30% of women in 40s suffer from 'mother loss syndrome'

TOKYO —

“I feel as if I killed her.”

Relations with mom can be harrowingly complicated, as any adult or teenager knows. It’s true while they are alive, and it’s true – truer, maybe – after they die. What a deceased mother leaves you with, says Shukan Asahi (March 28) is “mother loss syndrome.” It seem to hit women in particular, and of the 500 women aged 40 and up the magazine polled online, almost all suffer from more or less severe forms of it. Judging by the women’s remarks, at its worst it can sap you of your will to live. And it’s no mere passing phase. Only 14% say they got over it within a month, and 28.9% within six months. Nearly a third – 30.3% – expect to suffer for life.

Guilt is part of it. There is no obvious reason why “Ms A” should feel remorse toward her mother. “Ms A” is a 50-year-old Tokyo company employee. Her mother died three years ago at age 73. “I’m still not over it.”

The two had always been close, but it was only at the funeral that “Ms A” discovered how rich and varied her mother’s life had been. The funeral drew quite a crowd – people from her chorus group, her English class, her photography club, and so on. She took ukulele lessons too. “Ms A,” for her part, had a busy life of her own. She was single. She worked hard and she partied. She felt fulfilled and happy.

No longer. “I stopped going to office drinking parties. On days off, I sit home staring at my mother’s photograph. I don’t feel like working and I have no will to live.”

She doesn’t understand why she feels this way – but it’s a fact, explains noted “grief care” specialist Keiko Takagi, that “mothers are a stabilizing influence in our lives, and when we lose that, the sense of loss can be beyond anything you can imagine.”

Perhaps the oddest thing about mother loss syndrome is that you don’t need to have loved your mother to be vulnerable. Dislike, even hatred, is no protection.

“Ms C” discovered that when her mother died – or more accurately, some time afterwards. “Ms C” is 45 and runs a company in Kyoto. Shukan Asahi doesn’t tell us what childhood horrors conspired to lead her to such bottomless abhorrence of the mother who bore her; be that as it may, “It reached such a pitch,” she says, “that I refused to get married, simply because I knew my marriage would give her pleasure.”

The old woman began to suffer from dementia. Her daughter didn’t want to know. “Let my brother take care of her.” She died – “I felt nothing. Not even when I saw her laid out in her coffin.”

But then, during the mourning period – “Suddenly I had no strength to live.” The depression persisted. At first she didn’t even connect it to her mother. But over time she realized: “All my life I’d hated her. Hatred for my mother became my reason for living. My one desire was to make her life miserable. Having lost that, I just didn’t know how I was going to live anymore.”


To Takagi, that’s quite comprehensible. “Almost all human suffering and sadness,” she says, “is bound up with a sense of loss. And no loss is greater than the loss of one’s mother – whatever your relationship with her was.”

  • 1

    combinibento

    Just curious as to how this "mother loss syndrome" is different from what is known as "depression," something anyone feels when they lose a loved one or parent.

  • 6

    Novenachama

    One of the hardest things we face in life is saying goodbye to a parent. It is also something that almost everyone goes through. The circumstances of a parent's death affects the intensity of a person's grief such as the current and past relationship with the parent including your age and time of death. Since the loss of both parents my life has never been the same. I was left with a range of emotions from emptiness to loneliness to guilt and yearning. It has taken a long time but my ability to cope with the death of my parents was possible. However in order to successfully work through the grief of a parent's death you need to be open to dealing with your emotions completely, to express them honestly, and discuss them with someone who can provide you with support. Only through this process will a person be able to resolve grief. However the pain does not entirely go away, but even though it never completely disappears, it gradually lessens until it becomes integrated into your ongoing life. You will not always feel as if you are at grief's mercy.

  • 0

    timtak

    combinibento wrote

    something anyone feels when they lose a loved one or parent.

    “All my life I’d hated her. Hatred for my mother became my reason for living. My one desire was to make her life miserable. Having lost that, I just didn’t know how I was going to live anymore.”

  • 2

    sfjp330

    Japanese women tend to be too reticent to divulge their true anxieties to anyone and they are traditionally told to grin and bear their suffering and not overburden others with their personal problems. Don’t nag. Don’t whinge. Just pull yourself together, sigh a big sigh and get on with your tasks. The abiding societal postulate is: "Keep it to yourself". In fact, this is applicable to the appearance of many social ills in Japan. If you don’t ask and you don’t tell, then the problem will somehow slip below the tatami and disappear from sight. Japan is a society that has long stigmatized anyone of "abnormality". Many Japan women end up having psychological problems and stress.

