Thursday, May 14, 2009

Being Nobody's Son

Enlightening words from Jim Sollisch this past Sunday...

[Being a son...] was my defining role for 49 years, until my mother died last April.

I mention this because I have learned in this year of grieving that most people calibrate their sympathy to your age. People seem to assume that the further you get from looking like a son, the less painful it must be for you to lose a parent. I suppose there's some truth to that, but no matter how old you are there's a powerful sadness to being no one's child. It took me by surprise.

I miss my mom every day. She visits my dreams, nagging me. I ache to tell her what each of my five kids is doing. To show her the house my wife and I just bought. To let her know whom I ran into at the store. My longing surprises me because I, too, feel like I'm old enough to be immune from needing my mother. But I have learned that we are still children, walking around inside these aging bodies.

That hit the nail on the head.

A hard part about mourning the loss of a mother when you're grown up is that it feels so emasculating to admit to: that you miss your Mom. What man cries out for his mommy??? And so it is a challenge to confront your feelings (and not run from them) and still fight to maintain some sense of dignity in doing so.

Also, there is difficulty in coming to grips with the idea that you are no longer someone's son. Think about it: of the hats we wear in society, and the roles we play, how long have we played each of them?

I've been doing ministry for about 7 years.
I've been a real tax-payer for about 4 or 5 years.
I've been a licensed driver for about 13 years.
I've been a Christian for 15 years.

But now consider that I've been a son since I came out of the womb. Or if you want to be real precise, go 9 months before then. Before I even breathed fresh air, I was somebody's son. And, yet, now I don't play that role anymore. That was a familiar hat to wear -- a comfortable hat, and a comforting hat. But it's not there on the shelf to wear anymore.

I don't say that to elicit any "I'm so sorry" comments, or to linger any longer in self-pity. Just to share insight into what people feel when they lose a parent. I think I've shared in prior postings about how it's a sad thing. And that it's a unique thing. And several other observations. But what I'm saying now is how this deal is also a disorienting thing. That constant of constants in our lives -- Mom -- when she's not there anymore can be almost a confusing thing. I mean, in the sense that a major part of our identity over the span of our lives has suddenly vanished -- that's a challenging thing to cope with. It's just one more thing to face among all the rest of the challenges -- actually missing Mom, managing the waves of emotion that come with a death, and so forth.

And like Mr. Sollisch says, it took me by surprise, too. I hadn't anticipated it. But it's a part of the deal.

In some ways, I've thought of this part -- being nobody's son -- as "graduation." As we live life, we progressively graduate to new levels in life that present various challenges at differing degrees of difficulty. In some ways, it feels like a new level. And there are other levels ahead. And then there's Bowser waiting at the end... ;) just kidding.

But, in a sense, it's natural. Mothers eventually die. Offspring have to function without their mother at their side.

Of course, realizing that doesn't make the process any easier. :) As Mr. Sollisch said in the article, I'm not sure the longing to continue to be a son ever really goes away. But having the progressive sense about life helps conceptualize the big picture of everything. And having a big picture perspective is important to finding the way forward.

I'm not sure how to finish this up, so I'll say a note of thanks here to readers who have made kind gestures of compassion recently, around the anniversary of Mom's passing & Mother's Day. If there's one thing I continue to learn through this, it's compassion. I'm grateful for the notes, the kind words, the thoughts of remembrance. They've been a relief. And I thank you all for them.


Lloyd said...

Thanks for opening yourself up. I have thought many times about the day I will have to face this with either of my parents (assuming I don't check out first), and it's really scary. I still talk to them regularly, and I would really be lost and disoriented myself if they were gone. As a side note, I don't think any man can be blamed for wanting his mom. Much love, brother.

Emily :) said...

I am so glad you shared this. After working with hospice for two years I learned that all people grieve differently, but I have never really thought about the loss of identity.

On a personal note, my little boy was giving me a really good hug tonight and I made him promise that he would still hug me like that even when he is as big as his daddy. As a mom, I hope my son still wants me no matter how old he is!!!