My Journey Through Physical and Emotional Mother Loss
Exchanging marriage vows with my husband was by far the most special moment of my life. But on my wedding day, there was also something else, something completely unexpected that touched my heart.
After the church ceremony, my husband and I took pictures together with our family members. The photographer would call people up one by one, and after a little while, my husband and I started to get antsy. We were photo-fatigued and eager to get to the beautiful reception we had long been planning. But my impatience faded when we got to the last photo opp, the one with my new mother-, father-, and brother-in-law. As I stood next to my new family, an overwhelming sense of peace immediately came over me. Time seemed to stand still in those few moments, and it felt surreal. Given the busyness of the day, I didn’t think much of it and proceeded into our celebratory evening.
Two years and two Motherless Daughters Ministry classes later, I look back on that calming moment with total clarity. The security and comfort I felt was a subconscious realization of the second chance I had just been given. After having a mentally ill, narcissistic mother my entire life, and an emotionally distant father due to addiction, I now had parent figures who were caring, nurturing, and loving to me. Not to mention, their family was “intact,” unlike my divorced one who had argued during their picture at the church.
The previous 30 years I had spent without parents checking in or truly caring about my physical, mental, and emotional well-being —Gone. Now I had in-laws who regularly called and cared about the details, even things as small as “what are you making for dinner?” or “what are you doing this weekend?” I felt seen, cared about, and validated in a whole new way.
The nurturing I never got from my mom, who wasn’t comfortable forming the words “I love you” or hugging me, was now replaced with a mother-in-law who regularly told me she loved me. I was overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness for her genuine love. She became the maternal figure that I had always longed for and I was eager to become a loving presence in her life. The abandonment I had always felt, and the subsequent lack of worthiness that had fueled my depression was slowly trickling away.
Sadly, the second chance fairy tale didn’t last for very long. Six weeks after our wedding, I was at work when I received a call from my husband, who was struggling for words. He told me his dad had just called, telling him he had been having a secret affair for a very long time, and his parents’ marriage was now in question.
Four months later, my beloved mother-in-law was hospitalized for two weeks due to the sudden onset of a severe auto-immune disorder. However, she was turning the corner and was supposed to move to a rehab center in a few days. I remember the date, time, where I was sitting, and exactly what I was doing when my husband came in the room to tell me my mother-in-law had experienced a severe brain hemorrhage and was in a coma. She never woke up, and nine devastating days later, she passed away.
The pain following my mother-in-law’s death felt unbearable and lonely. Forced isolation from COVID-19 lockdowns worsened the grief, as did a very strained relationship with my husband’s father. It felt like my husband and I were forced onto an unfamiliar deserted island, ripped apart from the person who comforted and loved us so deeply while trying to understand this new world without her.
I used to try to make sense of how and why this loving family I entered fell apart so quickly, right before my eyes. Lately, I’ve been trying to minimize (or even forget) my mother-in-law’s love to lessen the pain of the reality that she is no longer here.
What I do know is that, since I lost my mother-in-law, seven other women around her age have appeared in my life wanting to get to know me. Three women are from this ministry. This is unusual, as I typically only spend time with those who are similar to me in age. I believe this was God’s hand at work in my life. I also take comfort in my loving husband and other family members and friends who are a significant blessing to me. Helping others through volunteering has allowed me to shift the attention away from my pain, instead focusing on how I can show Christ’s love to those in need. But the most healing of all is the love that I receive that will never be separated by death, emotional absence, or narcissism -God’s perfect love (Romans 8:38-39). It took me close to two years to get to this point, but God has softened my heart and allowed me to see how suffering is to be expected, and how He is being glorified through the way suffering has strengthened my faith (1 Peter 1:5-7, 4:12). While I still wish things were different and sadness still arises, I feel God with me in the hard moments, and I am increasingly putting my trust in His ability to provide for me.
When I read my Bible, and spend time with God through prayer and reflection, it is His love that is so strong and perfect that it overcomes my pain. The strength God provides me each day allows me to feel peace and greater acceptance. It turns out, God is my real second chance to fill the ache in my heart, for He is my comforter and the restorer of my soul (Psalm 23).
Have you allowed God to meet you in your suffering? I welcome your comments below.