Death is More than a Loss of Person: Its Steals Our Hope

Kerry Kerr McAvoy

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A friend texted me this morning. Her mother died yesterday.

I knew what that meant. Like her, this is a day I also fear.

And my heart broke.

The Complexity of Familial Relationships

Relationships with family are rarely simple. Each person is not just a familiar presence but also occupies an important role. Mother is an archetype that embodies unconscious longing, needs, and wishes.

Take my mom, for instance. She is more than a personality who independently operates; who has a past, unique tastes, interests, and hobbies. Though she is fully present as herself to me, she represents an infinity of moments, hopes, and expectations.

She is Mother, a word loaded with symbolic meaning. It comes with so many obligations and presumptions. Between her and me, there is a history of shared moments, our genetic connections, and all of our hidden and acknowledged expectations. Like all of best of us, some areas of which she’s done well and others not so good.

Familial Ties of Hope and Losses

No doubt when she thinks of me, there are the same measures of hopes, dreams, and griefs. So much that hasn't been said, and too much that has been. No doubt she's lives with the ghost of who she'd wishes I was yet loves who I have become.

Then I am a mother to my children and just as my mother and I are engaged in this complex dance, the same dynamics continue with my sons. My children, likewise, live with same measure of my successes and failures. Like my mother before me, I am only an imperfect representation of who they have needed me to be.

All of us are, simultaneously, actualities and placeholders for each other, connected to one another for all of eternity.

A Connected Paradox

And, we all live with the paradox of sometimes being good enough yet often not being enough.

How do we survive these catastrophic losses that exist between one another?

It is Hope that there will be a future that allows us to live with the inadequacies of these relationships. We are able to sleep by telling ourselves tomorrow will be different. And for a moment, we believe that what is missing can be found. So, we try again. And again. And one more time.

We Are More to One Another

Death, however, robs us of such a possibility.

It is not just losing the presence of someone we loved or wanted to love; it otten brings a premature closure to the relationship by shuting the door for any possibility of what we wish could be or what we need it to be.

My friend’s mother had not been the kind of parent she needed. There were many holes and gaps in their relationship. Too often, my friend mothered more than she was mothered.

She didn’t just lose a person she knew well; she also lost the hope for the relationship-that-could-have-been. Now gone are her dreams of being daughter-loved with someone she’d wanted to have loved better.

Death Leaves a Hole

She must now live with the terrible hole the loss of this precious woman leaves in her heart and in her life. And thus, her grief will be complicated as she mourns on multiple levels all at the same time for what was, what is, and what should have been and never will be.

Yesterday, death took her mother. and in that last moment, all the doors of various possibilities closed with a painful finality.

Today, my friend texted to tell me her mother had died. I heard the sorrow in those few words--all the things said and left unsaid about what she’d lost.

And my heart broke.

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Psychologist, Kerry Kerr McAvoy, Ph.D. writes about dating, healthy relationships, narcissism, and various other mental health-related issues. She is a mom to three grown sons. Loves to swim, snorkel, and read, and enjoys traveling. She lived in the Caribbean for two years. For her monthly letter or to listen to her podcast

Austin, TX

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