Mary Ellen (Stories)

I have been asked many times to share my story of mother loss. I can hardly tell my story without going back in time and reliving it. That has been so many years ago and yet it is as fresh as a first winter snow. I cannot talk about my story of mother loss without talking about the loss of “who I was”, and the birth of the Motherless Daughter Ministry since all of these are so interconnected.

So I shall begin…I know what it is like to be a motherless daughter. My mother died from breast cancer when I was 15 years old. Little did I know then how this profound event would affect me. Not only was my personality shaped, but my entire being – my relationships, my parenting, my decision making, how and who I love – everything! At 15, I put my grief aside and went on with my life. Isn’t that the way most of us handle significant emotional events in our lives?

Thirty-five years later I began to mourn the loss of my mother. My parents had divorced when I was 10, and then my mother died of breast cancer when I was 15. My father was physically absent, so emotionally and psychologically, I was on my own at 15. My loss and unresolved grief left a “hole in my soul” that I constantly was trying to fill with achievement, self-sufficiency, and success. I was addicted to achievement. We all have some kind of “addiction” that we use to soothe ourselves. I grew to be a competent, professional business woman, a registered nurse, a small business owner, and a college professor. I was always working.

I did not know until 1990 that I had a congenital defect in my brain, called a Chiari Malformation, which would end up changing my life. I began to experience a host of symptoms that affected my everyday life. Among those symptoms was loosing the ability to balance myself to walk. I became disabled. I used a walker. I had visual problems among a myriad of other symptoms. The only sense that seemed to increase was my hearing. The volume was turned up. By 1999, I experienced my first brain surgery to relieve the debilitating symptoms. It was marginally successful. I could not work. Because my work had defined me, I did not know who I was. I felt as if the old me died and I was a stranger in my body. The changes in my life forced me to emotionally deal with all the losses from this surgery. I sought out counseling. Through counseling, I began to uncover losses that I was experiencing. As I peeled back the layers, I discovered my “core loss” was the unresolved grief of losing my mother at age 15. I had put my grief away and thought that I could just go on. After all, my mother had died 35 years earlier.