My blog post about how my life has been very different than what I imagined in my misspent youth inspired a lot of conversation. I’m glad that so many of you could relate to my observations and commented on them. It made me feel like a less of an oddball. Not that there is anything wrong with being an oddball, but sometimes it is nice to know I am not the only ball rolling around at a different angle than everybody else.
I think most of the conversation generated from my musings about my childless state. Many of you seem to contemplate what your life would have been with children, without children, with more children, or with less children. I guess that is just one of those things about which we all wonder. In general, it doesn’t bother me too much. I think of my lack of children to be part of my overall existence. I don’t know what my existence would have been like if I had children, but I do know it would have been different…. And I’m pretty happy with the life I have.
One aspect of not having children that I think still does bother me has to do with my mother’s death. I wonder if people who are not parents generally grieve differently when they lose a parent. I did some googling to see if I could find any studies or research to suggest that this is an actual “thing,” but came up empty. Still, just because no one ever studied something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Truthfully, just because I may be the only one to feel it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
I’ve talked to some other women about it. I asked women with children and women without children. No one seemed to have experienced what I described. Many offered the perspective that perhaps women with children have a more difficult time with mourning in some ways than women without children. Women with children often have to put the needs of their children over their own need to grieve in their own way. Women with children are often much busier than women without children. Women with children may not be able to spend as much energy on their relationships with their own mothers at the end of life, which may lead to more regrets after the fact. I think all those points are valid and true. I’m not saying women with children grieve in less pain. I’m just saying that the grief may be different.
Being without a next generation myself, I sometimes feel I lost not only my mother, but the entire mother-child dynamic. I’m sure the women who have children often feel a huge change in the shape and balance of the mother-child dynamic when they lose their own mothers, but that dynamic still exists. I remember, very clearly, the day my mother’s mother died. I was six years old. When I came home from school, my mother told me that Nana had died. She sat in the rocking chair my father bought her when I was born. She pulled me into her lap. In the same way as she must have done when I was a baby, she folded me into herself and rocked me as I cried. I remember that rhythmic rocking and the soothing sensation. I also remembered that, on the day my grandmother died, my mother and I were crying together for the first time in my young memory. Even at that young age, I could feel the transfer of emotion in that rocking. I could feel her being comforted by comforting me.
When my mother died, I had no daughter to take on my lap and rock. There was no little person to drain off some of my sadness and to remind me that life goes on and motherly love goes on. Even seven months later, it is difficult to face the reality that my mother-child relationship in this world is gone. It is also difficult to face the fact that, when it is my turn to leave this world, there will be no daughter loving me through that transition.
They say that a parent’s death is part of the natural order of things. Of course, that is true. The implication is that one generation passes and another rises. They call it the circle of life. My circle is incomplete though. Instead of a circle, my life is simply a curved line.
I try not too be too sad about that curved line. Even though I don’t have any little circle-makers of my own, I still know that life really does go on and motherly love is forever. And I am lucky to have had it abundantly.
What do you think? Do people without children grieve differently when they lose a parent than people with children? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a loving day!
10 thoughts on “The Half-Circle Of Life”
I know it is hard to lose a parent but I think it is harder to lose a child since a person should lose a parent before losing their own child. My brother and wife lost a child to cancer and it was a very difficult thing to go through. They kept saying one should lose their parent before losing a child.
Since my parents were away from me more than with me, It was less difficult to lose my dad and mother. I felt less sad through this time.
No question that it must be much harder to lose a child than a parent. I have several friends who have had to bear that burden and I can’t imagine the grief. I don’t know how they are not crushed by it. 🙏🏻
Grief is hard, whatever the circumstances, and so subjective. The parent/child relationship can be fraught with both positive and negative emotion. We are always our parents’ children and they are always our parents regardless of age. I maintain that anything else that calls for as much time, energy and money as raising children, most people would think twice about doing yet there is an innate urge to bear children with the decision to do so being based more on emotion than practicality. In my experience, children (not necessarily my own) have urged me to engage in life. I was reminded of the circle of life when I became aware that I had never left the hospital room of a patient who had died without there being a newborn babe in the nursery of the small hospital that I worked at, a very spiritual moment for me.
