grieving what you never had?

November 24, 2013Karen Courcy

mother_grieving_nationalgeoThis weekend I read this very interesting article called “is it harder to mourn something you lost, or to mourn something you never had?”

I truly believe it’s harder to mourn and grieve something you never had.

When you have had something that you lost, you at least have had that “something” for a while and have created and have the memories that are surrounded around that “something”.

Mourning and grieving something you never had that you should have had is painful – I know, I go through it everyday.

For years in therapy I cried on my therapists shoulder about “wanting the mom I should have had”. I cried even at the thought of it.

My mom has been in bed almost my whole life. She is still in bed right now, sick, with a terminal illness. She will never walk, get out of bed, or be the mom I always needed her to be. It may not be her fault, but I still mourn the loss.

I see friends and people everyday who have great relationships with their moms and it breaks my heart every-time I see it, that is grieving. It’s grieving something I wish I had, that I don’t have. I don’t have a relationship with my mom that I should have. I don’t have the mom to call up and talk to when I need her advice, or to have coffee with and go shopping with.

I grieve having the life that some people have like being able to just be without going through a whole process just to be.

I truly believe it’s harder to mourn something you never had that you should have had vs. something you lost that you loved.

I lost my Nana 16 years ago. She was my everything! My Nana was one of the few people who truly loved me unconditionally. I had a great relationship with her and I love her SO much. being in abusive home there wasn’t too many people I could trust, but my Nana I trusted.

When she died I felt like a part of me died along with her, but time healed that grief and today I look back on the good memories I had with her. I have those good memories to hold onto forever in a moment, but mourning something I never had that i should have had, there is nothing to hold onto.

There are no good memories, only a continuous heartache for something I should have had like a mom, or the things I don’t have that I should have because of the abuse. There is no closure to mourning something you never had.

There were times when I would be grocery shopping and I would just start crying right there in the middle of the aisle, because I saw a mom and daughter shopping together. They were laughing and giggling, and talking about the plans they had. My mom is at home in s a hospital bed in her bedroom dying. I never had those good moments with her because she has always been sick.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about having a mom and all the things I would love to do with my mom .. but my Nana, I have let her go because there was closure to that, there are good memories to hold onto because I had it, and I had it beautifully.

I will never know what its like to wake up and be a person who can just be without having to do the hard work, and everyday I wake up, that truly makes me sad – I grieve the day I can just be.

What I can do is heal, and learn to live in the sadness of those things I grieve, but the pain never goes away like it did for my Nana.

Not having the mom that I need will always hurt without closure. Maybe someday I will heal from it, but I will always carry that longing with me forever unlike the things we can let go of that hold memories in our head forever.


  • untoldstory6

    November 24, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    Honestly this would be one the first blog entires I’ve ever read and actually cried, really cried. Thank you for sharing this for me it was both hard but also perfect timing for me to read. It made me realise where my anger is coming from. I’ve been writing some hard stuff lately in therapy regarding my mum. I totally understand this feeling and I totally agree with what you have wrote. I don’t have a mum either and I think it’s the hardest thing. I too cry just seeing other girls with their mums because I know I’ll never have that…anyway I’ll probably cry again if I keep writing and I’m very shut off from any kind of emotions to do with my mum..think I’d like to try and keep it that way. Sending hugs

    1. KarenBeth

      November 24, 2013 at 7:34 PM

      awwwwww I am sad I made you cry, but at the same time happy because maybe you understand a little more of where your feelings are coming from. I am glad I am not alone and neither are you!

      sending you big hugs of understanding

  • ziggy40

    November 24, 2013 at 8:20 PM

    I’m sorry for your experience , my father was , for necessary reasons taken out of my life from the age of 6, I only saw him for the first time when a few years ago in my last twenties. He passed away, a few years later and I can relate , when I see children with there fathers. I also had a wonderful relationship with my nana, that I’m SOO grateful for. Although she’s passed now, like you a have those beautiful memories, to hold on to. However with my father , there’s great loss in what I would have liked, he had nothing to do with me. I can relate to , the feeling that there’s no closure. Sending compassion and kind thoughts …
    Love Ziggy

