Today marks the 25th anniversary of my mom’s passing. And it was not until I faced the end of my marriage that I’ve started to actually process the impact of her death on my life.
I lost my mom suddenly at the age of 14. At a time when I was just becoming a teenager. When I was trying to prove myself and fit in. A year before my mom passed I became an adult in the eyes of the Jewish religion.
But at 14 I was still just a child.
I remember the last year with my mom. Not wanting to go to Bat Mitzvah practice. Fighting with her about a dress that I wanted but she did not think was mature enough. I was at an age when I was so worried about what other people thought of me. You might venture to say self-absorbed… but really aren’t all 14 year olds?
My mom passed away in the summer before I started high school. I remember friends and teachers reaching out to me saying they were sorry for my loss.“I’m fine.” I would reply quickly. I was a freshman. And just wanted to fit in with everyone else. I was not going to let my mom’s death define me and wear a scarlet letter that said “Feel Sorry for Me”.
I got involved with sports and clubs. I had a lot of friends. I was social. I always had a boyfriend. I was never alone. My social circle and activities gave me the comfort I longed for and a sense of belonging.
In high school and college, I pushed myself hard to get good grades and seek approval from my teachers and my father. It felt good to be recognized for my hard work. And likely the birthplace of my A-type personality. I constantly pushed myself to do more. To achieve more.
I felt valued based on what I accomplished and the praise I received from others.
Six years after my mom’s death I met my now ex-husband. We were together for 18 years. The marriage fell apart for a number of different reasons. But one thing I now realize is that I was not whole when I entered the relationship. My heart had a huge void that I relied on the external world to fill. And he was a major external force in my life. I put expectations on him to complete me. To nurture me and affirm my place in the world. To offer me the kind of love and compassion that we traditionally receive from a maternal figure. I expected him to make me feel whole. To make me feel happy.
Inevitably I would get disappointed when he could not meet those expectations. And that’s because I operated in the relationship from a state of desire, need and want. I so desperately wanted to be loved and taken care of. For him to fill the huge void left in my heart from my mom’s death. I needed him to love me because I had never developed the capacity to self-love. To accept myself. To affirm my own place in the world. To offer my own self some compassion.
In retrospect I realize now that he could never meet those expectations. My recent journey has taught me that we cannot place expectations on others to make us happy. Acting from a place of desire will just lead to pain and suffering. Happiness and feeling fulfilled needs to start from within. And once we can accept ourselves and believe we are worthy can we realize true love.
I know that no one will ever fill the void created when my mom left me — but what I also know is that I can feel whole again by loving myself first.
The pure yogic truth: The love you experience at any time with any person is not coming from them; it’s coming from inside of you. It’s your experience of your true self. In other words, the other person is a stimulus that allows your own love to be uncovered. — Happy Yoga, By Steve Ross