Bodily Effects of Estrangement


I thought I’d take some time to practice mindfulness in the midst of one of my more difficult moments today being overwhelmed with grief.  I’ve been having quite a few of these overwhelming moments this week.  I focused on what my body was doing and took inventory of my bodily reaction to the current bout of emotional turmoil.

Here’s the list I came up with from today’s grief event and things I remember from others (I’m sure there’s more):

  • stomach muscles clenched
  • stomach queasy, sometimes to the point of vomiting
  • tight chest
  • clenched teeth
  • gasping for air, feeling like I can’t breathe
  • crying
  • sobbing
  • feeling like I’m drowning in my tears
  • doubled over
  • head and neck tight
  • muscles throughout my body tight
  • toes and feet curled and clenched
  • trembling, shaking
  • dizzy
  • poor balance when walking
  • stuttering
  • closed eyes
  • I bite my lips
  • I hide face behind hands or clothing
  • I suck and chew on clothing (shirt edge usually)
  • aching all over
  • sometimes the crying triggers my asthma

And when this happens, all I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep … for a thousand years.

One benefit of mindfully taking stock of my body’s reactions, allowed me to make other choices to help myself feel better.  When I noticed my clenched teeth, I made an effort to relax my jaw.  When I noticed muscles that were being held tightly, I took some time to focus on releasing those muscles as much as I could.

It didn’t take care of everything, but it made a small difference in how I was coping.  A small difference right now can be the difference between life and another stay in the hospital on Suicide Watch.

This has been a bad, bad week.



What I Can Do to Help Myself


Photo courtesy of Morguefile –

I’m currently working my way through the book, Done with the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, by Sheri McGregor, MA and sharing my thoughts and responses as posts on this blog.

In her book, McGregor suggests writing down things the estranged parent can do to help themselves that are specific to their situation.  So here’s my list.

Ways I Can Help Myself:

  • Don’t drink.  In my case, it can actually be life-threatening because alcohol is a dangerous combination with some of the medications I take.  Alcohol can also loosen inhibitions which can cause a loss of rational thinking.  A dangerous thing when you’re feeling suicidal.
  • Seek counseling from professionals.  Fortunately I was already seeing a counselor at my university to help deal with some issues about returning to Grad school.  After I spent a week in the hospital on Suicide Watch, I also started seeing another counselor in my community because I knew as soon as I graduate in June, I’ll lose access to the school psychologist.
  • Stay in closer contact with people who previously were on the edges of my life.  I was so close to my kids, I didn’t feel the need for many other relationships.  Now I see this was a huge mistake.  It left me almost completely alone to deal with things.  I need to make an effort to rekindle friendships.
  • Set up an emergency contact person.  Due to my tendency to slip into severe depression and suicidal thoughts when the pain gets to be too much for me, one of my counselors recommended I  have someone set up who I can call, day or night, who can come over and keep an eye on me.  Not to counsel or to help, but to be there and help me make the decision if I need to go the hospital or not.  Last time I had to drive myself to the hospital which was super scary now that I look back on it because I was very tempted to drive off a bridge or crash my car the entire drive.
  • Get exercise and fresh air.  I joined a local gym and work out several times a week now.  I try to take regular walks, and when the weather’s nice, I go to a local beach and bask in the sunshine.  I live in rainy Western Washington, so sunshine is essential to combat Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder (SAD) which I don’t need to add to my current list of overwhelming emotions and sadness.

The Early Days of Estrangement


What follows is my response to the questions and exercises in the first part of the book, Done with the Crying: Help and Healing for Mothers of Estranged Adult Children, by Sheri McGregor, MA.  I’m going to start working my way through the book in the coming days and sharing my thoughts on this blog.

51cRtf49Q8LMy estrangement from my three adult children began after a misunderstanding on Thanksgiving night. The timing was awful.  For nearly the entire month of December I was in shock.  How could my children desert me at the holidays?!

I was so alone, so sad, so shocked.  In Done with the Crying, McGregor states that the initial feeling most parents feel when an estrangement begins is shock.  That was definitely the case for me.