    1. KarenBeth

      November 25, 2013 at 8:58 AM

      thanks Ziggy and I am so sorry about your dad .. and I am sorry you have to go through the loss, it’s hard. the hardest part is my mom is here, but she isn’t here which makes it even harder. .. thank you for reading and sending your thoughts …

  • RisingSong

    November 25, 2013 at 12:09 AM

    I can completely relate to this. I know this heart-wrenching pain that you feel you cannot do anything to repair. It is not my Mom for whom I long, but for the kind, loving and protective father that my friends had growing up. One who would not hurt me and would even walk me down the aisle on my wedding day.

    I understand your constant craving and knowing that there is no way you would ever have that.

    1. KarenBeth

      November 25, 2013 at 8:56 AM

      thank you rising for reminding me I am not alone, it’s amazing the people who reached out to this blog post who go through the same feelings.

  • Linda

    November 25, 2013 at 12:38 AM

    I know the feeling… my mother doesn’t even want me to come home to visit… and she’s not in bed dying. I do not deny the pain, but I’ve let go of the attachment to that need. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel a tug of jealousy when I see a woman with a close relationship to her MOM, but I just hope she realizes how truly blessed she is. I can’t change her or the relationship… so I make my relationship with ME stronger. I don’t need her to make me whole…I do need me tho. I am content with my life as it is now. I live 1,500 miles from her. She is not uppermost in my mind. Some people, lots of them, never have the parents they “should” have. You will see that in CASA. It will break your heart because there is NOTHING you can do about the mother, only help the child deal with it.

    1. KarenBeth

      November 25, 2013 at 8:56 AM

      thank you Linda.. your strong as well … it’s not easy to depend on your own strength when sometimes you just need a mom ..

  • Gel

    November 25, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    This is a HUGE topic for me too….I don’t even know where to begin.

    This rings true for me too: “it’s harder to mourn something you never had that you should have had vs. something you lost that you loved”

    I think the reason it’s harder is that you don’t really know WHAT you it could have been, so how do you grieve it? My mother gave my sister and up when I was 2 (sis was 1). We went to live with my father’s mother (my grandmother) then a year later we went to live with my father and his new wife. My aunt told me that I was terribly depressed from my mother’s absence and my grandmother was not a nurturing type. Long story short….what I never got was that secure bonding thing that is so essential to development of a healthy self esteem and developing a baseline of just being OK in the world. Self nurturance is what I didn’t learn. That is the “thing” that I grieve that I never had. OK so there was the loss of my bonding to my mother too but I don’t remember her or the pain of being taken away from her. So how do I grieve that?

    I will copy here what Linda wrote above because it helps me: “so I make my relationship with ME stronger. I don’t need her to make me whole…I do need me tho.”

    I have a co-counseling session in an hour. First one in many months. It’s not with the woman I used to have such a good counseling relationship. This woman was in my class so at least she’s not a total stranger. But I don’t know her well. I don’t know if it will become an ongoing counseling relationship….we’ll see. Thought you might like to know.

    I’m thinking that even tho you will not have the relationship with your mother that you want, you are learning how to live a full and rich loving life without it and you can still grow and develop without it….that will be a richness you can shine to others who also didn’t get some fundamental things they needed. So instead of believing they are irreparably broken, they will have living proof of what is possible when they come to know you. That seems like how we take our brokenness and transform it into something that is a gift to others.

    But I guess the first step is to grieve the loss.


    1. Gel

      November 25, 2013 at 10:46 AM

      I realized something a little more about not getting the mother connection when you were young… mourn something you’ve lost is hard but at least you HAD it and more importantly you received the benefit of it. where as if you never even had that bonding, then you not only have the pain of not having had it but you didn’t get the growth that should have come from having it…..this is especially true with never having had the secure bonding with your mother. It’s not just nice and warm and fuzzy to have that….it is an essential part of the development process and the lack of that sets up a whole bunch of deficiencies in one’s personality and whole way of living.

