Monday, March 18, 2013

Taking Time to Mourn a Mother's Death

[Reviewed and updated June 21, 2021]

A reader writes: I just lost my Mom three weeks ago. She had cancer which spread to her brain. The last year of her life was one of pain initially and then side effects from the chemo and radiation. During the last few months she also became confused due to the tumor pressing on her brain. We were able to bring her home with us during the last 12 days of her life with the help of hospice, which was wonderful . 

This past year has been a very trying one for our family. Now that she is gone, I just want to be left alone. My husband, children and sister have been a great support and I need them around me. However, I feel as if others expect me to move on immediately. My dad and his wife were scheduled to come in to visit (they live in another state) about ten days after my mother’s death, and I asked them to postpone it because I wasn't up to it. He took it personally and I found myself comforting him because I hurt his feelings. He has postponed it for only a week later.

He did not come to the funeral as they did not have a cordial relationship after the divorce. Anyway, am I wrong for not being ready for any out-of-town visitors or social events? They do not stay with me but will expect to get together at my house or go out frequently. I am having a hard time being around people that I know will be unable to give me comfort about my Mom. It doesn't help that I know my dad really didn't care. Any advice on this would be appreciated.

My response: I’m so very sorry to learn of the death of your beloved mother after her prolonged illness, and I can only imagine how difficult this last year has been for you. I’m sure you are exhausted, both physically and emotionally. I’m also sorry that your dad seems not to understand your reaction to this loss and your need to come to terms with it before you’re in any position to assume the hostess role and entertain company.

Keep in mind that the grief we feel (or do not feel) when someone dies is directly related to our attachment to the person who has died – and in that sense, this loss of your mother is not the same for you and for your dad. You are mourning the death of your mother. Only you can know how much your mother meant to you, and only you can measure how much you have lost now that she has died. It would be nice if your dad could recognize your grief as separate and distinct from whatever he may feel (or not feel), respect and honor it, and be gracious enough to “let you off the hook” by canceling his plans to come and visit right now – but clearly that is not the case. So it falls to you to let your dad know what you need.

Your first obligation in grief is to take care of yourself, my friend. It seems to me that you must state clearly and firmly to your dad that, although you understand his disappointment, the timing of his visit will not work for you right now. Explain that this time must be set aside for you to do your grief work. You might also assure your dad that, although you’re not at your best right now, you intend to do whatever you need to do to get through this sad and difficult time, and you have every reason to believe that in time you will feel better than you feel right now. If he presses you for an alternate date, you can honestly say that you cannot set a time limit for yourself, because according to what you’ve been told, there is no time frame for grief.

As you’ve already discovered, my friend, there are people in your life who will be done with your grief long before you are, expecting you to be “over it by now” or worrying that you’re somehow “hanging on” to your grief. I think the best thing you can do right now is to educate yourself about what is normal in grief and learn what you can do to manage your reactions. You can click on Marty's Articles at the top of this page for links to many of my writings. See also Coping with Special Days and Voices of Experience. I truly believe that having a better understanding of what you are experiencing in grief will strengthen your resolve in dealing with your father, and will give you the comfort and support you need at this sad and difficult time.

I hope this helps, and in any event, please know that I am thinking of you and sending you my heartfelt sympathy.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing Newsletter. Sign up here.

Related Articles:


  1. Dear reader, I'm also very sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. I completely understand how you just want to be alone for a while. I remember feeling the exact same way. Taking care of yourself and allowing yourself to "feel the grief" is the most important thing for you to do right now. Don't feel guilty about that. Again, I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. Dear reader, I second that. So very sorry for your loss. I agree that "Your first obligation in grief is to take care of yourself." Coping with grief is difficult but try to work through your grief in positive ways if you can. Some things that helped me were lighting a candle or creating a virtual memorial. There are websites like that offer a virtual community for support. Hope you feel better soon. :)

  3. I can so identify ... I lost my mom 3 months ago after 9 years battling Alzheimer's. I, too, prefer alone time or, at the most, 1-on-1's - dinner with a friend who I feel will understand. Socializing, or even being around groups, does not appeal to me at all. Until you've been there, you have no idea how hard it is to accept that everyone else has moved on and you're still consumed with your loss and the associated grief. I'm starting a series of grief classes in April and also have a "Daughters Mourning Mothers" workshop scheduled for later in the month... if nothing else, it is helpful to know that all of these crazy emotions are "normal"...

  4. Dear Reader - One can't underestimate how difficult it must be for you to conduct what I call a mental "Deathbed Refresh." Side effects are not just words on a page; they represent the haunting visual memories you have that over time, recedes. But if you find that such memories start overtaking the earlier pictures of your mother's vitality - pre-cancer/pre-chemo - I urge you to consider having a portrait of your mother made for you by a digital artist. They will combine all your favorite positive memories of Mom (for example your Mom's favorite vacation spot, dress, dessert, etc.). One look at this refreshing portrait of the familiar, you will feel transformed; able to remember Mom as you believe she would like to be remembered.

    Marty is familiar with my work, but let me give you a direct link to some examples made simply with existing photos: Take care, Nancy


Your comments are welcome!