  • -9

    Reckless

    Umm, it is blatantly obvious after reading the above that all these women are unmarried, unable to have a relationship with a man and provide a family (the most basic human purpose). This of course is rooted in an extreme egotism where they have never and will never be able to empathize with others, and the whole reason for living is to cause distress to others. In a word it is called melancholy.

  • 1

    NathalieB

    Japan is a society that has long stigmatized anyone of "abnormality"

    Sadly I am experiencing this first hand at the moment, with my Japanese families reaction to my mothers illness. And its pretty shocking to say the least.

  • 10

    smithinjapan

    How is this uniquely Japanese in any way whatsoever? And quite frankly I don't think 'getting over it in a month' is any sort 'mother-loss syndrome' but rather callous. I lost my father last November and anytime I think of the fact that he's gone it's painful. This isn't something limited to women, nor the loss of a mother, nor a syndrome. Loss of life is always sad.

  • 4

    rickyvee

    ah yes, another kuchikomi masterpiece; turning something as common as grieving over a parent's death into a new and fascinating "syndrome." makes me respect the rags in the states just a little bit more.

  • -1

    sighclops

    @smithinjapan

    How is this uniquely Japanese in any way whatsoever?

    I think it's due to two key factors:

    1. Japanese women are particularly close to their mothers. This is hard to explain to anyone who doesn't know what I'm on about.

    2. There is a large percentage of middle-aged women who are unmarried and have no plans whatsoever of venturing down that road. They more often than not still live with their parents, which basically means that they're responsible for the wellbeing and ongoing care of said parents as they enter old age.

  • -5

    Peacetrain

    " I refused to get married, simply because I knew my marriage would give her pleasure. All my life I’d hated her. Hatred for my mother became my reason for living. My one desire was to make her life miserable. Having lost that, I just didn’t know how I was going to live anymore.”

    They call this woman "Mrs C". IF she's married I feel more sorry for Mr C than anyone else. If she's not married, I'm thinking of introducing her to my worst enemies. What a charming lass.

  • 2

    TSRnow

    This article makes me wonder how I would feel. I love my mother and I really look up to her. She is the kind of person who, like Ms.A's mother, enjoys her life doing things and connecting to people. It's not exactly a life for me, but I envy her sometimes. She lives far away so I cannot just knock on her door but I have to do something so that there is no room for regret.

  • 7

    Kathy McElfish

    I lost my mom when I was young about a week before high school started. I wish I could have said bye to her in a better way. And I still miss her very much. Even after 17 years I wish everyday she was here with me instead. But then I'm happy where she is because she is with her other daughter in heaven (my twin) who had died when we were 6 days old. So I'm grateful for the time I had with her. And I'm happy to think of her with my sister in heaven.

  • 4

    smithinjapan

    sighclops: "Japanese women are particularly close to their mothers. This is hard to explain to anyone who doesn't know what I'm on about."

    No offense, my friend, but there is no culture that is uniquely closer to their mothers than any other, or fathers, brothers, sisters, etc.

    "They more often than not still live with their parents, which basically means that they're responsible for the wellbeing and ongoing care of said parents as they enter old age."

    Again, nothing unique here at all. In fact, Korean first-born males are still expected to live at home in many cases and take care of parents, and Koreans still follow the cultural norms more than Japanese, be it giving up seats to elders on the train, or what have you. I'm not saying the former expectation is for the better, either. Furthermore, we're seeing a shift in cultures, to an extent, with more Japanese elders being put in nursing homes instead of staying with family, and in Western nations if there is a single/widowed, elderly parent, living with family due to economics.

    There's no such syndrome as 'mother-loss syndrome'. It's another dreamed up ailment to try and explain off either mental disorder (as in the case of the women cited above who hated their mothers so much they are sad for the loss of them) or simply the very human, very universal sadness of losing a loved one.

  • 2

    kcjapan

    Each of these women needs help. Depression, based in guilt, is a destructive malady and treatable.

    It is exceptionally difficult to face loss of loved ones and even more difficult for some to even begin talking about their pain. For many, the starting process is often so disabling they find it easier to accept sadness as a life condition. Their loneliness and anguish is a protective mechanism. The acceptance of pain is "easier" than the search for unknown demons lurking behind sorrow.

    When people begin this process they must have careful and supportive friends and professionals. Many understand the challenges of physical suffering from illness. Perhaps that compassion can be applied to appreciation of the pain some feel from suffering that bears no physical mark.