Unbelief, confusion, helplessness.

I waited for them to call or email.  I wanted to talk and help clear things up.  I wanted to listen.  I tried to contact them throughout the holidays, but was met with silence.

When I asked if we could meet with a neutral third party (a counselor or a family friend who’s a pastor) to begin some sort of communication, I received a curt email response that said, “We’re not ready for that.”

That was six months ago.

Will they ever be ready?

Without any sort of communication, we can’t even begin the process of reconciliation or understanding.  They’ve also cut off all contact with my dad.  My dad said yesterday on the phone that he doesn’t even care at this point about reconciliation with them, but he’d just like to see us all have a civil relationship so we can all attend family gatherings and holiday events (and even funerals) at the same time.

Pain.  Isolation.  Silence.  Abandonment.  Betrayal.  Judgement.  A broken heart.  Loss.  Anxiety.  Fear.  Powerlessness.  Defeated. Devastated.  Depressed.  Suicidal.  Numb.

Like walking through a thick fog.

This was the new hurtful reality that suddenly presented itself.  I couldn’t get my mind around it, no matter how hard I tried. And as a single mom, I had no one who shared these feeling with me.

The first month was so overwhelming.

I felt like I’d lost my identity.  I’d never realized how much my personal identity tied into the idea of being a mother.  Now that I didn’t have that relationship with my children, I felt so lost.  I suffered a major existential crisis in addition to the grief and shock.  The pillars of my life had been knocked down and shattered under me.

The pain was so great, that each night during December I self-medicated with alcohol.  I couldn’t bear going to bed and being alone in the quiet and the darkness with nothing but my thoughts, my misery, my memories, and my tears.  So I would drink until I could just lie down and pass out on my bed.

Every morning when I woke up, my first thought was, “Wow.  That was the worst dream ever.”

And then I’d remember.  It wasn’t a dream.  They really were gone.  They really had cut me off.

I really was alone.

~ The Estranged Mom


I Said Goodbye to My Children


After innumerable attempts to restore contact with my three adult children, and receiving nothing but silence in return, I sent them each a letter regretfully telling them I was done reaching out.  But if they ever need me, they need to remember that I love them with everything in me, and will be there for them no matter what, no matter where in the world I might be.

It felt so final.

But I needed to step out of their game because it was killing me. Quite literally. I’d ended up in the hospital on Suicide Watch once already from this estrangement, and I don’t EVER want to feel how I did that day.

I realized that as long as I kept reaching out to them and being repeatedly rejected, the pain was too much for me. The only way to protect myself was to let go.

It was hard. It still is hard. It probably will remain hard for a long, long time. Maybe forever.  But at least I’m doing better now with fewer worries about being sent on that downward spiral again that tended to begin when I would reach out and be rejected again and again and again.

Here is most of the letter I sent to my children.  It’s not the complete letter because I removed any identifying details, or anything that might be embarrassing or hurtful if their (or my) identity were discovered:

Dear ______

I am sending identical letters to each of you.  In many ways I would rather touch on each relationship individually, but I want to make certain you’re all on the same page as far as what I have to say.

You are my child and I love you deeply and I always will.  I know I have made mistakes as a parent while you were growing up.  I know you must be in a lot of pain to want to cut off contact with me.

I would like to make amends in whatever way I can, but I realize that may not be possible.  I would be willing to talk with you in-person or via email or whatever format works best for you, so you can share whatever you want or need to about the past if you think it might be helpful to our relationship, or bring you some relief, or give some sort of closure.   I would also be willing to meet with a neutral family therapist, if you think that would be helpful.  Pastor _____ mentioned to me that he would be willing to act as a mediator/facilitator of an initial family meeting, although as much as I appreciate his offer, I personally think a trained professional counselor would be a better option.

There’s nothing I want more than for you to be happy and healthy.  It’s difficult, but I’m coming to accept that you don’t want to have a relationship with me at this point in time.  It’s heartbreaking as your mother to not be able to see you.

