Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Void that Will Never Be Filled

 It is a common meme for bloggers to give advice to their younger selves.

Today, 50 years to the day after my mother died during the 1965 Northeast blackout, I would love nothing better to reach out to a 12 years old girl who had just been through one of the most traumatic nights of her life.

Yesterday, I blogged about a blackout, which affected some 30 million people in Canada and the Northeastern United States on November 9, 1965.  One of my commenters yesterday asked if my Mom had died because of the blackout.  I don't think so, although it may indirectly have contributed.

My mother had not been feeling well that day, and had come close to calling my father at work and asking him to come home.  But she didn't.  As a result, when the lights went out about 5:27 pm, my father was on a New York City subway, one of some 800,000 riders in transit that evening.  He didn't get out on the street until about 10:30 pm.

He had to wait on a long line for a pay phone to call home.   (If you are wondering why the phones worked, it was simple - these were true landlines, in 1965, and worked independently of the power grid.).

It was too late by the time he reached us. 

My father, eventually, did make it home.  Only as an adult, and later, as a mother, did I ever think of the trauma he went through that night and in the days and weeks later.  He had the added responsibility of having to raise me alone, in addition to losing the wife he loved.

Yesterday, I spent some time looking at pictures online taken that night in both New York City (where I grew up) and Boston.

It's sobering to realize that most all ofthe adults I interacted with during the blackout (and the people in those pictures) are now dead or elderly.  Here's a remembrance by a student whose grandfather was a young New York City policeman during the blackout.

But getting back to what the 62 year old me would tell that 12 year old girl, it is simple:

"Dear 12 year old me, who spent years blaming herself for her mother's death, you were not responsible.  You can't put responsibility on yourself for your mother's illness, or the events of that night.  But children, and in many ways you were still a child on that night, think in ways different than those of adults.  One day, you will know that. "

As I blogged about yesterday, it is hard for me to write about the events of that night and how they changed me forever.  Instead, I will turn to a book called Motherless Daughters - The Legacy of Loss by Hope Edelman. As it happens, my therapist was herself a motherless daughter, and knew this book would help me.  In some ways, it was like the book had been written just for me.  In fact, it was written as a result of hundreds of interviews with motherless daughters.  Daughters like me.

Ms. Edelman said, in the book:

“When a daughter loses a mother, the intervals between grief responses lengthen over time, but her longing never disappears. It always hovers at the edge of her awareness, prepared to surface at any time, in any place, in the least expected ways.”

In some ways, I envy those who have had their mothers all these years.  I never got to know my mother as an adult.  I suspect that my teen years would have been extremely stormy with her.  I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been.  Her hopes for me were not what I wanted to do with my life.

As Ms. Edelman also said:  “I truly believe that the death of my mother has made me the way I am today. I am a survivor, mentally strong, determined, strong willed, self-reliant, and independent. I also keep most of my pain, anger and feelings inside." It took me years to learn the lesson that sometimes you just have to reach out for help.  But still, I am a bit of an over planner - I tend to have plans A, B, C and D where others may be lucky to come up with a plan B.  I know this is a trait of motherless daughters.

I had a lawyer write my first will when I was in my 30's, before I even had a child.  How many women in their 30's write a will?

So I would also say to the 12 year old me, "You are a good person. Be good to yourself.  Be kind to yourself when you are feeling low. You can't control many things in life.  But you are stronger than you think.  You are capable of great things. Always remember that."

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Today is day 10 of NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month.


  1. This post is very meaningful for many of us adults who have taken on guilt for some incident in our childhood - incidents which, objectively, we could not possibly have caused or even affected. How wonderful that you have been able to come to terms with your experience and are now able to give advice to that young child and to us.

  2. Very good advice for your younger self. I'm so sorry you lost your mother so early.

  3. What a rough lesson. The question becomes, who are you today because of that tragedy? Because without it, you would be a completely different person.

  4. Sorry that happen to you. But I don't why us as human always or least I do...I should of...which don't mean it would have a better result.
    Coffee is on

  5. OMG I would give my younger self SO MUCH ADVICE ==== Do not care about what others think because at the end of the day, everyone to a degree is selfish - thus they really don't care what you do!

    Also - Friends come and go, but FAMILY lasts forever!


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