4 Things Moms Should Say TODAY (By A Man Who Lost His Mom Too Early)

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It wasn't my mother’s choice to leave me at the formative age of 12. While no one talked to us about it, she’d been dying for five years — since I was seven. I knew she was in and out of the hospital, but if no one was saying anything, I wasn’t asking any questions.

"Aunt" Carol whisked me away to Montauk Point with her kids the weekend Dad had the flu and Mom was in the final stages. Just an hour after arriving, she told us we had to go back. No reason was given and, again, I wasn’t asking. It was the longest three hour drive of my life.

When I got home, there were a dozen strangers in my house. My family asked good friends not to come over until they told the children. These were the people who hadn't gotten the message. We had that in common.

I went upstairs and knocked on my father’s door. He got out of bed and told me straight out, “I have bad news, Willy. Mom passed away today.”

I hit my knees so I wouldn’t fall down and began a process of mourning that, in a way, continues to this day — some 47 years later.

As another year passes and I grow older, I reflect on things I wish I’d learned from Mom before she passed away:

1. She should have told me that less attention doesn't always mean less love.

I had a hyperactive older brother, and when my sister was born four years after me, the two of them consumed my mother’s attention. As Mom no longer had much time and attention to give me, I concluded that there was something wrong with me.

I didn’t dare ask for my mother’s attention because if she denied it, it would have annihilated me — proving that I was worthless, unloved and unlovable. So I acted out, which only made things worse.

What I needed to hear from my mother at that time was something like this: “Your new sister is going to take a lot of time and energy from me, but that doesn’t mean I love you any less. I’m not moving away from you emotionally ... not at all.”

2. She could have taken time to praise her children more.

My parents were afraid of creating egotistical children. I know this because my father didn’t tell me that I’d tested as having the highest IQ in my fourth grade class until I was in my 20s. Growing up, I never felt particularly smart, special, unique, talented or handsome — yet I was ALL of those things.

Nowadays I think parents go overboard. A kid scribbles on a piece of paper, and his mom acts like he just painted the Mona Lisa. But, as Mr. Rogers teaches us all, kids do need to know they are unique and special. I needed that. Without it, I formed some obnoxious compensation patterns that did not serve me well as an adult in other relationships.

3. She should have told me everything is going to be OK.

I remember getting a slip of paper the last day of the sixth grade saying I’d been put in advanced math for the following year. I thought there might have been some mistake. I asked my amazing teacher, Ms. Tannenbaum, about it. She looked at me, smiled knowingly, and said, “You’ll do great, Billy.”

No one had ever said anything so encouraging to me until that point. Even just thinking about it now makes me cry. Moms need to let their kids know they’ll be OK.

4. She could have arranged for a proper "Goodbye."

Kids weren't allowed to visit people in the hospital in 1968, so when my brother and I could visit Mom just this once, it was a big day. I spent an hour picking out the perfect African Violet (her favorite) and carried it home like it was a lit Menorah.

The visit was strange. Mom was very thin and hard to look at. No one seemed to know what to say. It was all over in an instant, and a week later, she was gone. The thing is, she had to know this was the last time she’d see us, but she never said, "Goodbye."

That lived in me a long time as a bitter betrayal.

I don’t blame my sweet, beloved mother for not giving me these things. In the 1950s and 1960s, straightforward, open, honest communication was barely tolerated among adults — and certainly less so between adults and children.

But that doesn’t mean I'm not sad about it from time to time, lamenting some difficult challenges the evergreen child in me will carry to my own grave.

Moreover, the challenges caused by not having this type of basic self-confidence in my relationships were profound. Until I was almost 50 — with a lot of transformational work behind me — I failed in relationship after relationship, always needing something that my partners couldn't provide. I needed someone to fill the bucket of my heart, despite the gaping hole in the bottom. 

On the other hand, my struggle has caused me to do a lot of soul searching, and that has led me to some great wisdom. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to share that. As for my two sons, my own wanting childhood led me to give them as much of these things I can.

Today, they are both successful young adults in strong relationships, and, in a very real way, they have my mother to thank for that.

William Weil is the author of New Earth Relationships: A Guide for Couples in the 21st Century, and founder of LovePong — an interactive website and iPhone app for couples who desire more intimacy in their relationship.