The notion that there are new babies in the nursery when people die in the hospital is a great reminder that the circle of life doesn’t begin and end with me. The Universe is not all about me- imagine my surprise! I may need to think a little bigger. I may not see the perfect revolution in the circumstances of my own life, but those circumstances are part of something bigger, more ordered, and more infinite. Thanks, Mona!
I recall a few years back when doing something with my mom (something we both enjoyed) & realizing that I would never do that activity with a daughter. It was a stark moment, heart-breaking almost. Until I also told myself that there was no guarantee that a daughter would enjoy what I was doing! I stated looking at friends relationships with daughters – from strong to not (even one mom and 2 different daughters) and realized that I couldn’t predict what mine might have been.
I think part of your experience is less about children or not and more about your wonderful, deep relationship with your mom. Everyone grieves differently.
Knowing someday I will be losing my biggest cheerleader, my biggest supporter, my most ardent fan…no other relationship will ever replace that, no one will really help with that grief when it hits. Not even that mythical daughter I never had.
Thanks, Pat. You have a good point that the complexion of my mourning is more determined by relationship than biology.
Your experience very much mirrored mine. I remember my mother running to me and hugging me while she cried after my grandmother died—I was the oldest girl and “favorite grandchild,” so her death meant much to me also and my mother took comfort in my love for her.
I lived in Manhattan when my mother fell and died a month after 9/11. It was the single worst experience of my life. In a city where there was too much grief nobody wanted to “comfort” a single childless woman who was actually told by a now former good friend “you shouldn’t be mourning for an old lady. Think about all the young people who died.”
My sister has a daughter who was young at the time. My sister can be the most wonderful person on earth or the most selfish bitch. She didn’t understand my grief nor did she understand why I didn’t want to hear the recording on my mother’s “companion button.” She was crying because she fell into her shower and didn’t want to die. I will never understood how my sister took comfort in this—apparently her screaming into our mother’s answering machine: “we love you, we’re coming” showed her love.
It took me a long long time to work through my grief. I’m a licensed social work who had always advised people to get group therapy after a loss like that. Unfortunately all the groups in NY then were for people who lost family, friends or somebody they knew in Kindergarten, in the attacks. “You understand how they have to come first.”
Grief is grief. Everyone’s grief is important and everyone grieves differently.
Sorry for the rant. I will forever miss the woman who thought I was the most incredible person on earth. It’s funny as I was a “daddy’s girl.” But fathers die. Mothers are supposed to live forever (didn’t realize I thought that).
My niece is now an adult who is the sweetest person on earth and will have two Ivy degrees come May. She’s going to teach, and I take much comfort in how much she is like my parents—the best of both.
I still miss my mother but it’s different now. There are times I go to call her still, and somehow that comforts me.
I wish you comfort and eventual joy in remembering your relationship with your mother.
Oh, Pia- what a rich story. Your tale has burrowed into my heart. I never thought about how people who were suffering an “ordinary loss” could be so dismissed by the mass mourning after 9/11. It must have felt that you were kind of cheated of your time to be cherished and supported through your grief. Please know that my heart is walking with you now. Welcome to the conversation!
My Mom, my three siblings, and I were very sad to lose my Dad to cancer. He died 14 years ago, and I still miss him a great deal. However, one brother who is single and without children seemed to take it hardest of all, and struggled with grief and depression for years afterwards. I wondered if it was especially hard for him because he saw our Mom and Dad as his primary family, whereas the rest of us have children and life companions as our immediate family.
Jude, you are the only one who has weighed in that has actually observed the phenomenon about which I was pondering. Thanks for that. A lot of people have made the point that, at some level, the “why” behind grief doesn’t matter that much. We all grieve differently and it always hurts. Very true. Still, I find it interesting to examine the paths people (not just me) travel in living and dying.
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