By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
When my mother was alive she used to say, “You’ll miss me when I’m gone. You may be the only one, but you’ll miss me, you’ll see.”
Whenever she knew I was going out of town she would often say as soon as she heard the news, “I miss you already. Will you miss me?” I would fib and say, “Yes.” Because I knew that’s what she wanted to hear. I suspect she was anticipating her own experience of feeling all alone.
Missing me was real for her. Somehow, she was braver and more like her feisty self when I was around. When I was gone it would mean I wasn’t available to her. She walked around like a lost soul. Nothing seemed to please her. It was as if a part of her was missing.
It had actually not occurred to me that I would miss someone who had been the biggest challenge of my life. Often when I thought of her impending death, I would imagine relief, more than any other emotion.
But now that she’s gone, I admit she was right, I do miss her.
So what does it mean to miss someone?
The word missing carries with it two opposite messages. One is related to connection, the other to disconnection.
On the one hand the verb “miss” can mean “to notice and/or to regret the loss of something or someone.” When we miss someone who has departed from our life it’s usually because we love them, acknowledge the impact they made on our life, and recognize that they were a part of what makes us who we are. We yearn for their presence. They are a part of our memory bank. There is a strong connection, or bond between us and the other person. We feel a bit disoriented because of their absence. The presence of that absence is everywhere.
This definition has been helpful to me as I experience missing my mother. The fact that our relationship was as parent and child makes it even more intense. Most of us grow up hearing that the mother child bond is the strongest of all relationships. We hear of unconditional love and that it’s through our connection with our parent that we receive it. With unconditional love also comes forgiveness.
The other side of missing someone involves a disconnection. The word miss, in English, can also mean “to escape or avoid.”
In the first sense of the word “miss” we may indeed miss the one who is gone. But in the other sense of the word we will also miss (i.e. avoid or escape) the difficulties we faced when the person was still with us—e.g. such things as the fear of abandonment, the reality of unfaithfulness, the pain of emotional abuse, or the burden of hands-on physical care in the months and years prior to the death of a loved one.
Missing, in other words, has an upside as well as a downside, and most of us will experience a kind of ambivalence when we are separated from a loved one by death, divorce, or other occasion. That said, when we talk about missing someone, it is usually in the context of longing for them.
When a mother is faced with the reality that her child may not survive birth she can only imagine what that longing for her child will feel like. She will not know in her bones what it will be like to miss her baby until her baby is dead and all her friends and family who were surrounding her have gone home.
For this mother she will not only miss her child, but she will miss her future with that child. All the missed opportunities that were to be played out in real life will not happen. All the opportunities to love and be loved by this person, to touch, and gather memories will not be realized. Most people don’t understand how strong this emotion of missing is for someone who didn’t know their child until they were dead. Even if they go on to have other children, they will still miss the one that’s not here. That bonding connection with mother and child started long before birth. This mother misses the child who was already a part of her life, though formal introductions were yet to be made to the rest of the world.
Ask an 80 year old mother how many children she has. She’ll list all of them, even the ones that died. What a wonderful statement about our humanity. The mothers of the world care for and remember our tiniest and most vulnerable persons.
Many advise parents to forget and move on. That’s a sign of getting over grief for some. A sign of our culture is to always be looking forward. Looking back seems to connote being stuck.
Missing my child is not me living in the past.
It’s called loving my child in the present. Angela Miller
Every year at our Parents of Murdered Children Holiday Gathering we show a video slide show picturing each child, with Ronnie Milshap’s recording “I Wouldn’t Have Missed this for the World” playing in the background. Some of their children’s lives were very destructive, others, not. But what they all know is they have learned to be grateful for the good times they had with their children. That’s what they talk about. They have no desire to forget those memories even when there is pain in that longing.
Sometimes when one person is missing the whole world feels empty. That’s certainly how it feels at the beginning of the grief journey. That emptiness can seem unbearable. As time goes on, missing someone seems to get less intense. Does the feeling ever go away? Not totally. I can’t ever imagine not missing someone I love. It’s just something we do. Will that hole get filled with another person? No.
My heart just gets bigger to allow for new loves, new opportunities. But the place in my heart for my mother will remain.
We’re all okay. And yes, someone is missing.