      Just felt the need to say that.
      Thanks for listening.

    2. KarenBeth

      November 25, 2013 at 3:27 PM

      WOW thank you for sharing more with me Gel. AND i am SO HAPPY that you are going back to co-counseling, that is awesome.. let me know how it goes. great response, more ponder and think over today 🙂 thank you

  • Cat

    December 3, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    I initially read this post a couple of days after I had to put my little Oscar to sleep. It really rings true for my own experiences of grieving through loss in comparison to what we never had. I have always had a huge void in my life caused by poor relationships with my parents. I love to watch children and adults getting along with their parents, but it also causes my heart to ache. Brilliant post, as always.

  • Kitty

    December 4, 2015 at 2:37 AM

    I know this post is a couple years old now, but I still want to comment on it.

    While my parents provided for me in the material sense (mostly), emotionally they were either absent(mom) or abusive(dad/brother). I’m one of the lucky few though. They are still here, and after many years and MANY changes, they have changed for the better. While we don’t talk about the past, I think they have both realized to some degree that how they treated both me and my brother was wrong.

    Growing up, music was my driving force. I loved singing, and even played the flute for a few years. However, this love was belittled, insulted, and I would even be beaten for partaking in it. I was told that music was “a waste of time”, that “I was terrible at it and shouldn’t even try” and if I was heard trying to practice, was screamed at to shut up or usually worse. It was so bad that I finally just dropped all hope of being a professional musician (my childhood dream). The crazy (to me) part, is that I had true professional musicians tell me I had the potential to go pro, and could help me if I wanted it. Unfortunately, that meant being involved in extracurricular activities, something that was strictly forbidden when I was a kid (long story…). I know in my head that the insults, beatings, etc, weren’t my fault, and that if I wanted to now, I could get back into music. The problem is I can’t seriously contemplate getting back into performing, learning music theory/techniques, or even pick up an instrument without breaking down and shaking uncontrollably.

    I’m in my 30’s now, and it has been years since I’ve done anything serious in terms of music, and I’ve sadly forgotten most of what I knew. I see people today who are amazing musicians who have had support from their families from an early age, and I can’t help but feel…angry? Betrayed? Envious? I know my family has changed, and I can only thank the grace of god for that, but I still feel like I mourn the loss of a love and maybe even career I could have had had my family supported my love and talents. I also mourn the loss of simply having a family I felt supported me.

    I feel two sided on the whole thing. On one hand, I feel like because they have changed so much, that I should forget about the past and move on. On the other, I feel like I have every right to “mourn a past and possible future I never had”. Am I wrong to mourn this?

    Also, no, I have not gone to a therapist about this. I was pushed into “Family Therapy” while all this was going on as a kid, and all the therapists said was that I was wrong and should obey my parents without question and defer to my older brother. So I don’t exactly trust them. But I guess this entire text wall (sorry, I needed to vent apparently) comes down to my earlier question. Am I wrong to mourn, or rather, feel like I was flat out robbed of a past and future I never had?

    1. Minahil Choudhary

      March 23, 2021 at 9:54 PM

      Hi Kitty! Reading your comment I almost cried. The feeling of being robbed of a past and the future haunts me everyday. Not being loved and supported in my athletics or in music and missing those opportunities then. Now I take every chance I get but something still aches and hurts so badly. I’m sorry to hear your pain, you described my pain so well. Thank you for putting it into words. Any new words of wisdom?

  • Andrea

    April 28, 2016 at 3:20 PM

    This article holds so much wisdom and true feelings. I needed this article. My mother passed away recently. My father raised me since k was seven but I have ALWAYS hoped for a relationship with my mother. I have grieved our relationship for many years but to lose her and know that the story is over is what is debilitating to me. It was always in reach but it was never as important to her as me. Thank you for sharing!

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