I put off reading Motherless Daughters as I have not yet lost my mother; she turned 88 this month. My big loss is coming sooner than I’d like, but I’ve had her company and advice for a long time, I realize. Reading this newly expanded, second edition bestseller (the first was published in 1994) by Hope Edelman has helped me understand what to expect and helped me know that if I feel angry and lost, so do many other motherless daughters.
“I wanted to destroy every Hallmark Mother’s Day card display I saw,” writes Edelman of the loss of her mother, when Edelman was 17, in 1981. Having lost my dad seven years ago, I can relate as I now dread Father’s Day. How much worse can it be to lose my mother? Aren’t I prepared after the first big loss?
Apparently not. Most women are not prepared; grieving the maternal loss will – and ought to - take quite a long time. For her books on the topic, the author interviewed and received letters from dozens of women, many of whom lost their mothers before they were 20 years old. Edelman believes that you never get over the loss of your mother, whether she was a wonderful, giving mom or an abusive, alcoholic woman who committed suicide. In the latter case, in fact, some daughters remember only the good parts or even idealize the woman beyond who she was in actuality.
But you can adjust and move on in time, Edelman assures her readers, and you can bask in your memories. Hope is in numbers, in sharing one’s pain, in realizing one is not alone in her feelings. For women whose mothers left them with a secure personality, a loving father and a foundation on which to continue their life, the grieving process may be less tumultuous. Edelman calls on experts such as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to illustrate the grieving and adjusting stages.
Edelman and one of her subjects sum up how a motherless daughter feels once she has emerged from her initial grieving. Edelman writes, “She [her mother] lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was, and her absence influences who I am. Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay.”
And according to thirty-one-year-old Debby, who lost her mother when she was twenty-three (she also lost a younger sister during the same time period), “The losses are so entwined in my life and so much a part of my personality and my maturing, and so much a part of the person I am today. And I like who I am today. It stinks that these things had to happen to me, but I can make the decision to let them be a plus or a minus.”
Two final sections bear attention. One is a resource section with many support groups throughout the United States with titles like Motherless Daughters. The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Oregon, is a central place to find a bereavement group in your area. Another useful appendix lists numerous book titles dealing with “Motherless Daughters”: memoirs, adult novels, young adult novels and children’s picture books.
Edelman is married and the mother of two young daughters. They have admittedly helped her through the loss of her mother although the author, after 20-something years, still wishes her mom were around to call and ask for advice on everyday matters. In addition to Motherless Daughters, she has written Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become; Mother of My Mother: The Intricate Bond Between Generations; and Letters from Motherless Daughters: Words of Courage, Grief, and Healing. Edelman lives, writes and offers writing workshops in California.