Nearly three years ago, in my mid-30s, I came out as gay to my mother. She is very religious and I knew what her reaction would be. Her reaction was as expected. She ignored me for months, telling my aunt to pass on that she wanted no further contact. I called her up only to be told she didn’t have a daughter any more. Although painful, I moved on, hoping she would change her mind. I never heard from her again, except to be told via my aunt that I’d been written out of her will.
Two years ago, I lost a baby girl just into the fifth month of pregnancy. In a moment of weakness, I called my mum from the hospital for support as she had lost a baby at around the same age. She said she would not have had any contact with the baby anyway (as she was conceived via sperm donation) and “it was nothing but a disappointment to her”. I sobbed down the phone to her for help; I was going mad with grief but got no response.
After the miscarriage, I was quite depressed for some time. This was all particularly hard as in 2010 I suddenly lost my father, who was very dear to me. I miss him a lot. My mum was divorced from him for years and hated him with a passion.
I haven’t heard from her since I lost the baby. She still sends cards and presents to my son (who is six and was conceived after a relationship with a man with whom my son is in close contact). She had said, via my aunt, that she expected to still see my son but without speaking to me. She wanted contact to be via my aunt and for me to drop him off (200 miles away). I wasn’t happy with this as I didn’t think it was a good dynamic. She told my aunt to tell me she would never forgive me for losing contact with her grandchild.
Close friends have said I need to write her a final letter asking her not to contact my son and close the door on this. This feels like the right thing to do, but it is very hard as if I do, it will probably be my final contact with my mum. I need to find some peace with it. I am very stuck on this issue.
What a very sad, painful situation for all of you and how much loss you have suffered. In a sense you and your mother have something in common: you both wish the other were different. I don’t agree with your friends about writing a “last letter”. It’s unlikely to offer the resolution you seek.
I consulted family therapist David Pocock (aft.org.uk). “The hope that one’s mother will be a good, accepting mother is not easily given up. You still have a real and alive mother, but may never have the mother you need. This can take a long time to fully accept, and the acceptance is the – sometimes agonising – work of grieving.”
You are a testament to how forgiving and hopeful children can be towards their parents. Pocock thinks it is helpful that you want to “keep the door open rather than retaliate and reject your mother, but with the caveat that the mother who might possibly one day take up the option of the open door can only be the real one, not the yearned-for one.”
So what to do? Pocock advises: “I wouldn’t recommend accepting your mother’s request for direct contact with your son, at the moment – that may be too much for a child his age to manage. However, letters and presents sent to him keep something alive and are already a prompt for him to ask questions to help him with his confusion.”
When he’s older, your son may want to initiate his own contact and that would be his choice. When he asks questions try to be factual but calm – and stress that any problems are between you and your mother, and don’t relate to him.
Pocock adds: “It is important to note that difficult relationships don’t end when people no longer see each other. They live on in the mind, sometimes hidden from plain sight but with profound implications for how the person relates to themselves and others.”
I’ve listed some organisations below to help you deal with your grief over your baby girl and your father. Do please ring them.
Put your relationship with your mother on pause for the moment. It might not be as initially satisfying as the big, final gesture of a letter but, ultimately, I think it will bring you the most peace and resolution.
First published in the Guardian Family section on 24 January 2014.