Rebecca Dunn, who lost her mother at a young age, reflects on how the grief affected her in her journey through life, and morphed when she too became a mum years later. Her thoughtful and personal story illustrates how keenly the loss of a mother can be felt every day, throughout every phase of our lives, and well beyond Mother’s Day. She shares her story of gaining support through her connection with others facing similar challenges.
Reflections on being a mum without a mum by Rebecca Dunn
"My mother died unexpectedly in 2001 when I was 23. It goes without saying that my grief was very intense. People were very supportive and showed their support in many ways. I remember vividly a friend who was many years older than me giving me the advice that my grief would change as I went through life and experienced milestones, such as becoming a mother myself. I became a mother in 2016 when I was 38, and it proved to be true that my grief would change. It re-emerged and took new shape. It regained its sharp edges.
I desperately wanted my mum to drop in, bring some milk and bread and acknowledge how tired I was. I wanted her to guide me through the strange, magic newborn time. That longing was hard, and made so much harder by throw-away comments from friends about how helpful their mums were, or worse, complaints about how their mums were too enthusiastic and too involved as grandmothers. I started to consider how useful it would be to connect with other mothers who had lost their own mother, and that idea resurfaced from time to time as my little boy's first weeks turned into his first months.
Having been added to a huge Facebook group for mothers in Melbourne by a friend soon after my son was born, I got daily insights into the experience of other mothers. Once or twice during those first few months, women posted about how they missed their mums who had passed away and I thought, 'well, I'm not so alone'. I searched on Facebook for a support group, and though it's very possible groups existed, I didn't find anything.
Around the anniversary of my mum's death, when my son was 6 months old and my grief was really peaking, I posted a comment that I was thinking we needed a Facebook group for mums without mums. Very quickly one or two women replied to my comment, saying they'd love to join a group like that, so I started it during one of those seemingly endless breastfeeding sessions that characterise the early months of mothering.
The group, titled 'Mums without Mums Melbourne', gained some momentum quite quickly and gained about 40 members in the first few days. The first few days of 'Mums without Mums' were intense because a lot of new members posted the stories of their mother's dying, sometimes with pictures of them in hospital settings during their last days. Often their grief was rawer than my own, as they had experienced recent losses. Some described losing their fathers too, which I can also relate to, and some described losing a parent after their child was born and the dilemma of managing the child's grief as well as their own.
After that first burst of sharing, things slowed down. Women post from time to time and it's very heartening to see the other members rallying to give them support. It's reassuring to know they are out there, able to empathise. There are times of the year, such as Mother's Day, where a few members will post and comfort one another. If a new member joins, they are often keen to tell their story.
Women continue to gradually find the group, and, if someone posts on Facebook about how hard they are finding motherhood without a mum, I post a link to the group for them. It now has 77 members, and counting. I like the relative smallness of the group I established as it promotes meaningful connections. I'd struggle to articulate exactly how this process has helped me, but it absolutely has helped me. At first, I found the expression of grief from the other members overwhelming, but it certainly helped me to feel less alone. The edge has gone from my 'new-mother grief'. As the months passed, I was increasingly able to organise my own milk and bread, I was less tired and I knew there were plenty of mums out there like me that could relate; mums without mums.
I have found it meaningful to tell my friends about the process of setting up this group and perhaps through telling them, they've understood more what my experience is. Actually, that's the hardest thing: people are so reluctant to talk about my mum, or ask how I feel about her death, even all these years later. The Facebook group is a forum for discussing that. I am sure I will rely on the group for support as my son grows and has questions about his grandma.”
If you're having a difficult time following the loss of a loved one you are welcome to visit the Centre for Care & Wellbeing. Set in the quiet, beautiful landscaped botanical gardens of Springvale Botanical Cemetery, the Centre offers companionship following the death of a loved one and assists people throughout their journey of grief, loss and mourning.