How does a mother let go? Most Liked Hot Conversation

I’m sad today. It happens.

I know it’s the cheerful, funny, light hearted posts that people want to read. You can hardly blame them. I don’t. As Ella Wheeler said, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone. For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth, it has troubles enough of its own.”

Yet I know for a fact that it’s not just me that sometimes feels this way. You can’t have lived for fifty plus, plus years, here in the land of the living, without accumulating a long list of losses, both large and small. It takes its toll. Sadness happens as does sunshine. And any given heart can be heavy or light depending on which way the wind blows. No apologies. We’re all human here.


It has been ten years today since Finley died. Finley, my twenty year old son. Finley, my blue eyed, bright eyed, devil may care, laughing, shrugging, adventuring, growing up in spite of himself, son.

I woke up yesterday, as I do every year at this time, wondering if this was the day. I’m sure that sounds odd. Shouldn’t I know? I wonder what’s the matter with me that I can’t seem to nail it down in my mind. I blame it on the fact that those singular days between the accident and the end were eternal, fleeting, and wholly outside of the sphere and structure of ordinary life. Time stopped and sped. Days and nights came and went with a peculiar jagged unpredictability. Faces, voices, details swam in and out of focus. I sat behind a curtain, beside a bed, as close as I could to the long, lean, broken body of my second son. I held his hand, talked to him aloud and silently, found a patch of exposed skin on his shoulder where I could lean in to find his scent. There I sat, watching, staring, stunned awake by the reality of this thing that no one believes can actually happen. Finley was gone, but he wasn’t. A coma is a peculiar kind of limbo. Sitting with your all but dead son in a hospital ward is too. I had no idea what day it was, or month, or year. Ten years later, I’m still having trouble with it.

How does a mother let go? How do we reconcile the reality of our children changing as they do from age to age, stage to stage, let alone in death? Moving targets. Constantly morphing creatures, put here in our care. A tall order. To care for them appropriately, we must morph ourselves. How else to accommodate the ever changing circumstances, personality, growing maturity, or lack of? A fine tuned call and response that requires a degree of accuracy beyond the grasp of most of us hit or miss mortals. Motherhood is a dicey undertaking at best. An eternal font of guilts and why-didn’t-I’s, if that’s what you’re looking for. But there’s so much more.

PhotobucketNo less flawed, or perfect than he was, we muddled along, Finley and I. We loved and laughed, and tugged and battled, through childhood and into adolecense. A single mother raising a teenaged son is not an easy path from either point of view. But I can still see the sunlight on the blond streaks of his hair, feel his hot skin under my fingers as I rub lotion on fair, peeling shoulders, remember the weight and heft of his small body held close to mine. Twined and melded, mother and child, eternal symbol of life given, nurtured, then released into it’s own. I just didn’t think it would happen this way.

Ten years later, I dig through my box of papers and documents to confirm the day. No guessing this year, I want to know. A birth certificate with tiny footprints. A death certificate with dates and stamps. Official on both ends.

My mother sent me an e-mail yesterday telling me she was sad. I knew she meant Finley, but what she talked about losing Cole, my youngest son. He’s been living with her for two years. Cole didn’t “launch” after college as expected. First, he came home to me. The few months I’d envisioned as allowing him to find his way, rolled on an on, with still no sign of a plan. After fifteen months, I forced him to leave. His good hearted step-father stepped in, sure that all he needed was a guiding male hand. Nine months later, he left there and moved in with my mother. It wasn’t easy for her, or for Cole either I imagine, but there they stuck. After six months, Cole finally made a move. He applied, and was accepted for a master’s program in engineering. Two weeks ago, he graduated, and has been hired as part of a team of engineers building submarines. He starts tomorrow.

Cole and Me in Styron Square

You choose the title: Timing is everything. Or, Miracles do happen. Both are equally true.

My mother wrote:

“Cole has been so sweet. Even though he has left a lot of stuff undone, I don’t care at this point. He comes and sits by me and neither of us says anything. He just seems to be saying “thank you” in his own inimitable way. Will has told me to not ask Cole questions cause it stresses him and he’s nervous. How to talk without questions ? So we sit. Thank God I’m working today – a little time gone. We’ll talk soon. I love you – Mama”

I wrote back:

“I’m sad today too. Finley. 10 years. And I know you’re sad about Cole leaving. I know he’s sad too. You’re right, he just can’t say it. He’s just like the damn cat. But, just like the cat, he IS saying it in his own way.

