"I Feel Like I'm Losing It"

Question: My 80-year-old mother died six months ago—nine weeks after she was diagnosed with cancer. Our relationship was complicated. I loved her dearly but she was also the reason I’ve been in therapy much of my life. I still have times every day when I’m overcome with tears—for example, I’m doing laundry and I just start sobbing. My four siblings seem like they’re back to normal, but sometimes I feel like I’m losing it.

Kevin: You’ve had your whole life to develop a complicated relationship with your mother, so perhaps it’s not surprising that your grief feels complicated.

I suggest you welcome your tears as part of your healing. You may be sobbing for everything you had with your mother, everything you didn’t have, everything you wanted to have but never found a way to have with her. The spigot of your tears is opened by grieving, but also makes you worry about yourself.

One of my favorite ways to reframe a thought is to turn a negative, self-judging phrase around, transforming it into the language of healing.

In what sense, for instance, might “losing it” be exactly what you need to do at this point in your life? Perhaps the “it” you’re losing could be defining yourself in relation to your mother or worrying about her approval or disapproval. Or the “it” you’re letting go of could be the hope of ever having a better childhood—something each of us needs to do to embrace the story of our life. Or maybe you’re losing a judgment that your relationship with your mother should have been better and therefore cannot be brought to closure. My guesses about what you might be losing could be way off the mark, but I think asking what you need to lose could be an interesting way to be with your “I’m losing it” moments.

Every time I entered a Catholic Church in my youth I dipped a finger into holy water and blessed myself with it by making the sign of the cross. Decades later I have come to see everything as sacred and all water as holy. Your tears are holy water. The next time you break down and cry, try catching a tear streaming down your cheek with a finger. If you are Christian you could make the sign of the cross with it, as I did as a boy

Or you might prefer to touch the tear gently to your lips and then place your hands criss-cross over your heart. This can be a ritual of blessing all the beautiful and difficult aspects of your relationship with your mother. It can also be a tender gesture of blessing yourself just as you are at this moment in your life.

Whenever your tears come, consider them an opportunity to practice being both the one who is sobbing and the One who is lovingly present to the sobber. (I spell “One” with a capital “O” here to signify that this gentle, loving energy might feel bigger than or beyond your normal sense of self.) As you make your tears part of a blessing ritual, you might also say out loud: “I’m losing it—my need to hold onto how my mother hurt me.” Repeat “I’m losing it …” and fill in any phrase that helps you hear your letting-go process in healing, nonjudging words.

As you let your tears become a blessing, be sure to give yourself permission to allow them gradually to become less frequent. Some people feel guilty when the tears stop, as if they are forgetting their loved one. But I think moving on from feeling mired in grieving to becoming the brightest light of love and compassion we can be in the world is the best way to honor a person we have lost. One last thought: Persistent complex bereavement disorder (what psychologists used to call complicated grief) is diagnosed when unrelenting grief persists for more than a year. Even though you’re at six months, I think it would be good to talk about your grief process with a therapist you trust.

For reflection:

  • Ask yourself: What moves me to tears? Do I celebrate and sanctify my tears, or do I more often let them be an occasion for self-criticism and judgment?
  • Dip your hand in a stream, lake, or flowing faucet and bless yourself with the holy water that sustains all life. Or simply pause in the shower and enjoy being doused with comforting, sooth- ing holy water.
  • Rabbi David Wolpe has said that holiness is a better ideal than happiness because it embraces struggle. What if I let go of the pursuit of happiness and embraced the pursuit of holiness?

This nested meditation came to me when I was having trouble letting go of the loss of my father:

A pious caterpillar believes. 

A pious caterpillar believes,
an enlightened caterpillar knows.

A pious caterpillar believes.
An enlightened caterpillar knows
the winged life.

A pious caterpillar believes.
An enlightened caterpillar knows
the winged life
requires metamorphosis.

Kevin’s books of nested meditations, Divinity in Disguise and Now is Where God Lives, are available at Amazon or

Questions may be edited for clarity or length. Dr. Anderson cannot respond to all letters. Sending a letter, whether answered in this column or not, does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Information in this column is for general psychoeducational purposes and is not a substitute for assessment and care provided in person by a medical or mental health professional.

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