Age doesnt ease pain of a mothers death, author says

Though her mother was almost 92 when she died, that didn't minimize the sense of loss felt by Diane Sher Lutovich.

"I felt a hole in my life where she had been," said the Greenbrae resident, who was 57 when her mother died. "There was a sense that I wasn't ready, that I still wanted a mother. Who else would tell me that my clothes needed cleaning, and that my spots were obvious? There are things that one counts on a mother to do forever, and there was a sense that there wouldn't be anyone adult anymore except me."

Her reaction somewhat startled her, Lutovich admitted, because she and her mother were not that close.

"Our relationship was certainly loving and caring," she said, "and very dutiful on both our parts, and we were able to take pleasure in each other's company. But it wasn't particularly intimate or revealing, or as close as mothers and daughters can be."

Lutovich was further struck by the fact that while she knew the most intimate details of her friends' lives, they hardly spoke about their mothers' deaths.

She wanted to talk about it, and she wanted to hear what other women had to say. By listening to others' stories, she hoped to learn more about herself and her relationship with her mother.

So she began interviewing friends and acquaintances, and then others who heard about her project. She interviewed 45 women in all — 15 of them Jewish.

Then she wrote "Nobody's Child: How Older Women Say Good-bye to their Mothers."

While Lutovich is a poet and educator, she believes that her book has a lot to say to others who have recently gone through this major life-change.

"Nobody really tells you or gives you suggestions on how to deal with it," she said. "This has helpful suggestions, not in the how-to sense, but in how other women were able to learn from the loss."

Her subjects ranged in age from 42 to 71, with the majority between 50 and 68. What she found, and keeps finding since the book was published is that so many women, despite the nature of the relationship with her mother, find her death a "powerful and moving event in their lives."

The mother-daughter connection is one of the most intense of familial relationships.

"Mothers are the resource for how to keep a house and raise the children," she said. "Even if the daughters weren't happy with what their mothers did, they share a biological as well as psychological experience. The connection is so tight, making the loss more of a loss."

Among her Jewish subjects, Lutovich found none of the stereotypical guilt-inducing Jewish mothers, although "the Jewish women, by and large, had more complex relationships with their mothers. There were a high number of fierce attachments."

And because the Jewish mothers had either suffered as immigrants, or had lost family during the war, or had lived through the Depression, their daughters, as a result, "felt guiltier for the lives they lived than for anything they did or did not do for their mothers. They hadn't been able to make their [mothers'] lives better."

Quite a few of the Jewish women reported that their faith brought them great comfort at such a difficult time, Lutovich said. "They felt they could rely on their tradition, whether they carried out the whole shiva or not."

Her book is also intended for the next generation, said Lutovich, who believes it's never too late to improve the mother-daughter relationship.

"There are a lot of things on the mother's end that can make an improvement," she said. For example, she recalled three women she interviewed, all of whom happened to be Jewish, who said that their mothers — on their deathbeds — had told them they had been wonderful daughters.

"That those women were able to do that made a huge impression."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."