lived into their 70’s, I and my sister the surviving children of their second marriage, so they were both older when we were born. My point is this post was not rambling thoughts but a well constructed article about ways we deal with grief and loss, spoken from your personal perspective. Thank you for sharing this ….

    • February 8, 2012 10:01 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your kind words. I remember my first reading of Clarissa Pinkola Estees “Women Who Run With The Wolves”. Her voice was so wise and powerful, and I found permission to be authentic, to be free. it was like a new birth as a female.

  11. Cindyss permalink
    February 9, 2012 11:38 am

    I so much know the feeling of losing both parents at once. My dad died when I was barely 20 and my mother was overwhelmed by grief. I went back to college 2 weeks later and was thrust into the world on my own. It has been a life altering experience, one that I was so unprepared for. Now as I watch my own kids face the challenges of becoming adults at that age, I understand even more why it was so hard. And for me, my dad was the one I went to for counsel and support- he was my “rock”. Not an easy way to grow but it has given me the gift of appreciation for life.

    • February 10, 2012 12:33 am

      Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts. We often miss the ways that a child loses the parent that is still alive when one parent dies. That can become the huge unspoken, maybe even unseen wound. The good news is our resilience, our ability to find our footing again. You said it well with your last sentence, “Not an easy way to grow but it has given me the gift of appreciation for life.”


  1. “A Motherless Child” Thank you Paulann of Growthlines… « Step On A Crack…Or Break Your Mother's Back
  2. Gifts re-gifted, or paying it forward… « Growthlines. . .

Please share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: