Mom Died and Life Sucks

Dear Dategirl,

I’m a 35-year-old single woman who was transferred from the East Coast to Seattle about three years ago for a very intense job that I threw myself into mentally and physically. Because my job was so all-consuming, I had little extra time, energy, or mental space to form friendships, let alone relationships.

About 10 weeks ago my mother died. She was the closest person I had in my life. I really relied on our relationship, especially after moving away from everyone I knew. I loved her so much and I’m devastated.

I’ve never felt so isolated in my life. I feel like my brain is clawing the walls, trying to find someone to talk to or even just have coffee with. I don’t even want to talk about my mom, I just want to, like, get some brunch and chat about stupid things Republicans say or whatever. But I just . . . can’t. I don’t even feel like a person right now. Everyone around me can feel there’s SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME, and responds accordingly. I put notice in at work, because just being around co-workers makes me cringe.

I get the sense that most adults dealing with the death of a parent lean on their significant other for support. I’m so far removed from being “significant” to anyone that I really feel like the tether’s been cut for me permanently. I’m just floating in space. I’m obviously nobody’s idea of a dream date at the moment, but I feel so alone. What do I do?

—Motherless Daughter

Forget about finding a boyfriend and instead focus all your energies on finding a great therapist specializing in grief counseling. It’s crucial that you have someone to help you through this horrible time. This will probably not offer you much solace, but when my mom died I was in a long-term relationship, and I still felt utterly, shockingly, horribly alone.

I remember staring at him (and anyone else who happened to pass through my field of vision) and alternating between bewilderment and fury because THESE PEOPLE, just walking around, just living their lives, had NO FUCKING CLUE. “They” say you’re not supposed to make any big changes when processing the death of someone close to you, but like you, I left my job. I changed apartments. I went back to school and I started volunteering with AIDS patients. Oh, and I kept going to therapy. I bought tons of self-help books, thinking if I read the right one, I’d feel better.

I didn’t.

Three things helped: 1) my therapist explaining that there was no magic pill—I’d suffered a great loss and I would eventually be OK, but it would take time; 2) an acquaintance telling me that I should expect to think about my mom’s death every day for a year, but that after that, I would still think about her often, but it would hurt a little less; and 3) focusing my energies on helping people living with AIDS. We’re talking hands-on work with very sick people, not just writing a check. As Pollyanna-ish as it sounds, forcing myself to do something positive for other people probably helped more than anything else.

Organizations like Cancer Care have online, telephone, and in-person grief-support groups, and has a fairly comprehensive list of therapists broken down by specialty. Please look into either or both.

I wish you much luck. Eventually you will start to recover. I promise.