Motherless mums: parenting when you are bereaved | Cruse Bereavement Care

Kelly Ford , 10 June 2021

Kelly is a broadcaster, podcaster and stand-up comedian

How to be a mother when yours has died

Losing a mother when you are young is always painful. For women who have been through this, going on to have children of their own can bring a new and very complicated cocktail of emotions. 

Many women look to their own mothers for guidance and support when they have a baby. However, if your mother has died, the pregnancy and birth of a child can trigger underlying grief. 

If you're a new and expectant mother whose mum has died you can find yourself longing for your mother to be there, and to share the experience. Or you may have had a more complex and challenging relationship with your mother before they died. The birth of a child can then bring about all sorts of feelings, including regret or a strong desire for a past relationship with your mother that was different -- and of course now no longer possible.

You may also just miss the companionship of someone who would have shared a special relationship with your child, and be more interested in them than any other relative or friend could be. And from the difficult days of early motherhood to juggling children and work, the practical help of a mum can be sorely missed.

Kelly's story

Jilly, my mummy, died of ovarian cancer when I was at the tender and difficult age of 15. She left me, my two brothers and my sister.

I was the baby of the family by 10 years. I had been at boarding school and stage school for most of my life up to that point but I was essentially a bit of an only child as my dear siblings were that bit older. I was always going to antique fairs with Mummy on school holidays and living like two peas in a pod. I shared a bed with her until she was ill. It was in many ways a turbulent childhood with a divorce when I was four, and we often moved house. But it was adventure always, she lived her life to the full. She included me in a lot of that journey. As a child, I probably should have been a bit more protected from the adult world I was immersed in. But she was wonderful, kind, caring and loving.

She did really love me and I loved her more than anyone. Jill was very eccentric and would quite often wear a swimming costume to collect me from school with a transit van stuffed full of antiques, quite often with a cat on the front seat. Somewhat different to the 4 x 4s of the other mum and dads collecting their smalls from my prep school! In short, she was my everything. 

My life has been deeply affected since the monumental event of my mother's death. It never goes that feeling. I have just got better at dealing with it in public. 

Something I think about often with loss and grief, is overcoming the 'firsts'. That first day reeling in shock. The first week. The first month. The first birthday without that special person being there. Then the big life moments and events you would just love to share with them. I ran the marathon – yes I have hips of a size 16 wearing woman but I did it – it was a first and a last. I met a magical man, we got married. I walked down the aisle to the music she wanted to have as her wedding music, played by an octogenarian band in the blistering sun. I would have given anything to have had her there, smiling and laughing, adjusting my veil and questioning my seven-inch platform shoe choice.

I have been lucky enough to have had two babies, Tabitha and Eliza. Becoming a mother is another first, a massive emotional monumental first. I realised at this time that I needed her more than ever, I really needed her. I had so many questions that only she could answer. The gaping void of her presence was assisted by the love and help of my incredible siblings and friends and I feel very lucky to have my father, antiques dealer David Ford in my life. But still, she was gone. The questions  such as how long she took to recover from a C-section – would go unanswered. There were some or many sleepless nights. I was alone. I was exhausted. I just wanted my Mummy. Aged 36, I would question my childlike need. But then remembered that this was a first. A BIG ONE. I needed a hand hold, a knowing look, some unconditional love, her showing up with tea and cake and cuddles. Her love was engulfing and as I say unconditional. I needed it more than ever. 

Losing Jilly has subtly informed a lot of my previous broadcasting work. Now, with seven years experience broadcasting in radio, podcasts and with the arrival of my second child in February 2021, my questions felt more urgent than ever. So I reached out to other mums in her position, mumming without a mum to support them. 

l launched a podcast series, The Motherless. The first series is a set of five conversations with women from a range of backgrounds who had a range of relationships, positive and negative, with their lost mums. Each episode aims to start a positive conversation about parenting and grief, with the hope to create a warm and safe space where people who are looking for support and information can turn. 

April 20th 2021 marked 26 years since Jilly passed, so it seemed fitting to launch the show on this special date. 

You can find out more about the Motherless podcast here. Find Kelly on instagram @bookofmum

Coping without your mum

  • Find ways to remember your mum and share those special memories with your child as they grow up. Ways to remember
  • Journaling can also be a great way of recording your feelings and keeping a record of your own journey as a mum.
  • It can really help to speak to other parents who have lost parents  however supportive your other friends are, the people who will really understand are those in the same position. Listening to other's experiences in podcasts or reading about them can help you to feel that you're not alone.
  • Read more about coping with the death of a parent
  • How Cruse can help