You have done much more for him than simply giving him food and a place to live for two years. You have loved him in a way he couldn’t miss. Maybe he never felt that from me. Maybe I couldn’t give it in the way he wanted, when he wanted it. I don’t know. It will likely haunt me to my grave, but there it is. And then there you were. A grandmother. A step removed from the authority and disappointment associated with both me and his father. And as a person, you have a gift of honesty and caring not matched by many. Don’t underestimate yourself, or my opinion of you. And if Cole didn’t see it before, he does now. You took in a wounded, baby bird and now he’s ready to fly. Even if he can’t say thank you, I can.

Thank you. Thank you for doing for my child something I couldn’t manage on my own. It takes a village. It takes a family. And sometimes it takes a grandmother. You changed the course of his life. I love you too. – Sarah”

So now this one goes off into the world. In his own way, in his own good time. We loved him in our flawed but earnest ways, and now will let him go.

All is well. And all manner of things shall be well.

Posted in family & relationships, Sarah Gayle Carter's journal.

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22 Responses

  1. midnightbloomer midnightbloomer says

    What a beautifully written story of a Mother’s love.  My own son was unable to “launch” his life after his father died when he was sixteen.  One nervous breakdown and two failed college attempts brought him back home to live with me for another six years after high school.  Friends and family advised me to kick him out, but I refused.  I knew my son better than anyone else on earth.  I knew that it was not up to me to chose his path.  I allowed him to stay and work his way through his problems at his own pace.  He is now living on his own and working at his dream job.  His life is full and working very well for him.  As for your question of how do we let go of our children…we don’t.  We simply loosen the ties enough for both of us to live our own lives.

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  2. Generic Image SIZZELN says

    Grandma, mother Sarah and COLE, perfect combination…you all did good! Remembering all our children is what most mothers do. Your sadness today is understandable…TRACK
    P.S. sometimes others see things in our children, you don’t, thank GOD for that.:-)

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  3. OldBlonde OldBlonde says

    I agree with midnightbloomer.  This is a beautifully written story of a Mother’s Love.  And I wish with all my heart that I had that magic wand to help you through this day and all the others.

    While I have not had the personal experience of sitting behind that curtain, holding my child’s hand, I have done so, many times, with other mothers.  The whole experience leaves me speechless and heartbroken.  That is a moment when there are NO words that matter or make a difference.  Being present and supportive in the physical sense is all there is.

    With your permission, I would like to make copies of this post.  As a Certified Grief Specialist, your story will make a huge difference to the parents I assist.  It verifies that there is no period of time related to grief. We never ‘get over’ losing our loved ones, we ‘get through’ it somehow.

    Finley has left a legacy in all the memories stored in your heart.  Those of us on VN have been able to get a glimpse of his specialness through your writings.

    I feel certain that I am not the only one who will be with you in spirit throughout this day and beyond.  Give yourself permission to remember Finley in any way you choose.  Being sad and shedding tears, no matter how many years have passed, it normal and healthy.  You will always be Finley’s mother.  Always.

    Arms around you.

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    • Sarah G. Carter Sarah G. Carter says

      After Finley died, I knew I wanted to use the experience to grow, and to help others faced with the same situation. I trained with, and work as a peer councilor, through a support group for families of organ donors. So of course you may re-print this for anyone you are counciling who you feel would benefit. As you might imagine, it is a cause close to my own heart. I’m flattered that you feel I’ve managed to communicate in a way that might be meaningful.

      Finley will always be with me, of that much I am clear. And with my children, and my mother, and all the rest of my family and his many, many friends. He had a joyful heart, a disarming grin, and a boyish charm that is locked in with all of us forever. I’m not afraid of the recurring and intermittent sadness. I’ve come to see it as a way for the heart to slowly, ever so slowly wash the wound with tears. Most of the time now, it moves through gently. When I feel the tell tale welling up of emotion, and welcome it,  it moves in and out again pretty quickly. Until the next time. But the spaces are father apart now, and the “hole” usually less deep.

