Sudden Loss, Anticipated Loss, and Non-death Loss: What’s the Difference?

Mother loss binds us all together. Mother loss is the commonality but there are differences. There is no one loss that is better or worse than the other. All of these losses shatter our world. So what’s the difference?  

I haven’t written about this before. I certainly need to apologize to you that I haven’t done that. I’ve spoken on it a lot. I have knowledge, experience, and stories about these losses to share with you.  

I’m going to write about anticipated loss first. An example of anticipated loss is when we receive an impending diagnosis about our mother. We begin the grieving process immediately. Even cancer has become almost a chronic disease, but when we hear that word “cancer” we begin the grief process. To many, cancer spells death.  

It is the diagnosis says that we’re going to lose her. We know she’s going to die. We may reject it at first. We don’t know how or when. But we’re faced with a death sentence, we will lose our mother.  

We cry

We pray.

We try to imagine life without her. 

We begin to plan her absence.  

We realize that she’s not going to be present for birthdays, holidays, Mother’s Day, Christmas, weddings, births, or graduations.  

We realize she will not be there to support you or to be your rock. 

We think about how her loss will affect others. Our children. Our father if he is still alive. 

We try to negotiate with doctors.  

“Are you sure? Is there more tests that can be done?” 

“What else can we do?”

“What about a second opinion?”  

We try to negotiate with God. 

If only … 

I will do this, if you do this, then … And that doesn’t work.  
In the end, the loss simply brings us to our knees. The grieving process settles on us like a heavy coat.  

In the Motherless Daughters Ministry, we have walked with hundreds of women who have shared this kind of type of loss. Emotions range all over the place from despair and depression to relief and guilt, if the relationship has not been good.  

Now I want to shift gears and talk about sudden loss. First let’s talk about what is similar with anticipatory loss. We realize that she’s not going to be present for birthdays, holidays, Mother’s Day, Christmas weddings, births, graduations, she’s not going to be there to be your support. And we think about how her loss will affect others. But in the end, the loss still brings us to our knees. 

Now here’s what’s different about sudden mother loss.  

We don’t know that she’s going to die.  

There’s no facing the knowledge of impending loss. That’s not even part of our thinking process.  

There’s no trying to imagine life without her. 

It’s not been part of us.  

There’s no planning.  

There’s no negotiation.  

She was in your life and now she’s gone. The loss is sudden and it may be tragic. A fatal auto accident. An aneurysm. A fatal heart attack. Suicide. 

When sudden loss happens, we have to put our grief on hold. There’s no time to grieve now. We’re faced with all the rituals of death. Telling others. Funeral home arrangements. Memorial services. Cemeteries, maybe cremation. There is no time to grieve, because there’s so much to do.  

We just set our grief aside and we say, “I don’t have time for you right now.” It is not until later you begin the grief process, but the waves of grief are paralyzing. And the grief comes in bits and spurts. No one understands. The suddenness of loss has kept you from grieving. When you’re ready to start the grieving process, society thinks that you should be over it by now. No one gets it.  

Let’s talk about non-death loss. What is it? So, this means there’s no death, but there is mother loss, not mother death.  

That’s a woman who has an emotionally absent mother.  

That’s a woman who may have a mother with narcissistic characteristics.  

The mother is living.    

Understand that the grief the daughter experiences with a non-death loss is a normal response to an abnormal experience. Her needs are normal, her experience is/was not. Her mother may be living or deceased. But the acknowledgement that non-death loss is a type of mother loss is very, very important.  

If asked which is worse, I always say there is not a better or worse. One is waiting. One is sudden. One is an abnormal daily experience. Loss teaches us we must live and love ourself for today. Tomorrow is uncertain. All loss is significant, and it cannot be compared.  

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