by Sheri McGregor, MA

In the top drawer of my beautiful desk, a plastic wallet sleeve peeks from beneath sticky notes and stamps. When I pull it out, there stares a darling face. A boy I once knew. An innocent smile. Eyes so full of life.

There are two photos. At ages 6 and 7.

My throat tightens. My eyes tingle but don’t quite tear. So long ago. Another life. Still, a flood of memories rolls in. A boy who made cities of paper-covered boxes, rode bicycles over makeshift jumps, and whose jeans were always caked with grass stains or mud.

An old ache stirs. A longing. A wish. A realization of all that was . . . and no longer is.

I close the drawer and more recent pictures come to mind. Those sent from other parents. A father recently shared a photo collage of his daughter through the ages. The most recent were snagged off the internet: his daughter getting married, holding a newborn, and receiving a work award.

Another mom sent me a video link, saying she had read my books. “I believe you’re a lot like me,” she wrote. The pictures, a montage set to music she originally made for one of her son’s achievements, proved she was right: We were a lot alike. Moms of boys, moms of loving brothers who we figured would always be friends. Sweet little boys who were full of innocence and pranks, and who grew into handsome teenagers we imagined one day as admirable men. And then the change, the loss, the heartbreak.

Another mom sent me three photos she’d taken over time. She captioned them:

The boy who loved me.

The teen who wasn’t sure.

The man who doesn’t.

Clearing out

Since moving in 2020, I’ve been hating the desk I used to love. This gorgeous piece of furniture stands on carved legs, has bronzed-brass flower drawer pulls, and delicate, curving sides. But it’s too big for this new space. I’m determined to clear it out and find another that’s more suitable for my new office in my new life in my new locale. That’s why I opened the drawer and came across these unexpected photos. Bits of history that, for all their simplicity, embody so much more: My loss of innocence around my mothering, family, and kids. That’s not something I necessarily want to dwell on. And why I closed the drawer.

The truth is, since moving (a stress all its own), a lot has gone on. Family situations, illness, and let’s not forget the pandemic—which has left most of us craving more human connection, security, and a sense of literal and psychological freedom the pandemic and related lock downs took away.

There have been losses for all of us. Some in connection with associated deaths, long-term Covid effects, or relationships for which the pandemic and its dividing opinion tracks were the nail in the coffin. Others for economic security, dampened optimism, or a naivete over how much control we have over our lives. Tough stuff.

But … this post is less about what we miss or fear as what we can do to get ourselves back on track, or onto a new one.

Some of us have dealt with worry over health concerns by using more hand sanitizer, wearing masks, and beefing up our preventative activities to keep us leaner and stronger, thus less at risk.

Many of us have found new ways to connect—in online classes and video chats. Even with the good as ever old-fashioned telephone call (that starts with a computer we can hold in our hand!).

The coping includes remote work, limiting our screen time–filled with bad news–and focusing on things that bring us meaning and joy. We’re plodding along, moving forward despite the trauma. Making the best—or better—of our lives. What choice do we have.

Letting go

The swiftly passing month of January motivates me to accomplish my goal of eliminating this desk. So, I pull open another drawer. One I know contains file folders of basic records less laden with emotional traps.

As I sort through old papers, tossing some, shredding others, and thinning down to the most current and necessary ones, my mind wanders. I think of those photographs of my boy and remember the beauty and joy that came before the storms. The sweet smile, the apple cheeks, his bright eyes full of mischief and love.

With the file drawer sorted, I feel complete. One step at a time. I loved this desk. It fit so well in my old office and life.

I ponder the top drawer again and leave it closed. Not today. But soon. I stand back and look at the pretty desk that takes up too much space. Clearing out takes time.

Related reading

Adult children who hate parents: The ties that bind

Moving when you have estranged adult children

Letting go of estranged adult children

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27 thoughts on “Perspective

  1. Boots

    Hi Sheri,

    I hadn’t read this post yet. Getting over a cold and going through emails, so glad I read this. It is so well written. You have a gift! Thank you for sharing it with us. My heart goes out to you. And yes, we don’t have deal things all at once. We can take our time.

    Hugs to you dearest Sheri

  2. Jodi

    I loved this post about finding old pictures. I too find and see old pictures of my ED but unfortunately rather than saving them, I choose to delete them. I look at the pictures and it’s as if it was someone else’s life. I have recently realized that I cannot remember any of the sweet moments that every mother knows of their child growing up. I remember the moments with my sons (not estranged). I can only remember the pain of estrangement and those ugly words she said “her life is better without me”. I sadly wish I could remember some good times. It’s been five years now and my life with her seems like it never happened. I find it hard to wish her anything good in life. I know that sounds horrible coming from a mother. Trying to find forgiveness in my heart but it’s hard. Thank you for listening. This website is so helpful. Some days are just harder than others.

