“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” ~ Elizabeth Stone
My first child was ten months old on my first Mother’s Day. When I woke up that morning, I felt like I had been initiated into an exclusive club. I shared a kinship with every mother in every corner of the world. Even better, I discovered that mothering was my calling. In the early days I often said that the Peace Corps borrowed their slogan from parenting: “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” Raising my two daughters and two sons inspired more growth and love than I would have imagined possible.
This joy is part of the kinship all mothers share. So is heartbreak. When we love so deeply, it’s impossible to escape unscathed. At some point, we will feel the loss of our children. Our first and greatest fear is their death, but that’s not the only way to lose them. Alienation, estrangement, addiction, and disability can take them from us to some degree. Even their perfectly normal transition into adulthood takes them away; that’s why it’s called the “empty nest” syndrome. It leaves us feeling empty.
My first Mother’s Day was 22 years ago, but this Mother’s Day marks the third without my children. They’ve been alienated from me by their father, my now ex-husband. The hows and whys of his influence are a long story, and the results have been heartbreaking. It’s been 18 months since I’ve seen my oldest daughter, 15 months since I’ve seen my other daughter and two sons. They won’t talk to me; they refuse my efforts to reach out to them; they’ve made it clear that texts and emails are unacceptable intrusions on their lives. At times, I’ve been driven to my knees with grief. This doesn’t make me special; I share a little of my story so you’ll believe me when I say we don’t have to stay on our knees. These are some of the things I’ve done to restore my life.
Feel your feelings in the arms of someone who cares.
In fact, the more “someones” you find, the better. Counselors fall into this category too, in my opinion. Grief needs expression; actively express rather than repress.
Count your blessings.
Even in the middle of loss, there are gifts. Look for them and express gratitude – out loud. Thank the people who are there for you. Keep a gratitude journal. Post on facebook one thing that made a difference in your day, every day for a week; better: do it for a month. It doesn’t have to be something big. Anything that makes you happy counts: a good meal, an evening out with a friend, a fuzzy pair of slippers, watching birds at the feeder.
Maintain your positive routines.
Before the alienation began, I had regularly walked and meditated. Continuing the practice after I lost contact with my children provided a sense of stability and comfort to my otherwise disrupted life.
Find others who share your experience.
This might be a support group, whether in person or online. I read books and online articles about parental alienation. The knowledge empowered and reassured me. I wasn’t alone in my grief; knowing that helped tremendously.
Take care of yourself.
This is a must, and yet it is hard for moms to do. You are no good to anyone if you are no good to yourself. Remember the analogy of the airplane emergency training: flight attendants instruct that if the oxygen masks drop, put your own on first, because you cannot help the person next to you if you can’t breathe. Taking care of yourself requires different things at different times; if you’re unsure what you need, take a break. If you’re still unsure, ask someone you trust what they observe. Chances are they can see what you can’t.
Loss makes us look back; it’s part of grieving. So is feeling stuck. Those are both normal parts of grief, and you can’t skip the steps no matter how hard you try. But remember to look forward too, even if tomorrow is as far as you can see at the moment. No matter what we lose, we’re still here and we need to live. Make plans, no matter how small. Start dreaming again.
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I think of my children every day; that’s not going to change. I feel the loss of them deeply and yet I wouldn’t trade one day with them to lessen the pain of this alienation. That’s the kind of love that mothers understand. And it’s that love that I will celebrate on Mother’s Day, even if I shed a tear or two as well.
This is Jackie Jeffery’s third guest post for Muse In The Valley. She also wrote The Crossover, about a series of dreams she had after the passing of her mother and Embracing the Wisdom of my dreams. Jackie lives in Minnesota with her sweetheart, studied American Sign Language at College of Liberal Arts | University of Minnesota and writes part-time.