by Lynn Davidman

Can You Be a Family Without a Mother?

A sociologist ask girls about their early losses 

On Sunday morning , November 7, 1993, my father passed away. I was 38, he 71. To say we were not close would be an understatement; he and I had hardly spoken for 20 years. But that night, I accompanied my brothers to Jerusalem, to bury him there, next to the new grave to which my mother’s remains had been transferred four years earlier. I had not seen this grave before; I was opposed when my brothers moved her. And that night, at the cemetery where my mom and now dad are buried, I was transformed into the 13- year-old girl whose mother had died. I sobbed, “I want my mom.” I cried out in mourning for my lost opportunity to have known my mother, to have her know me now as a woman. And I wondered about the many ways in which my life would have been different—and significantly easier—if my mother had not died when my brothers and I were young.

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The articles in this special section:

White Butterflies

by Yael Flusberg

Ordinary adolescent yearnings intersect with the macabre. Her Holocaust-survivor mother killed herself when Flusberg was 15, leaving her orphaned daughter a survivor, too.

Can You Be a Family Without a Mother?

by Lynn Davidman

A sociologist understands the gendered effect of her own mother’s death after she interviews women and men who’ve had a mom die on them when they were children.

The Shame of Having No Mother

by Francine Cournos, M.D.

Dad dies when she’s 3. Mom when she’s 11, and the kids are abandoned to foster care. Here’s how Cournos came through, ventured motherhood herself, and turned her pain into empathy as a psychiatrist.

Mothering Without a Map

by Karen Paul-Stern

The author's mother, orphaned early, had trouble bonding to her own children, replicating in a second generation the distortions of motherloss.