Dear Annie: My son died two years ago. He was 32 and my only child. It’s so painful to be identified as someone who “was” a mum. Although my son is gone, I will always be his mum.
How can I convey I’m a mother without a child, without always having to explain the circumstances? It matters more than ever for me to be a mum, but I feel like I’ve lost my identity – KS
Annie says: Of course you are still a mother – absolutely! You will always be your sons’ mum, just as you didn’t stop being his mum when he began to spend time away from you, as he grew up and became independent. It never stops – the thinking, the worrying, the loving. And it never will.
It is such a tragic and unfair thing to experience – the loss of one’s child. Totally against the order of things. And to then be confronted with the loss of your identity must feel completely annihilating at times.
I imagine part of what is so unappealing about having to explain the circumstances – aside from not wanting to talk about something painful – is that very often people’s reaction and awkwardness makes it even more unbearable.
That’s such a shame, because if people felt more able to tolerate others’ pain, we might all share more of ourselves with each other.
Part of the answer might be about owning your mum-ness in yourself – finding a way to feel it and believe it. So that when you are with others – whether or not you choose to talk about your circumstances – you don’t feel you ‘were’ a mum, but feel in contact with being a mum.
I’m also reminded of an organisation, which I think you might find very useful – called Our Missing Peace.
It has a campaign addressing exactly the problem you are facing – the experience of becoming nameless when one loses a child. This organisation has introduced a badge for parents to convey without words that they have lost a child. They refer to a parent in these circumstances, as a ‘vilomah’.
The idea is, that just as a wife without a husband can call herself a widow, a parent without a child can call themself a vilomah. And hopefully, over time, those unbearable conversations with people who don’t understand, become ever so slightly less so.
If you’ve lost someone close to you, or been affected by a bereavement, psychotherapist Annie Broadbent is here to help. If you have a question for her to answer in this column, write to her at DearAnnie@funeralguide.com
Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.
She is the author of bestselling book Speaking of Death (What the Bereaved Really Need), inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.
Regretfully, Annie cannot enter into personal correspondence