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'It's been eight years since I have seen or spoken with my daughter. I still feel crushed.'

When I became a mother, I was determined I was going to be the kind of mother who raised exceptional children. I was going to give my children opportunities to live big lives where the possibilities are endless. I was going to raise brilliant, compassionate, interesting human beings.

I poured all my energy and love into them. I was going to have wonderful, loving and mutually satisfying relationships with each one, enjoying their friendship and companionship into their adulthood.

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When my youngest child decided that I was not the mother she wanted anymore, I felt my world crumbling out from under me and I went into a free-fall.

Her name means “Joyful Spirit” and “Gracious gift from God.” She is both of those things. When she was little, she was the shining light of our family. She danced through life like a little fairy, sprinkling magic fairy dust on everyone who had the privilege of knowing her.

As she entered primary school, she used her gift in the drama club. She entertained us both at home, and on the stage at school, with her gift for interpreting the absurd in a way that kept us always in stitches. Laughter filled our home because of her.

She had a natural musical ability that was extraordinary and, at an early age, she came into the kitchen and asked me when she was getting her violin. We took her to be fitted for one when she was seven and her teacher was astonished at how quickly she learned. She wove music into the laughter to make us all so glad she was a part of our family.

When she was 12 years old we were able to find enough money to buy her a pair of “slightly used horses.” It was not unusual to look out the window and see her laying on the back of one of her horses, reading a book while he placidly grazed in the pasture. It is a picture that is imprinted in my memory. She was the levity in our lives.

But things were not always easy for her, or for me.

When she was five years old, I fell into a dark depression. I was in an oppressive marriage and felt like I was in a cage that I could not see my way out of. When I look back on that time, I know it had an impact on her, as well as her brother and sister. I grieve for them all that they suffered through that time with me, but fortunately, I was able to get some help and it did not last long.

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When she entered her teen years things became strained between us, as they often do between teenage girls and their mothers. At the same time, I was finding my way clear to leave her father and start my life over again. It was a now or never proposition for me but the consequences for her at the tender age of 14 were devastating.

Her world came apart. Getting out of my marriage was the only thing I could do to preserve my sanity, so I know I could not have done anything differently. I did everything in my power to support her through this process, but I was having a difficult time navigating it myself.

I know I failed her in many ways. Her father let the farm go into foreclosure and she lost her beloved horses. She was so angry with me.

Over the next four years, we struggled to find our equilibrium. She was at the age where teenage girls specialise in putting the knife in and twisting it. She was angry and did not know what to do with that anger. I was an easy target, since in her mind I caused her world to spin out of control. She resisted all my efforts to help her find ground under her feet.

She went to live with her dad after the divorce. I was devastated. Then one day she called me to come and get her. She did not want to live with him anymore. I was overjoyed. However, her father and I had both found new partners and I know she felt more unmoored than ever. It was a beastly thing for a young girl to suffer through — feeling abandoned by her parents, losing her home and her horses. It was as though we had smashed her childhood into smithereens.

She came and lived with me but would barely speak to me when she came into the house. I agonised over how to reach her. I was so sad that she was in so much pain. I did everything I knew how to do to let her know that she had my love and support. But the truth is, I had finally found happiness, and my life was looking up, while hers was adrift. I was unable to put her life back together for her, even if she had let me.

When she was 17 her step-dad got a job in another state. We wanted her to move with us. He told her he would pay for her college. He begged her to come. She refused. She moved back in with her dad.

She did visit us a couple of times after we moved, but she never was fully present with us. The tension was palpable. Once, she left before she was there 24 hours. I wanted desperately to fix our relationship, but at this point, I didn’t know how. She had retreated so far behind her fortress that I could not reach her.

The day she blocked me from her Facebook page and her phone I was crushed, but felt sure that at some point she would come around and need me to be her mother again. I was wrong.

It has been eight years since I have seen or spoken with my daughter. To say that this has been an excruciatingly painful experience would be an understatement.