      Yes, I am still Finleys mother, for ever and always.

      Life is good.

      Thank you for your thoughts and your arms around me – Sarah

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  4. Lynnette Lynnette says

    To tell u not to be sad would be an insult.  You have gone through the tragedy that every woman fears.  Ten years… what can i say.   I am speechless and that is not easy :)

    I can relate to the Cole story though.  Many people tell you to kick your child out of the house and many do.  But then when something awful happens then what?  Tough love?  Tough love works on some kids, others who are not so mentally strong not such a good idea.  So every mother has to do her own decision as one other poster said… mother knows her child best.  I hate it when somebody else tells you what to do w/o knowing the facts and even your heart.  I try to change the conversation because i do not like explaining to others what my heart and soul knows.  It is the only conversation that i do not want to share with anybody, not even with my husband.  It is mine and his.  Your Cole sounds like my Peter… no words expressed but i know he means Thank you. 

    Be sad today, cry if you must.  Stay in bed on this site, i will keep u company if you want.  It is a way to let go somewhat but for one day only.  Try to be better tomorrow and the next day, that is what your Finley would want.  A healthy mom that enjoys her life.  You have another child.  Live for yourself and him.  He is still alive.  He wants and needs your love as well.


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    • Sarah G. Carter Sarah G. Carter says

      Thank you Lynnette. Telling someone not to be sad, is not so much insulting as inaccurate. When you can let it move in and out, as it will, sadness is a good thing. Healing is a process, not an event. I have a good friend who told me once, “Go on and cry – there aren’t enough tears.”

      Its really hard to deal with the Peters and the Coles. What to do? You’re right, what helps one child, hurts another. And it’s not always easy to be clear about making the right choices at the right times. Its funny though, somehow all my “crimes” as a mother – real or imagined – are encapsulated in Finley’s death. So days like this bring up the whole nine yards. I guess that’s why the story that started about Finley, ended with Cole. I do have other children. Three others in fact – David (34), Cole (26), and Blair (20). I’ll be mothering for the rest of my life, in one form or another. Maybe I’ll get it right before I’m through.

      And, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll be able to give to my as yet unborn grandchildren, something of the gift my mother gave Cole. And gave me too in the process.

      Aren’t the circles of life facinating? We’re always given opportunites to try again.

      Thanks for sitting with me today.



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      • Lynnette Lynnette says

        Trust the day wasn’t so sad after all.   Grandchildren will be a good thing.  I am not into kids per se.  I always preferred dogs (i know, i know, people are now going to get on my case).  But i love the only child i have so much that sometimes it hurts.  It is the only time i can crumble and be very sad.  No matter how old our kids are, if they are happy or prosperous we are as well and if they are sad or unfulfilled that hurts a lot more.  So, life is not pink, we just do what we must at the time it happens.  Keep on trucking.  You have a lot in your life and three other children that love you and want to share their lives w/you.  Finley would want that very much.

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      • Sarah G. Carter Sarah G. Carter says

        You’re right – today wasn’t so bad. A few nice tears this morning when I read all your responses. I was very touched. Funny, yesterday was worse. Just proves my point that it’s not really the day at all, but the awareness of what happened. Smells, the light of early June, a memory – all kinds of things can trigger the emotion. But most of the time they don’t really. I know that sounds hard, but it’s true. There are thoughts – thoughts like “I should be sad because…”. But long ago I saw that for what it was, a kind of mental masturbation. The real deal, the heart stuff, just wells up when it needs too I guess. Most of the time I can talk about Finley, or the experience of losing my child, and it’s ok. There’s a protective distance, a matter of factness that’s fine. Really.

        Don’t feel bad about the children thing, I know what you mean. I was never into children in general, only mine in particular. Never really played with dolls, or wantied to be a nurse or teacher. And have somehow felt I should apologise for my unfeminie lack of voltage when it comes to nurturing. I guess believing that – that maybe there was something wrong with me – was why this idea of “Mother Hell” took root the way it did. Guilt. The good old fashioned, slow roasting, flaming sort of guilt that eats at you from the inside. There have been times when all I could see was what I did wrong with my children. But its better now. Nothing like age and a little distance to put things in perspective. Maybe I’ll qualify as Wise One  before it’s all over. The title comes at a cost you know. I think you probably have to fall on your face many times to learn the hard lessons.

