Motherless Daughters

Motherless Daughter Luncheon
Friday, May 10 from 11:30 - 1:00
Phillips Events Center, 1929 Country Club Drive, Bryan, Texas
Tickets: $20 per person

Reservations are required for the luncheon and seating is limited. Call 325.347.7758 or email to reserve a seat.


Deep and prolonged grief can haunt women whose mothers died prematurely, yet in the sisterhood of common experience, there is comfort.

Although her mother died over 50 years ago from breast cancer, local author Mary Sue Rabe who was 13 at the time, finds it hard not to imagine the life she might have had with her mother.

“There is just this loneliness inside of me that cannot be quenched,” said Rabe.  “It’s like a hole inside and there is also shame, because I was noticeably different than my piers.”

Rabe, like many other women who have lost their mothers before the age of 21 have similar experiences.

Carol Conlee lost her mother suddenly just 2 weeks after she turned 5 years old.  “The abandonment from her death will never leave me.  It is with me every single day.”

When someone died in the 50’s and early 60’s, it was customary to remove all traces that they ever existed and to go on with life as if nothing ever happened.  For those reasons, both Rabe and Conlee, like many other women who have experienced the same loss, have only a forensic understanding of the woman who was to be their life-long teacher, role model, nurturer and protector.

“Because I was 13 years old, many people felt I was old enough to ‘get over it’ in record time,” says Rabe.  “It didn’t dawn on me until 50 years later that what I experienced was a real trauma that included some legitimate elements of true PTSD.  There was a certain neglect for my feelings and my fear.”

“I actually heard adults that I truly respected say out loud, ‘she is far too young to ever remember any of this,’ said Conlee, who credits good therapists with helping to cope with the constant grief that is circular, not linear.  “A woman that loses her ‘north star’ before she gains her full identity never gets over that loss, you just have to find ways to get through the loss.  The grieving never truly stops.”

Ivy Geiger, 85, also lost her mother at an early age.   “I did not actually discover how all alone I had felt at my mother’s casket until I was being hypnotized in San Miguel de Allende.  The therapist said I came on strong with my declaration of never needing anyone and I recalled my vow to never need anyone again.  Years later, when my Minister came to a hospital visit with my husband and heard my story,” said Geiger,  “the minister asked God to remove the pledge I had made as an innocent, but angry, child less than 5 years old, but the abandonment issue has never gone away.”

A Harvard University child bereavement study (HCBS) has tracked children for a decade after their loss of a parent and has studied the impact of that loss.   Approximately, 3 in every 20 children will lose a parent to death before the age of 15, but the impact on women is profound. 

Milestones like graduation, weddings, or having a child of their own can bring on a overwhelming loneliness; milestones made special by the loving presence of a mother.   Without the support, there can be a lackluster measure of their successes.  It can be painful.

According to specialists in children’s grief awareness, of those surveyed 56% of women who lost a mother early would give a year of their lives to be with their departed parent for one more day.  72% believe their life would have been much better if their mother hadn’t died so young and 69% of those surveyed that lost a mother early think about them regularly.

In her book “Motherless Daughters:  A Legacy of Loss,” author Hope Edelman interviewed 92 women in person and surveyed 154 motherless daughters by mail.  The result is a collection of real experiences that tell a story of sadness, shame, loneliness, yearning, anxiety, anger, depression and denial.  The majority of women Edelman interview called their mother’s death the central defining event in their lives; they were stigmatized.  Many felt like outcasts.

After Edelman’s book was first published in 1994, motherless daughter support groups formed spontaneously in more than 20 cities, including New York, Portland, Salt Lake City, St. Paul, Los Angeles, Atlanta.  The need was so overwhelming that some cities had to host several groups in various parts of the cities. And, today, psychologists and therapists can be professionally trained in helping motherless daughters deal with the grief, the emptiness, the feelings of abandonment and the guilt about having survived longer than their mothers.

“You lose your childhood.  You lose your protector.  You wonder what your life might have been like if she had been there to help guide you and to teach you, to defend you and look out for your best interest,” Conlee explains.  “Your trust is blown on so many levels and you are lost.”

Often, motherless daughters celebrate quietly in some way on the anniversary of their mother’s death or their mother’s birthday, but when the celebration of Mother’s Day comes around annually, an unspoken return of the pain and loss can surface for motherless daughters as they experience the well marketed reminder.  It can feel as if they are on the outside looking in.

“Finding this sisterhood is like finding a member of your tribe.  Finally, another woman understands you.  You affirm each other on a very intimate, emotional level of acceptance.  You feel as though you have a common language of compassion and support and understanding,” Conlee says with fierce passion, then with a bright twinkle, “And you know what? When someone really ‘gets you’? Somehow, just knowing you are deeply understood is the best medicine of all.”

This mothers day weekend, on Friday, May 10, the non-profit group Women Healing the World, will host a motherless daughter luncheon at the Phillips Center.  The event is from 11:30 - 1:00 and the ticket cost for the lunch is $20 per person.  A brief program of remembrance will be presented and each attendee’s mother’s name will be spoken.

“I first met Hope Edelman in Belize at a healing retreat there in the jungle on the Guatemalan border.  We were both just participants, not presenters, and when I realized who she was, I was thunderstruck,” Conlee comments.  “Her book has been one of my most sacred texts, helping me, and so many other hundreds of women, realize that we are not alone in our loss. These feelings are very real and not at all unusual; not unusual whatsoever.  Ask any anthropologist.”

Reservations are required for the luncheon and seating is limited.  Call 325.347.7758 or email to reserve a seat.