1. Smith, Caroline J. BSN, RN, CHPN, Reviewer

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Grieving the Death of a Mother Harold Ivan Smith Augsburg Books Division of Augsburg Fortress Evangelical Lutheran Church Box 1209 Minneapolis, MN 55440-1209 Phone: 1-800-328-4648 Web site: $13.99 (softcover)


Grieving the Death of a Mother offers an insightful guide to the experience of "motherloss." If you have "lost" your mother already or, as in my case, will someday "lose" your mother, it will help you deal with the end of that special relationship. I was not prepared for the tears that would flow at the thought of "losing" my mother. Kleenex was a necessity.


Harold Ivan Smith is a grief counselor whose mother died when he was in his early 50s. His mother was 83. He shares how different the death of a mother can be from any other relationship. "Losing a mother deprives you of a chief cheerleader." Harold Smith's friend Carl shared about his motherloss. "I still needed her. I wasn't finished growing up yet."


He uses the word "motherloss" to describe a mother's death. It captures the essence of a mother's death in a way no other word or description can. It is a loss of everything a mother represents: someone to cuddle with, to be rocked by, to be fed her special food, to smell the aroma of the kitchen on a special holiday, to share getting that sought after job, to receive a birthday card, and to call at the same time every day or week. The list is endless, and the void left is even more endless.


The book comprises 7 chapters, an introduction, a conclusion, and notations. Each chapter begins with 3 or 4 quotes. The introduction begins with "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child....A long way from home." from an African American spiritual. Harold Smith reflects "I am again a traveler, wandering through a landscape for which Fodor has no guidebook-a land called Grief." Interspersed throughout the book are his thoughts and sometimes prayers written as a verse:


Grief for a mother will have its days-


sometimes long after the rituals are over and


condolence cards have stopped coming in the mail.


Whenever I am convinced that grief is "done"


Bang! It's back! As if there is an


invisible bungee cord that pulls me back to my grief.


There is-memory.


After "motherloss," many families define family history by "BMD or AMD: before mom's death and after mom's death." The second Sunday of May, Mothers' Day, is an extremely hard day after "motherloss." It was conceived by Anna Jarvis in 1905 because she was deeply grieving her mother's death. Today, for weeks beforehand, we are reminded by retailers that Mothers' Day is coming. Thanksgiving, Christmas, mom's birthday, the 4th of July, or other special family dates can pull the "bungee cord" back into our grief, regardless of whether we want to.


Harold Smith researched how other people handled their motherloss. He used friends' and presidents' experiences. George Herbert Walker Bush's mother Dorothy died 2 weeks after he was defeated in the 1992 election. He wrote in his diary:


Mum left us. It's kind of like our compass is spinning a little. Even when she was tired and failing she was our guide. I walked up by the Bungalow a lot this long Thanksgiving weekend. I found myself choking up. Then I found myself smiling. The agents probably said to each other, "The old guy's finally lost it."


In 1935, Duke Ellington's mother was critically ill. He stayed vigil for 3 days and nights, sitting in a hard straight chair, leaning on his mothers' pillow at times. He said, "When my mother died the bottom dropped out."


He shared experiences of the motherloss of many others, from Theodore Roosevelt to Paul McCartney to his friends.


Each chapter is divided into sections. The first chapter, "The Dying," explores the following topics: The Beginning of the Ending; When Your Mama Doesn't Know You; Speaking the Truth in Love; The Conversation We Never Had; Hospital Rules; At Christmas and Holidays; Laugh or Cry or Both?; As a Favor to Me; Loving Despite The Silence; When the Watching is Tough; Playing God with Mom's Life; Hearing Mom's Last Words; Being There At the Last; When the Dying Interrupts Normalcy; To Go Or Not To Go; A Mother's Vulnerability; Moments of Drama; Loud and Soft; On My Watch; Being With Mom at the End; If Only I had Been There; and A Little Girl by the Window.


As I read each section, I could envision so many families that struggled with each stage of the dying process. From learning to accept the losses of bodily function that is the beginning of the dying, encouraging family members the take quiet time to be with mom and say what needs to be said, facilitating celebrations of various holidays knowing that a cherished memory is being created, calling families to come when there has been a change and sometimes they do not make it in time, and many other common scenarios. He captured the essence of dying well. He ended this chapter with a prayer:


Give me strength sufficient for the demands of this day.


Give me the courage not to anticipate tomorrow


in order to avoid today.


Give me grace not to turn my head away from the


bloody awe-full business of losing


such a source of strength. Amen.


The other chapters explore the other stages after motherloss. "The Passing" explores the special circumstances after a sudden loss: from murder, to catastrophe, terrorist attacks, automobile accidents, and suicide. "The Mourning" shares how we are expected to "get over it" quickly, which can only create difficulties later if we do not mourn thoroughly. For example, after Princess Diana's death, an Eton faculty member is quoted as stating, "Prince William is not a little boy. He cannot grieve forever. He must learn to take it." "The Mourning" also includes experiences about settling the estate, dealing with siblings, and all it takes to take in mom's death.


"The Burying" includes all aspects of the process, from making arrangements to the visitation, the funeral, the burial, the scattering of ashes, keeping mom's ashes in a box, the gathering after the services, and the recognition of orphanhood. "The Grieving" includes reflections on the completion of settling the estate and seeing mom's home empty, reminiscing, sharing stories, forgiving yourself, dealing with a "grief ambush," and then trying to incorporate the experience into our lives. "The Remembering" is putting all this in place in our lives. How to deal with mother's loss by creating memories, incorporating the good and the bad, and dealing with regrets. "The Honoring" shares how it helps to honor mom and includes a list of possible ways to do that.


He concludes with the encouragement to let this process of motherloss take the time it needs, and do it in your own way. I found that many of the stages can be similar to other losses, but what makes this loss so much more difficult is that mother is the nurturer, the only one who gave birth to us, by nature or by adoption. She is the one who helped form our lives.


This book is insightful, spiritual, and reflective. It is a book that will help those who are dealing with motherloss to give themselves permission to do it right. At $13.99 and only 140 pages, it should be in all hospice libraries. My only criticism is that the author should have encouraged people to seek help if they were having difficulty with the grieving process and given some national resources for further assistance.