        Thank you again for your support, and your honesty. – Sarah

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      • Lynnette Lynnette says

        Well, i get what you mean about not being a specific day per se.  Once, a woman at Macy’s was calling her mother to come and see her when she tried on an outfit.  I started crying and could not stop!!!  I realized i will never again be able to call my mother to see me trying on clothes or just to go out to eat or simply to tell her that i was having a great day.  I was not raised to be very vocal on emotions.  I am an only child as well and my mother loved me a lot, i just knew it, but it was never said.  I loved her a lot too.  I knew she sacrificed a lot of things so that i would have more.  My grandmother was the one that i actually called mami.  My mother had to work all the time to feed us.  So that day at Macy’s i knew it was all over.  She had been dead for a year and for a long time i did not even remembered the date she died.  I blocked it out.  On one of my visits to CT my husband insisted we go to the cemetery to bring flowers and there it was the date.  June 10, 1990.  OOOOpps thats coming up, OMG did not even realized it.   But that date does not mean anything to me anymore.  It is like you say, something comes up that reminds you of a certain thing, event, etc and brings memories.  Even smells.  To me music does that as well.  I remember the song Still from Lionel Ritchie it reminds me of the father of my child.  I still love him somewhat.  He was the first love of my life.  But i do not love him like i want to be w/him, just because we spent 10 years of our lives together and although at the end it did not work out, there were many years that it did.  The song of Gladys Knight You R the best thing that ever happened to me, reminds me of my son, i used to sing that to him when he was a baby, so when i hear it on the radio i blast the volume. 

        So my dear, it is what it is… and sadness is a part of us.  Glad we can share.  Too bad we did not spend this day in person and w/a bottle of wine, that is what i used to do in CT with my girlfriends when we were going through sadness.  It is the best therapy.

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      • Sarah G. Carter Sarah G. Carter says

        We can pretend. A toast to you my friend!


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      • Lynnette Lynnette says


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      • OldBlonde OldBlonde says

        You both have said so many things that I feel in my heart.  You are the kind of women that I relate to easily.

        My adult children and my mothering experiences have punched my ticket to share a few bottles of wine with you if you ever get together in person.

        Thank God for this site!

        And Sarah, that picture of Finley is incredible!  Loved the pics of you and Cole.  Pictures can sometimes really say a thousand words.


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      • Lynnette Lynnette says

        since meeting in person is not possible at this time, we can pretend. 

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      • Generic Image Snowbound says

        Ladies, let me bring a case of wine when we get together!   This friendly banter brought tears and laughter.   Sarah, my heart-felt condolences on your loss.  A decade-old wound still hurts…  It hurt me to read it.  I too loved the photo of Finley.  I could see all the emotions in his bright little face that make sons so special to their moms.  As mothers we’ll never stop worrying about our children.  We’re gifted that way.   Sarah, thanks for sharing your story.

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      • Generic Image Snowbound says

        Sarah, your moving story stayed with me these past few days.   I reread it tonight and was horrified by my remark that the responses brought tears and laughter.  HUH?? Did I really write that?  Did someone in cyberspace change my words?  Laughter was not my emotion.  I felt a connection when I read that others felt guilt or as you eloquently put it “my crimes as a mother – real or imagined.” I immediately thought, “I’m not the only mother who wallows in remorse.” Sarah you did mothering right the first time around.  We all do our best, given our circumstances.  Losing a child haunts all mothers and I truly loved all the responses from everyone.  Now, if you ladies will forgive me for my faux pas, I owe everyone two cases of wine in our virtual world.  Keep writing Sarah.

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  5. Bellavita Bellavita says

    I too have lost a son. It stays with you. You have to learn to let it be a part of you. You somehow learn to accept. But you never ever let go. My oldest, 23, just moved to Chicago for a job, my youngest is entering his 3rd year of college away. Both these situations trigger that long ago loss of my first son who died young. It can be a struggle. I miss them all. But am learning to live with it. Letting go is hard. As hard as anything can be. And I hold all three tightly in my heart. Your story touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing.

