Our daughters make this holy journey into womanhood whether we prepare them for it or not. And they will likely feel losses — lose friends, favorite aunts, fathers and mothers along the way. How do we help them process what they’ve lost as they are trying to find the way into this new skin of womanhood?
My South African word sister, Lisa-Jo Baker, opens up her story of growing up from the motherless daughter into the motherless mother in her new book, Surprised by Motherhood, a love letter of hope to all the daughters who are trying to make sense of a world of losses. A grace to welcome Lisa-Jo to the farm’s front porch today…
My mom died a week after my 18th birthday. She was sick from my 16th.
What surprised me most was how embarrassing my grief was.
I was already awkward in my own skin – tall and gangly with bones where there should have been curves.
Add a sick mother to all of this and sometimes a 16-year-old burns with a shy shame she doesn’t know how to put into words.
Sympathy can be awkward because what teenager wants to be put on the spot?
There are relatives and well-meaning ladies from church who come over and try to teach you how to cook and keep house when all you want is for the tall blonde boy on the 50cc motorcycle to notice you.
Teachers either try to make excuses for your tardy homework or tell you that your “home problems” are no excuse for your annoying behavior in class.
And still the cool girls flip their hair just so and you are tired of hearing about cancer and watching a parade of wigs as your mom’s hair falls out.
How does a daughter feel beautiful when the world she lives in is dying?
When there’s no time for shopping malls, skinny jeans or knee high boots – how does a daughter grow into her own skin when her mother is slowly disappearing out of hers?
When people expect tears but consider temper tantrums impolite.
How does a daughter find a way to exorcise her pain when punching walls is not something teenage girls are expected to do?
It doesn’t help to point out to them that young girls should smell fresh and beautiful when they’re sweating away their nights and days in a desperate inner wrestling match of worry. The deodorant can’t mask the dying that’s going on inside.
Daughters will grieve whether you give them room to or not and it will likely be un-pretty. They need room to be un-feminine and desperate without being told their choice in clothes, shoes or make up is inappropriate or unfashionable.
Grief comes in strange get ups sometimes.
I sat by the side of my mom’s grave with the boy who would become my husband and all I wanted to do was lie down on it— a primal urge to do a breaststroke in the dirt.
Instead, I only knelt by her side. Knelt and traced the words cut into the rock headstone:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
I believed it.
And I grieved it.
This empty hole left behind where all the color seemed to have been sucked out of my world.
Our daughters will need to find a road map out of the wild wilderness of loss that leaves them feeling so utterly isolated.
Give them room to breathe, to process, to grieve without expectation or added responsibility.
Give them a safe place to be sad. And more importantly, give them a safe place to be angry.
Give them a father who places his own grief in proper perspective to theirs and manages his pain in a context that doesn’t hurt her.
But then give them a lifeline, a hand, a hope for talking about what comes next. Give them the great gift of the benefit of the doubt and the fine art of listening.
If you want to offer her counseling be serious about it and find a counselor she is comfortable with. Don’t give up after a first awkward attempt – she needs someone to talk to who’s not you. And when you do try to peel back the layers of what she’s feeling, you will find it much easier going if you leave your own baggage at the door.
She knows you’re sad. She needs to know you’re sad. But she can’t carry your sadness for you.
Don’t try to drown her sorrow in all the books she should read or the Bible verses that should cure her. She’s on her own timetable, not yours. And maybe she needs movie nights and not church sometimes to help her process the cataclysmic shift in her world.
And as time passes, she will need people who remember her mother and share the ins and outs of who she was. Not just the good parts. But the difficult or ugly parts too. She needs a full memory, painted with honesty and sometimes a sense of humor.
She needs you and she doesn’t need you and she mostly hopes you’ll be patient as she figures out the difference.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to grief.
There is only each individual story. So intimate and tender to be carried with great care and friendship that sometimes just invites her along without any expectation that she will participate in the conversation.
Sometimes she will just climb into the back seat of her best friend’s yellow mini cooper because she needs to be with the living people, in the land where lives aren’t on hold and where there’s hope that she’ll be able to remember what that feels like.
Sometimes she’ll just need you to make her a cup of tea or pour a Coke. Sit on the sofa next to her and page through a scrap book. Offer her a chance in the school play. Show up at her run meets.
Lay down your lists and your timelines for her to “get over it already.”
Lay down your clock and your schedule and your to-dos and just do the next thing with her.
Even if that thing is simply staying up with a daughter to scared of her nightmares to go to sleep.
Because when we metabolize love, it can sustain us for years. It feeds the parts of our hearts we didn’t know were starving.
This never-giving-up, always-chasing love that isn’t afraid of all the resentment a teenage girl can pack into two clenched fists. This lavish love that loves us first. Not because of our grades or hair styles or one day our kids or our marriages or our tidy houses or our all-caught-up-on-the-laundry days.
This is a love that loves because it can’t not.
This love that teaches us how to love, “because he loved us first.”
This love that spills out of people brave enough to be scared alongside her.
This love that is so much like a mother’s.
Surprised by Motherhood is the brand new book that’s ignited a movement of real mothers being real honest about real life with kids.
When you forget who you are, why you are, and where you are going — these are words that falls as gently and right as blossoms, a trail of grace for every mother. Lisa-Jo Baker is a soul sister. She whispered to me quiet when her last pregnancy test turned pink. I’ve stayed up late with her laughing and praying and eating M&Ms. I’ve slept on her couch. She awakens us all to glory with these life-giving pages.
Straight from the hip honest, straight out hilarious, and straight from His Heart, this book is pure page-turning relief. Pages I didn’t want to end. Pages I will turn to again and again. Highly recommended, Must-Read: Surprised by Motherhood.