  3. Liz P

    This post is great and reminds me that our physical surroundings really matter a lot! I decided to pack away all my adult daughter’s most special things and throw away the rest (I asked her if she wanted any of it—no reply). It is so nice to have a clean, fresh place with things of my own, photos of my friends and my current activities I enjoy, totally without the painful reminders of the estrangement! Highly recommended.
    Sheri, thank you again for your wonderful book DONE WITH THE CRYING. It really saved me!

  4. Wide-Eyes

    Reading all the posts on this site made me realize that I am not alone in my journey. My daughter and son are estranged from me. I recently went through a divorce from their father and they treat him as a king. They believe every lie he has told them about me. I now live in a different city not too far away from my daughter. I too was going through some of the things I moved with and found cards, photos, and little mementos I saved from years past when things were good. it’s difficult to understand how they could give me cards that say “I’ll always love you”, “your the best Mom ever” “I wouldn’t trade you for the world”. And in the last 4 years they express such disdain towards me. My son has a daughter who turned one in September 2023 and I sent a birthday present to her and he returned the item without ever opening the package. I’ve gotten over that. I appreciate your stories and will continue to read to and take care of me. Thank you.

  5. Sherrie

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post! I recently came across photos of my daughter as a toddler and young girl and took me back to a time when things were good, for a moment. Then, like you, I had to put them away because the hurt and longing came drifting in pulling me down to a place I don’t want to be. My daughter is 29 now. I haven’t seen or heard from her in nearly 10 years. I have moved on and most of the time I’m ok… except when the photos of better times come sneaking in to remind me of what was and what I will never have again.

    1. Hurt Mum in Canada

      This makes me so sad, I am only 1 year in with the estrangement with my daughter and she is almost 19. I cannot imagine this situation stilll happening in 10 years which is why I joined this group. The thought of not seeing her in 10 years overwhlms me with grief.

  6. Lynne B.

    Thanks Sheri. You have a rare talent to break things down so simply…yet the message is so powerful. Metaphorically, my life is your desk right now…just hoping, some day, I can clear it out and find a home where my heart can be safe.

  7. Anna

    Your “desk story”, Sheri, reminds me of the Xmas card my adult son once sent me (while he was living with a not so nice, competitive woman (towards me). His card (now put away in my desk), was of a young boy on a sled in the snow, happy and smiling. His question on the card read, “Don’t you think this looks like me, Mom?” His hidden meaning: “Do you remember how happy I was while growing up and playing on my sled in the snow?” My son was a dream. a happy boy and young man, who was always so courteous and sweet to me. Now he lives with a lunatic woman (seriously, her mother was in and out of a mental hospital & she takes after her in mental illness). Since his marriage to her (15 years now), I’ve only seen him a few times, and each time she lies to him about “something” negative I said to her (which is her paranoia talking), and so he stops calling me, again, and takes sides with her! I’ve given up contacting him after the last painful accusation! There is emptiness now, between us. Sadly, he believes everything she tells him. However, the little boy in the picture still talks to me in my heart, and I remember how precious he was. She can never take that away from me. I believe one day he will leave her and come to his senses, if she doesn’t end his life in some bought of jealousy! I had to let go, some things we cannot change. Memories of him I will always treasure. And a reminder: Children come through us, not from us. (Kahil Gibran). This has allowed me to let go…most of the time.

  8. Stephanie B

    I had been esstranged from my adult daughter who has bipolar, and substance-abuse issues, off and on for the past eight years. Het twin brother and I have had a contentious relationship. He’s narcissistic and sees me as his equal and always disliked me but now we have a permanent estrangement since he is taking care of his disabled father that I am separated from ,he’s angry about that he thinks I should’ve kept the abusive man in my house, not make him the only one in the family that has to deal with him. Now we’ve severed all ties as he has said some pretty, nasty and gut wrenching words in his last email. I was the one always walking on eggshells with him trying to keep a cordial relationship. Not anymore I’m letting that go, but it still sad that I am an estranged from four family members now, one of which is my mother, who has dementia. Trying hard to make this year all about me ,two steps forward one step back unlike last year, which was one step forward one step back.

  9. Sharron M.

    My oldest daughter and I have been estranged for nearly twenty years. Initially I was very hurt. Now I have accepted our disconnect and am fine with it. I would like to get your and the opinions of other readers in regards to including or not including my estranged daughter in my obituary.

    1. Cindy K.

      I am so sorry that you have been separated for 20 years from your daughter. There are numerous reasons to include or not include your daughter in your obituary. I will focus on one reason to do it: A published obituary is a public historical record. As someone who has spent years researching my family trees, published obituaries provide valuable information on blood links, as well as other interesting facts/connections about the deceased. Perhaps a great great grandchild in your future will appreciate knowing. My best to you.