    To these women, and men not mentioned, we should urge care and respect. No one would imagine the coarseness of indifference in regard to physical disease. Why is it then that psychological suffering is distained? Japan Today might include some links to aid in finding help because sometimes it takes an article like this one to bring help to those who suffer and don't know where to turn or even if they should seek help.

  • 3

    ddupre315

    People are so quick to label it a "syndrome". It's grief people...plain and simple. It's grieving the death of someone who was influential in one's life, whether in a good way or bad way. I roll my eyes at this "syndrome". Just allow yourselves to grieve, for however long it takes, then pull yourself up and get back to enjoying life as you are meant to.

  • 0

    horrified

    The key to their "syndrome" has something to do with the fact that the two subjects never married. One is 45 and the other is 50.

  • 0

    kcjapan

    "broken heart syndrome -- The condition is often triggered by extreme emotional or physical stress, such as losing a loved one or being in a traffic crash."

    Here, it may be important to suggest that the emotional toll, at the loss of a family member, can be the result of an overwhelming feeling of failure. In essence: "they never had the chance to make it right and have the love of a family member".

    Taken together with a family history of disquietude, personal isolation and cultural judgments the surviving patient's needs are slightly more subtle. It is easy to simply blame the sufferer. On a wider view they appear emotionally damaged prior to the family member's passing and damaged by the passing. Both conditions can be treated and exist in unison with in the patient. The result, physical and emotional support are possible, available and should be encouraged.

    Interesting reading here: Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy detail presented below:

    "Takotsubo cardiomyopathy mimics acute coronary syndrome and is accompanied by reversible left ventricular apical ballooning in the absence of angiographically significant coronary artery stenosis. In Japanese, “tako-tsubo” means “fishing pot for trapping octopus,” and the left ventricle of a patient diagnosed with this condition resembles that shape. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which is transient and typically precipitated by acute emotional stress, is also known as “stress cardiomyopathy” or “broken-heart syndrome.”"

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1847940/

  • 0

    sodesuka

    Try to have the memories of the ones passed bring you joy. Forgive and let go of the times when a person is not quite perfect. Do the same for yourself. We will be joining them soon enough, so let us work for the living with fine memories of those who have gone before. Hopefully, we will be remembered with joy.

  • 1

    Alphaape

    “that I refused to get married, simply because I knew my marriage would give her pleasure.”

    Sad to see that this "Ms. C" had such an ordeal, but just by her attitude, her mother still won and had the last word. If anything, "Ms. C" would have learned what not to do if she became a mother and probably would have been able to do it a bit better. The fact that she was able to motivate herself to own her own company shows that she may have had some sense in her head. But, she only has to blame herself for the rest of her life simply because she let her mom run her life, even when she was distancing herself from her.

    Tragic all around, but if she still carried that grudge all of those years, it's probably best that she never started a family of her own. Just another future "old lady" that will be on the trains pushing you aside to get the seat.

  • 1

    kcjapan

    " Just another future "old lady" that will be on the trains pushing you aside to get the seat."

    Is it possible to be more insensitive? If the reader has forgotten, these are human beings. They hurt. They suffer and such a response from "you", who know nothing of them?

    My gods, these are human beings not some toy you amuse yourself with. It is unimaginable the suffering these people survive and endure. There is no excuse for condemning them. Shame on you.

  • -2

    shallots

    The article is missing the fact of unhealthy psychological dependence. It's called avoidance and the expert in the article does it as much or more than the average Watanabe. Dependence is a fact of life in many societies but it's probably worse in Japan where healthy independence is deemphasized and where people are socialized to disclaim emotions and towards obligations. The expert sees it as mere loss. I'd say it's more akin to stockholm syndrome.

    "And no loss is greater than the loss of one’s mother..."

    There is no discussion of dependence here because dependence is quite complex and caused by deeper problems. It's much simpler to see it as simple loss.

    "But, she only has to blame herself for the rest of her life simply because she let her mom run her life..."

    There is more to disentangling this relationship. Perhaps people need to understand the deeper problem. She let her mom run her life because she never developed a clear sense of self apart from her abusive mother.

    "Forgive and let go of the times when a person is not quite perfect."

    Sounds like repression.

    "Japanese women are particularly close to their mothers. This is hard to explain to anyone who doesn't know what I'm on about."

    Replace the words "particularly close to " with "psychologically dependent on."

    Again, unhealthy dependence is by no means unique to Japan but it is probably worse here. The fact that experts avoid seeing it doesn't help either.

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