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Deborah Sumner


Fear And Grief: My New Normal

Posted: 08/17/2012 10:00 am

I had dinner with my old friend Michael last Friday. We're originally from Chicago and now we both live in New York. He knew my mom really well. My mom passed away in early June, and this was the first time Michael and I had gotten together since then. I'd kept putting him off and making excuses as to why I couldn't go out. What was I afraid of? I think it was the fear that my grief and my loss were still too close to the surface and that I might not be able to keep my emotions under control in public.

During dinner, Michael asked what my mom had thought about my partner Eileen and me being together. It was an easy answer: Mom loved Eileen and loved that we were together. Before I could answer him, though, tears started streaming down my face. It took me by surprise and I couldn't hold them back. It wasn't Michael's question that made me cry at the restaurant, it was the overwhelming realization that I wasn't going to be able to call my mom the next day and tell her about my dinner with Michael.

I always called my mom when I traveled for business. She was very proud and excited that my work sometimes sent me to cities she would never have an opportunity to visit in her lifetime. I would call and say, "Hi Mom, I'm in Tampa" (or San Francisco, or Toronto). She would always ask the same thing: "What's the weather like?" Two weeks ago, I went to Boston on a business trip. I thought. I have to call mom. And then it hit me: I couldn't call mom. I've repeated this "forgetfulness" several times over the last two months. And every time it happens, I feel like the rug is being pulled out from under me.

As I wrote in my previous blog, when you lose your mother, you lose your childhood. But you also lose that reflection of yourself and how you should be.

My mom was an enormous influence on my life. She taught me that being a good money manager and being generous are not mutually exclusive. I learned patience, the importance of being on time, and that hard work pays off. I have spent my entire life asking for my mom's advice, seeking her approval, making her proud, or just telling her about my day. Now that is gone. I have come face to face with the fear of my "new normal."

My fear is that I lost more than my mom; I lost an ally, a protector, a counselor, and a confidante. Even though she's not physically here, she's still a huge part of who I am. I have all her years of wisdom and advice to look back on and tap into when I need it, and that gives me strength to face my fear.

It's hard losing your mom. To find out how some celebrities were affected by it, click through the slideshow.

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    <strong>The director and star of the new film <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>2 Days in New York</em></a> lost her mom in January 2009, not long before the release of another film she also starred in and directed, <em>2 Days in Paris</em>. Delpy -- whose mom, Marie Pillet, played her mom in the latter film -- told the <em>Herald News</em>, "I wanted to write the screenplay while my mom was alive so I could include her in it. Then when she passed away, <a href="" target="_hplink">I was kind of blocked [creatively]</a>. But working with [actress and cowriter] Alexia [Landeau] gave me back my joie de vivre. We wrote the film the year Mom died, and I felt I needed to dedicate the film to her."</strong>


    <strong>The actor's mom was shot in 1967, when Dylan was 5. At the time, the police ruled her death an accident; however, the case was reopened last year, and Connecticut police <a href="" target="_hplink">ultimately determined that she had been murdered by her boyfriend</a>. <a href="" target="_hplink">"When you lose a parent young, it hardens you for life,"</a> Dylan told <em>USA Weekend</em> in 1999.</strong>


    <strong>In 2008, the singer's mom was killed by her sister's ex-husband, William Balfour, who also killed Jennifer's brother and nephew. <a href=",,20595035,00.html" target="_hplink">Balfour was convicted of three counts of murder in May 2012</a>; in June, he was <a href="" target="_hplink">sentenced to life in prison</a>. On August 14, Jennifer told ABC News, "<a href="" target="_hplink">At first I was like I don't know if I could ever go back to Chicago</a>, but it's home and after I had my son I was like he should have that base to be surrounded around family." </strong>


    <strong>The actress's mom -- who moved to L.A. with Jennifer in 1989 and<a href="" target="_hplink"> helped her get her start in Hollywood</a> -- <a href=",,20603728,00.html" target="_hplink">died of cancer in June 2012</a>. On August 6, <a href="" target="_hplink">Jennifer tweeted</a>, "Today is about making my mom proud."</strong>


    <strong>Madonna's mom <a href="" target="_hplink">died of breast cancer when Madonna was five</a>. J. Randy Taraborrelli, author of <em>Madonna: An Intimate Biography</em>, told CNN, "What people don't know is how terrible that last year of Madonna's mother's life was for Madonna. She felt really <a href="" target="_hplink">frustrated by the powerlessness</a> that went along with childhood."</strong>


    <strong>Rosie's mom also died of breast cancer, when Rosie was 10. Rosie told Oprah that after her mom died, her father was <a href="" target="_hplink">too grief-stricken to care for his children</a>, and that women who lived in her neighborhood stepped in to help out.</strong>


    <strong>The president's mom died of uterine cancer in 1995. In a 2007 speech in Santa Barbara, then-Sen. Obama said, "I remember just being heartbroken, seeing her struggle through the paperwork and the medical bills and the insurance forms. So, I have seen what it's like <a href="" target="_hplink">when somebody you love is suffering</a> because of a broken health-care system." </strong>


    <strong>Arianna and her mom -- who passed away in 2000 -- <a href="" target="_hplink">lived together for most of Arianna's life</a>. In her book <em><a href="" target="_hplink">On Becoming Fearless</a></em>, Arianna wrote, "Her death forced me to confront my deepest fear: living my life without the person who had been its foundation. I did lose her, and I have had to go on without her. But the way she lived her life and faced her death have taught me so much about overcoming fear."</strong>

For more by Deborah Sumner, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.