Once in a while I read a book that’s more than good or even great. Over the course of years I’ve read a few books that seemed to have deep personal significance and whose impact usually took me by surprise.
I just finished such a book. Letters from Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman is a compilation of letters written by daughters whose mothers have died, whether in the past year or more than twenty years ago. Having lost my mother thirty-five years ago, I was interested in following the reflections of these women.
I could not put this book down. The letters, written with passionate, emotional honesty and depth, expressed the grief they experienced–and still experience—with their mother’s death, and how it had influenced the future direction of their lives. Many felt that the choices they made (not always good), other familial relationships (sometimes troublesome), and their own mothering issues were influenced by their mother’s death and the grief that followed. Their stories testified to the fact that grief is not a linear process, but a cyclical journey.
One of the most interesting things I learned was something called the “correspondence phenomenon.” Coined by psychologist Therese Rando, correspondence phenomenon refers to the threshold when daughters reach the same age when their mother died. Like a spark in the night, this ignited my attention. I suddenly realized that I’m now at the age of my mother’s death. I wondered, Is this why I’m drawn to reading this book about motherless daughters? Is this why, a few months ago, my grief surfaced, unexpectedly, as I sat on my back porch facing the woods? (See “The Wisdom of the Wild Woods”).
Reading Letters from Motherless Daughters was a spiritual experience that centered me deeply. My feelings of grief were unearthed, and I usually read with damp eyes, but it was not a sad experience. Instead, I learned more about myself, and I felt grateful to have discovered the quiet grief—and the continued love– I still carry for my mother.