What It's Really Like To Lose Your Mom

by Betsy New-Schneider
A woman leaning her chin on her hand while looking through a window after the loss of her mother.
splendens / Getty

There is a story in my family that my great-grandfather and his 7 brothers all agreed to meet in Nova Scotia after leaving the “Old World.” My great-grandfather ended up in St. Paul, MN — he is who we blame for our familial trait of a poor sense of direction. I have been lost several times a week since I started driving 20 years ago. I have learned to rely on maps, then mapquest, and now GPS or Waze. It would be impossible for me to find my way without these navigational tools.

In life, my navigational tool was my mother. My mother was (is) my north star. I called her 3-5 times a day. She was in the room with me for the birth of both of my children. And in a job interview when I was asked how I problem solve difficult situations, my reply was, “I first call my mom — she is my sounding board.”

Somehow, my mother knew how to be supportive, but also call me out when I needed to be called out. I married the love of my life, but my mother was my soulmate. Last week I watched my mother take her final breath. I am now living my life without any navigation. I am struggling not only with the loss of the best person I have ever known, but without the presence of my north star.

What do I do the next time my daughter does an amazing lip sync routine and I want to send the video to my mom? Who do I call when I am struggling with how to handle a conflict with my husband? Who do I turn to when I feel like I am the worst mom in the world? There are others — my girlfriends, my brother, my dad, my husband…yet…none will fill the void of my mother.

I have cried a great deal over the past couple of weeks. Even through my pain, I have been able to have a good amount of perspective. I watched my mother pass away; she did not watch me die. Though her life was cut short, that is how it is supposed to be. I know this was a gift that she did not have to bury me. I also realize that my mother lived for 16 years, 14 of them in pretty good health after receiving a devastating cancer diagnosis. She was at my wedding, and had relationships with my children, something at the time of diagnosis, I did not believe would happen. These things are a gift, yet the knowledge of them does not help the gaping hole I feel in my heart.

Over the past week I have been raised up by my community. The outpouring of love for my mother from her lifelong friends, and more recent friends was overwhelming. I returned from Florida to sit shiva and my house was packed for three full days, mostly with friends who never met my mother, only knew her from my stories. My community is taking care of my family — they are feeding us, offering rides, hugs, and endless calls just to check on me. Yet, this does not help me figure out how I am going to find my way now that I am motherless.

I know I am not the first or the last to lose a mother. I know that many people have the amazing fortune of feeling that they were born to the best mother in the world. All I know is, my mentor, best friend and hero is no longer here to keep me company, laugh with me, and guide me. Many people have shared the truth (which feels like a platitude) “she is always with you.”

I am sure this is true, but right now I am just trying to figure out how to walk through life with a blindfold on while pretending I can see.