But at the same time, if you believe it’s in your best interest to pursue this course of no contact, then I want to be supportive of your needs, and I don’t want to keep pushing. I will accept your decision if that’s what you have to do for your own well-being.  I’ve also come to feel that sending cards/gifts on your birthday and holidays may be triggering.  Until I hear otherwise, I won’t send cards, gifts, flowers, or make any other contact unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Not because I don’t love you, but because I love you so much and want to be sure I’m not doing anything to cause you further grief or discomfort.

I want you to know that my door will always be open to you for the rest of my life.  If you ever need me, anytime day or night, I will be there for you. You are always in my heart, my thoughts, and even in my dreams.  I wish nothing but the best for you.

All my love always,

When Parents HurtThe idea to send this letter came after reading Dr. Joshua Coleman’s helpful book, When Parents Hurt.

I haven’t heard from any of my children since this letter was sent several weeks ago, but I honestly didn’t expect to receive any sort of feedback due to their “no contact” decision. I recently read that many children who have estranged themselves from their parent(s) consider any sort of attempted contact (no matter how infrequent or how friendly) from the parent as harassment, which was an additional factor in my decision to stop trying to connect with them.

Maybe rather than goodbye, it’s more a matter of Vaya con Dios.  Anyone remember that song?  The lyrics ring true for me today:

Wherever you may be, I’ll be beside you
Although you’re many million dreams away
Each night I’ll say a pray’r
A pray’r to guide you
To hasten every lonely hour
Of every lonely day
Now the dawn is breaking through a gray tomorrow
But the memories we share are there to borrow

Vaya con Dios, my darling
Vaya con Dios, my love

Vaya con dios, my darling children.  May God be with you, my loves.

… and …. cue tears …  😦

~The Estranged Mom

Some Days I Don’t Want to Keep on Living Without Them

I wrote this about two weeks ago.  I just couldn’t get myself to press “Publish” on this one while I was in the midst of  all the pain.  Now that I’m feeling a bit better, I decided to share.

Some days the pain and grief of having my children decide they want nothing whatsoever to do with me is just so overwhelming.  I can’t cry enough to get all cried out.  The future seems so bleak and empty.  I never know when these bouts of absolute overwhelming grief will hit.

But today’s one of those days.

Today I feel like my chest is going to collapse under the pressure of my broken heart. How can my eyes not be dry from all the crying?  Where do all these tears even come from?  I’m trying to drink lots of water today so I don’t become dehydrated on top of everything else.

Oh, god, it hurts.

My children were the loves of my life.  And I don’t want to live a life where they hate me.  It’s not like they’re just off living their own lives and forgetting to call home regularly.  They have disowned me.  Refuse communication of any sort.  There is  no room for healing because there is no communication allowed.  You can’t even begin to rebuild a relationship when you aren’t able to have even the tiniest rudimentary communication.

They haven’t just moved on with their lives.  They hate me.  I’m not fully sure why.  The last time I saw any of them face-to-face, there was a heated conversation based on a misunderstanding.  My oldest daughter finally said that she thought we all needed to take a couple of days to calm down and then we could continue the conversation when everyone was feeling better and less angry.  That sounded very reasonable and wise.  A couple of days, you say?  Well, that was nearly six months ago now.  Whenever I’ve asked if we can get together and begin the conversation again, all I’m told is, “We’re not ready for that.”

They have ignored all my overtures.  Refused to acknowledge when I reach out to them.  And it’s not like I’ve been obsessively trying to connect with them.  I’m talking about maybe once every two weeks just letting them know I love them and I’m still here waiting to talk about what’s happening.

I had to take a break in middle of writing this post because I tried to find my counselor’s phone number.  This past December after the horrendous holidays that I spent alone and ignored, I spent about a week in the hospital on suicide watch.  The way I was feeling this evening was bordering on how badly I was feeling that day when I admitted myself to the care of others to keep me safe from myself.

I don’t ever want to feel like I did that day.