I spent the first year being really hurt, but I still believed that she would come around. The second year was when reality set in and I cried almost every day. The grief of losing my child while she was still alive was fraught with shame, self-recrimination and humiliation.

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If only I had been a better mother. If only I had done something different. If only, if only, if only.

During the early years, when I met new people and they asked me about my children I would feel my face redden and my heart race and I would try to answer breezily. Yes, I have three children. No, I don’t get to see them very often.

Sometimes, in a raw moment, I would confess that I had one child I was estranged from, but mostly I would just let it pass. Usually, people would respond to that bit of news with “Oh, kids do that. She’ll come around.” (After eight years, I am beginning to believe that is not going to be the case.)

I began to spiral further and further into grief. Her birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas were so hard. I carried this pain like a tender newborn, swaddled close to my heart. I reached out to her over and over with gifts, cards and letters, letting her know I would always be here if she ever wanted to come back. I never got any response. Feeling sure that my offerings were going into the trash, after a while, I just stopped.

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At some point in the process of navigating this heartbreak, I read something that finally set me free to get up and go on with my life. I have wished a hundred times I had written the name of the book down, a book I checked out from the library about parent-child estrangement.

It said, in a nutshell, that parents and children have a contract in this life, and sometimes that contract is short. As a parent, we do our job and if that job ends before we think it should, then we have to accept that was all the time that was allotted.

So basically, I did my job in the 18 years I had and then I was fired. My ideas about how it was supposed to be were of no consequence. I was not in charge. I had made a decision that changed her trajectory and that trajectory was away from her source of pain — me.

That realisation left me with the task of looking at my own pilgrimage through this life and seeing that my work was to learn to completely let her go, even if that means that I never see her again. When I write that on the page it still breaks my heart. But I have learned that clinging to our ideas of how things should be, while resisting how they really are, causes a lot of suffering.

I have done everything I know how to do. I long to have her back in my life, but at this point, I have no control over that. What I do have control over is my own path. I can choose for myself how to go forward with my life, taking advantage of all the joy that is offered, not allowing the grief to keep me from living fully.

Forgiveness has played a huge role in helping me to heal. I have had to forgive myself over and over and over again. I know that I hurt her, that my decisions changed her life. I know that I failed her. But I am human.

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It has taken years for me to find a way to forgive myself for not being the mum she wanted me to be. For disappointing her. For wanting to free myself from the hell I was living in, knowing that it shook her world at the foundation.

There are many times I still have to remind myself that I always did the very best I knew how to do. Even when that was not enough, it was the best I could do. Period. And then I have to practice extending grace to myself again. But it does get easier.

I am still able to keep up with what she’s doing because she is still connected to my mum, for which I am grateful. But I have not seen her radiant face for eight years. I have not heard her sparkling laugh.

There have been a few times when I have seen a beautiful young woman that resembled her — tall, regal, brunette, with piercing, laughing eyes — and my heart has wrenched and the tears have come without warning.

But mostly, I have learned to look at this experience with the equanimity of acceptance. This, too. This, too, is a part of my experience. This, too, has been my teacher. And now I can bow to this experience with gratitude for all it has taught me.

My daughter’s path has been difficult, but I have not been invited along to try and make it easier. My daughter has her own journey through this world and is following her own map. I have learned to accept and honour her choice. I have to trust that she will find a way to heal, and I will always hope that someday she will return to me, but I am at peace either way.

As parents, we don’t own our children. They are ours for a time and then sometimes we have to let them go. Is it easy? That would be a resounding NO. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. But is it possible to survive and even go on to live life with joy? To that my answer is a resounding YES.

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This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

Beth Bruno wrote her first story when she was eight years old. She has been writing about life and all its complexities ever since. She keeps thinking that one day she will get it all figured out. She writes about relationships, mindfulness, mental health and things she sees out her window. She loves hanging out with her adult children and grandchildren, gardening, raising chickens and camping on uninhabited islands. You can follow her on Medium here and Facebook here.

Feature Image: Getty.


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