“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.”