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    • Sarah G. Carter Sarah G. Carter says

      Each one of your children is as alive in your heart as if they were ALL still walking the face of the earth. Can’t you shut your eyes and see your son? Hear him? Smile at him? I like to believe I can still touch Finley with my thoughts and my love. They will always be alive for us – how else could it be? And the ones who are heading out into the world, will carry us with them wherever their lives take them. We are mothers – for better or worse!

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      • Generic Image Hope2 says


        I have had 4 children in our family go to be with God – my daughter, Julie, who was 19(car accident, it was malfunction of the brakes); a niece, Tracy(5) who had spinal meningitis; a niece, Shelley(14) car accident and a stepson, Richard(32 who had a 2 yr. old – his wife & he moved in with us to homecare him) brain tumor. My other daughter, Jodi(16) almost died in the first accident as well(malfunction of the brakes); right now, my adopted son(36) is dying from chirrosis of the liver, had FADS & brain damage when we adopted him at 8 yrs. old. We will still go through bad grief, but know now that we will stick close to God and keep going on.

        Although I always believed in God, the culmination of these did send me over the edge when my daughter died and I drank alcoholically for 2 yrs. at night. By God’s grace, I went to A.A., then back to God and my church family(1994) – have gone through the 12 Steps of A.A., numerous Bible Studies, told other mothers my story to help them. I now can say that I miss all our children, but believe wholeheartedly that they are in heaven, we will meet them some day again and they will know us; while I am here on earth, my purpose is to serve God and  help others. Our children were on loan to us and they are now with their Heavenly Father. I still have my very sad times, but they pass and I ask God what He would like me to do with my day – have learned the phrase “When things look down, look up”. My husband and I do have a happiness again, it is just a diff. kind of happiness – always a spot in our hearts for the children we have lost, no matter what their ages.

        These thoughts and feelings did not come easy as I’ve explained. I had to go through some times that seemed unbearable, but now know that as long as God knew my heart, He was there watching over me, waiting for me to come back to Him. I thank Him that I grew up in a family who taught me about God, took me to a church where we learned that God loved me, so eventually I could turn my hurt/anger/ sadness and addiction into good use for others by speaking at groups and telling my story. God bless all of you through your trials.

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      • Sarah G. Carter Sarah G. Carter says

         Hope2 – Thank you for sharing your story. As shattering as your experience has been, it seems you not only survived, but emerged stronger and more at peace than ever. It seems a large price to pay, but who’s to say? You’re right, our children, and everything else, are gifts, “on loan”. For how long? We don’t really know, do we? I try to remember to rejoice in the moment, in each present day. To welcome life, in all it’s guises, with open arms.

        God bless you too. I believe he already has.

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  6. kgritts kgritts says

    Sarah: Thank you for sharing your story with us. No one can really prepare for the job of being a mother, can one? I am amazed at the breadth and depth of feeling, angst, guilt, love, joy, disappointment, etc., etc. that I continue to experience with my children. No matter their age, I fret over them even though my influence now is minimal. Like you, I was single for awhile. Like you, the image I had of my children and the reality if quite different. I have to remind myself that I am their mother, not their creator. I am their coach and cheerleader but not their owner. And, what I think is right for them may not be right for them at all! Mother does not always know best! I suffer with and for them. The joy and sadness of motherhood makes us real. The life we give comes back manyfold! I am so enriched by the lives of my children in good times and bad. Thanks so much for sharing. I am touched by your words and your experience and wish you the very best. BTW, your mother is a wonderful woman.

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    • energizersnobabe energizersnobabe says

      I was named Sarah for several hours, before my mother settled on “Kelly,” so I find it particularly meaningful (thank you, God) that I came across Sarah’s 6-month-old post today, of all days.

      I am struggling with my oldest, adopted son, about to turn 18, who continues to test my will, patience and heart. I sometimes feel he is daring me to leave him, as all his other families did, before I met him, at age 6.

      A mother’s love knows no final depth… but certainly there are days, like today, when I believe I am at the bottom… and then something happens to bring me back to the top, filled to the brim, ready to tread love again.

      Thank you Sarah, et. al.,

      Kelly in Reno

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  7. Generic Image geeta says

    very touching indeed. your mother too did something really wonderful – provide the space to Cole. Salute to you both

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