My mom died when I was 5 years old (33 years ago). I think I’m doing okay with it but it’s hard to know.

It’s a tricky age to have that happen.

The problem with 5 years old, I think (and I don’t know anything, for the record, I’m just making sense of my experience here), is that you’re old enough to understand your mom died but not really old enough to do anything with that.

In my case I just kind of turned off my emotion chip for a while (a couple decades?). Like sometimes it would fritz out and I’d fly into a rage, but I don’t remember feeling sad really. In my recollection I could count on one hand the number of times I cried.

This might be the best way to describe the dissociation: Today, when I hear that a child has lost a parent, I feel compassionate feelings about that tragedy (my emotion chip works now), but it does not occur to me that I share that child’s experience.

It’s the most bizarre thing: I’ll be thinking about how sad it is that a 45-year-old dropped dead leaving two little kids behind, but something will have to explicitly jog my memory for me to think “Oh… right… My mom died too… I have experience with this.”

The truth is that I don’t feel like I actually have experience with it.

I was too young—wait, that doesn’t make any sense—That’s the experience, the one we’re talking about, losing a parent when you’re young!

And by the way, ask anyone who knows me: I like to share my experience, maybe too much. Every exchange I have is comparing experiences, looking for similarities, verifying assumptions, etc.. It’s what I do.

But not with (probably) the most important event of my life.

The other issue I’ve had with losing my mom that young is, by the time I got around to “doing something with it” it was already so long ago. 5-year-old me just doesn’t have much to say about it.

I remember we had the memorial service on a weekday at the Unitarian church where my pre-school/kindergarten was in the basement. I wore a double-breasted navy blazer with brass buttons.

It was very important to me that my friends downstairs see me dressed up importantlike.

I have this one picture of my mom, who I don’t remember much. I was looking at it today and it stirred the emotions that led to this post. Now that I have kids it means a lot more to me, how devastated I would be to leave my kids (I mean, I’d be dead, but—you know what I mean).


The reason this picture makes me emotional now is that I wish I could let her know that I’m okay. Not to worry.

I feel I can relate much more to her experience than my own.

I’m happy to be able to write this down because it’s helped me to do so, and I’m happy to be able to share it in case there’s anyone else whose experience is like mine and, like me, they just haven’t heard others talk about it much