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Ask The Expert: Difficulty Coping With Losing A Mother

Dear Your Teen:

I am 16 years old. I lost my mom to breast cancer at the age of nine. I believe I am able to cope and grieve in my own way. Yet I have a recurring problem, which strikes often and leaves me in hopeless tears. Losing a mother is terrible. But I dread meeting new people or even being around people who don’t know about my mom’s passing. I’m starting a new school soon and would like some advice. I find it very hard to explain to people my mother’s passing, so when a teacher asks if my mom could help me with something, I can’t help but burst into tears and leave. I don’t want to cry in front of people I’ve just met or have to always wonder when someone is going to mention something to upset me.

ANSWER | Kathy Maxwell, LISW-S

First, let me offer you my sympathy; losing a mother at any age is difficult.

For you, being only nine years old when she died makes it extra hard because young children have legitimate and ongoing needs for mothering. It’s hard for youngsters to understand what death means, and their grieving is complicated by questions, “Why?” “How?” and “Who will take care of me now?” I imagine this is familiar to you from that earlier period in your life.

Cancer Loss: Dealing With Grief Over Time

As those questions get answered with time, the grief may subside for a while. However, there is a lifelong impact when a parent dies. As you grow and mature, you will revisit the grief, and the reality of the loss will once again evoke a variety of feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, and confusion. Although each person has a unique response to the loss, you can expect these feelings to rise and fall as the struggle for acceptance continues.

Sixteen is an age when all girls need someone to guide and assist them in becoming a woman. Most often, that guide will be a mother. I assure you it is natural and normal to be emotional, especially when these random reminders come up. Your loss needs to be acknowledged, not minimized or dismissed because your mom died many years ago. Please be gentle with yourself and acknowledge there is a reason for this pain.

I suggest you find a counselor familiar with teen grief who can help you express these emotions in a safe and contained place. This will allow you to give voice to your feelings, hopefully easing the pressure and giving you a bit more control in those unexpected moments. Your willingness to reach out shows that you are ready for assistance. Many hospices and counseling centers have people who can help.

I wish you well on your continuing journey.

Kathy Maxwell, LISW-S

Kathy Maxwell, former clinical program staff member at The Gathering Place, a cancer support center in Beachwood and Westlake, Ohio. Maxwell maintains a private practice in Solon, Ohio.