    2. Linda

      It is hard to imagine that we would be asking these questions about obituaries, but you are not alone. I also have been ruminating for a few years about this. Cindy brings up a good point about the historical value that an obituary brings. I am considering that angle for the decision, but recently my husband and I have been discussing no obituary at all. We see problems with all obituary writing: including our estranged adult child, leaving them out, or declaring them as estranged. No choice seems like the right one. In my research about this, I discovered that an obituary is not a required expectation. I am not sure what our path will be, but we are currently making lists of folks who need to be personally notified with our passing. I am also writing letters to a grandchild that I have never met. We have instructions for our survivors to locate this grandchild at age 18 and give them a gift of letters, photos, and historical records. You are a reflective person and the right choice for you will emerge.

    3. NANCY P

      That is a difficult choice.I am 70 and have arranged to donate my body to medical school. As far as an obituary, I plan to list both of my adult children,as they both have been important parts of my life

      My son used to live with my ex and didn’t contact me for ten years. He claimed his Dad had the only phone and would not let him call. I doubt that;I imagine he followed my ex’s wishes

      Now my son has been living with me for 8
      years. His father has estranged him while now catering to my daughter,who has
      ghosted me and her brother for 3+ years.
      So when I wrote my obituary, I included both of them
      My daughter ghosting me doesn’t negate the history we had together
      But you need to decide what is best for you.

    4. Carol

      I’m going to have a simple pure cremation with no service. I don’t want hypocrites there when they have abandoned me in life and never called or visited. I think i will die of a broken heart, as there is no reason for this. My adult children were loving and caring until they got partners. This situation is common now and happening throughout the world, but no one thinks it will happen to them. I certainly didn’t.

  10. Sue

    Ty for bolstering me up, yet again, Sheri, with your helpful piece about Help & Healing.
    In particular, the words, written to you by another parent, were transformative to me. Because my loss was that of a daughter, I’ve changed the wording……this says it all & is how I see it now:

    The girl who loved me.
    The teen who wasn’t sure.
    The woman who doesn’t.

    Thank you again, Sheri …..

    1. Barbara

      Your comment with the above outlook of your child, the teenager, and now the woman. It holds so true for me. Thanks for your words.

  11. Dorrie

    I love this. I have 3 daughters, my youngest has nothing to do with me, my middle talks to me but not about anything important or meaningful and my oldest only talks to me because I have her son. I now have 3 grandchildren, one with me and 2 I don’t know at all. This post hits home for me. I have so many memories of fun, happy times with the 3 of them, they have forgotten all of those. But they clearly remember everything I did wrong. I love the few pictures I have of those times, but I’ve had to stick them in a box or drawer because they bring so much sadness to me. I’d like to start this new year, with change, in a way I wish I could change everything. If only…
    Thank you so much for sharing

  12. Rose

    I have been clearing stuff up for the last 6 yrs. It’s painful at 1st, but I am in a happier place now. I have moved on and am enjoying life. I’ve gotten baptized, joined sbible study group, met people, really enjoying my time. May you all be blessed with peace.

  13. Patricia J.

    This essay is so beautifully written, and I know the pain and thousands of unspoken words that lie beneath the actual print. Thank-you for writing it. I hurt for you.

    Photos are tough. They capture that time before we knew that our beloved children could turn on us or turn away from us. Photographs are both precious and chilling.

    You and I met twice I believe, quite awhile ago. The estrangement with my two twenty-somethings has shifted. I have adapted in some ways and definitely have learned to keep my mouth shut. Some things are worse now than the worst I thought was possible when we consulted. Some things are better. I am committed to loving both of my children from afar, because even though they may not realize it (someday they might) the cruelty of youth cannot sever the love I hold in my heart.

    I would like info on your upcoming groups including any cost.

  14. Diane M.

    Yes, that was a very beautiful post by Sheri. I too am changing things around in my apt. I replaced a lot of the things my estranged daughter and grandkids gave me thru the years. I kept some special ones but packed them away. I have new artwork and different things on display now. I feel so much better with my new things. It really does feel like a new beginning. Plus it was such fun shopping for all these things. No more feeling sentimental after looking at the things they gave me and feeling so sad. Now, I’m so happy. Wishing you all a very happy life, however you choose to spend your time. Happy New Year!

  15. Trish J.

    Sheri, I feel your pain. The way these kids behave to us is beyond understanding. I grew up in a very unhappy place. I was mistreated but would have never considered being disrespectful or estranging myself from any of my childhood family. I have seen things that needed forgiving and I did forgive. I can’t help but think some of my family members are missing a normal button.

    I believe we have something that makes us better than those who are rejecting us. From everything I have read, you, like myself could never do what has been done to us. An older sibling and I took care of both my parents when they were dying. Looking back, I wish I had done even more for them. I just did not have enough knowledge back then or I would have done even better by them. I was in my early 30’s when they both passed.

  16. Soulshine&Daisies

    Sheri, Beautiful post. Absolutely beautiful. I read it thru twice this morning. And will be marking it to go back to again. Thank you.


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