This Is/Was My Mom – Navigating the Complexities of Introducing a Deceased Parent to Your Family
By Roxanne Blumgart
Overview: It is difficult to describe a relationship with a deceased loved one to a spouse or children who never met that person. How does one try to convey what the relationship was like or who that person was? In this article I will explore this aspect and offer some tips.

Losing my mother to cancer at the age of 11 left me grappling with grief amidst a lack of support back in 1985. Our non-religious background resulted in only one night of shiva, offering minimal solace. It was a lonely time for my father and me; the absence echoed through our quiet house in the days following her passing. With no outlet for my emotions at school and a family culture that avoided discussing sadness, I withdrew into silence.

The transition to a Jewish school, orchestrated by my father to try and help alleviate my struggles, introduced me to a more welcoming environment, but my desire to fit in stifled any mention of my mother, except for one girl who knew her. Over time, memories of her began to fade, and I found it challenging to keep them alive.

Dating my now-husband since the age of 17, I rarely spoke of my mother to him, oblivious to how my insecurities, anxiety, and neediness stemmed from unresolved grief. When my father passed away suddenly and tragically when I was 23, my husband’s familiarity with him transformed my grief into a shared experience, different yet profound.

For years, I carried my mother’s memory alone, tucked away in the recesses of my heart, rarely mentioning her, except on her yarzeit. It wasn’t until I started training as a counsellor and delved into grief training that I began to bring these memories to the forefront. I always knew that I had wanted to become a grief counsellor in order to help others feel less isolated than I was, little did I know how much this training was going to help me on my own healing journey.

Even now, the absence of an adult relationship with my mother remains challenging to share with my husband. I have many conversations in my head with her, but still find it discuss these with anyone else.

I also see how difficult it is for my children to introduce their family to others, they are acutely aware that two grandparents are very absent from the family portrait. I’ve become more adept at discussing my parents’ memory, displaying emotions in front of my family, believing it’s crucial for them to understand the lasting impact of these losses. Still, I mourn the fact that they will never get to meet the people who brought me into this world and raised me with so much love, albeit for a short time.

Navigating conversations about my loss with my spouse has been tough. Recognising unresolved grief’s manifestations—such as anxiety and low moods—years later was a revelation. I wish I’d sought professional grief counselling earlier. Understanding that my grief has become woven into my life’s fabric has helped me cherish my parent’s memory while acknowledging the altered relationship.

I’d like to share a few tips based on my personal experience and what clients have shared with me on how to bring your deceased loved one into your current relationship and keep their memory alive:

– Encourage Open Communication: While discussing your loss may be challenging, try to have open conversations about it. Respect your own comfort levels but try not to avoid the subject. Take the lead in initiating discussions, as your partner cannot intuit your thoughts.

– Recognise Unresolved Grief’s Manifestations: Grief is complicated and doesn’t follow a linear track. Unresolved grief may manifest in various ways such as anxiety, irrational fears, irritability, or low moods, even years after the loss. Initiate a conversation to explore these emotions and ask for support if you need it.

– Sharing Memories: You can share memories and stories about your deceased loved one with your family. Incorporate rituals or special activities on significant dates to commemorate their life, involving your spouse and family in cherishing their memory. Invite other relatives or friends who may have known your loved one to share their stories with your family.

– Be Mindful of Triggers: Be aware that certain actions or words your spouse says or does may unknowingly trigger emotions related to your loss. When this happens, avoid reacting negatively. Instead, have a conversation later about what triggered those feelings and why, emphasising the importance of open dialogue.

– Shared Losses: If your partner has experienced their own loss, understand that discussing their grief may stir up your emotions. Encourage them to share while ensuring space for both your and their grief.

– Prepare for Family Gatherings: Be aware that family gatherings might be challenging. Communicate beforehand about your potential needs during these occasions, not only to your spouse but also to your whole family if they’re comfortable with that. Joyful events might evoke mixed feelings and this is normal.

– Create a Safe Space for Vulnerability: Understand that your partner might want to protect you from difficult emotions. While this may be well intended, it can shut down feelings and leave you feeling unheard. Share what you can manage, slowly letting them into your world. Respect your own pace.

– Understand Your Unique Relationship: Every relationship with a deceased parent is unique, ranging from loving and close to distant or complex. Your memories and feelings regarding the loss will vary based on your experiences and the more your spouse understands this the more they can support you.

– Care for Living Parents: You may have responsibilities in caring for your living parent, either physically or emotionally. Discuss openly how this impacts both of you and how you may need support.

– Manage Expectations: Recognise that while you can get support and empathy from family, they may not be able to provide you with everything that you need. Manage your expectations about what your partner can give you in terms of understanding your grief and seek support from friends or other family members who knew your loved one. If you experience severe anxiety or low moods due to unresolved grief, seek professional help from a grief counsellor. Early intervention can make a significant difference.

Your grief can become the glue that bonds your new relationships. In this shared journey, embracing the multifaceted tapestry of emotions—celebrating memories, navigating triggers, and managing expectations—can aid in weaving together a compassionate and understanding bond. Through mutual understanding, patience, and support, you can navigate the waves of grief and honour the enduring legacy of the loved one lost. Remember, while grief reshapes the landscape of our lives, it doesn’t diminish the significance of our loved one’s presence. Cherishing their memory and incorporating their essence into our lives helps us move forward while keeping their spirit alive in our hearts.

Roxanne Blumgart
Roxy is a counsellor specialising in bereavement, she has been working in this field for 6 years. She helps clients navigate through the complex emotions that are experienced through loss at all its phases and works with clients to help them to find meaning through their experiences. She also works as a counsellor at a fertility charity where she sees clients who may have experienced pregnancy or baby loss.