Sitting in the crematorium at her mother's funeral, Maxine Harley felt nothing. No swell of emotion in her chest, or sting of tears.

In fact, she experienced only simple relief that, at last, the woman who'd given birth to her had died.

Not relief in the way that many experience it when a loved one has been torturously ill and no longer has to suffer, but rather a growing sense of ease that she would no longer have to endure her mother.

Inevitably, there were those at the funeral who interpreted her lack of emotion as cruel, but what they didn't know is that Maxine, now 61, had already spent a lifetime grieving for the warmth and affection her mother had never shown her.


"Growing up, there had been no expressions of love, no bedtime stories or soothing cuddles when I was ill,' recalls Maxine, a psychotherapist who is single and lives in Sussex. But she dotes on her own daughter, 31, and her grandson, nine.

"At the funeral I didn't even pretend to cry. When I overheard two women sitting behind me saying how cold and heartless I was, I thought, 'If only you knew why I don't cry! I've learned not to cry — and right now I have nothing to cry about'.

"I struggle to even refer to her as my mother, and have no memory of ever feeling cherished by her or my father."

I've felt more sadness when I've lost pet dogs

"Instead they offered slaps, punches, kicks and burns. Why would I grieve for people who did that to me?"

As a society we're not very good at discussing bereavement, let alone the phenomenon of not grieving for someone when it's deemed we should. And while academic research often cites the death of a parent as one of life's most stressful events, Maxine's experience isn't unusual.

According to bereavement therapist Andy Langford, how we grieve is deeply personal. 'There are significant factors that affect whether and how we grieve.

'No two people will ever react to death in the same way,' explains Andy, who is chief operating officer at Cruse Bereavement Care, the UK's leading bereavement charity. 'Every situation is so remarkably different and we can't assume one person will experience the loss of a parent in the same way as the next.

'The relationship they had with that person when they were alive, and the circumstances around it, will impact how they feel. Although some people don't grieve for the individual, they may grieve for what they wished they'd had in their relationship with them, mourning for how they wish their mother or father had been.'


Maxine was the second of four children, and her parents, a policeman and a housewife who went on to own a grocery business together, were in their 20s when she was born. "I remember sitting on the stairs when I was 11 and overhearing my mother say to my father how much she hated me. I knew then that nothing was going to change,' recalls Maxine.

"When I was 15 she bought me a suitcase and told me to leave, but I couldn't until I was 16 and got a job, first in a supermarket and then the civil service, where I climbed the ladder and could afford to rent somewhere.

"I can talk about it dispassionately as I've done a lot of work over the years to come to terms with it."

After leaving home, Maxine maintained distant contact until her parents' deaths — she was 25 when her father died, and in her late 30s when her mother did. "I don't even remember the month or year. She'd had pancreatic cancer and when I got a call from my older sister to let me know she'd died I thought, 'OK, fine', before getting back to work with my clients," Maxine says.

"I went to her funeral out of duty, but I've felt more sadness when I've lost pet dogs. It was a blessing to me that they both died young, aged 52 and 62 respectively. The only mourning I did was for the childhood I didn't have because of them. I'd been an emotional orphan all my life and they had been 'dead' to me well before they died. My only sadness is that I'll never know what it feels like to be loved by a parent, and there are so many other people in the same situation."

Maxine admits that becoming a mother herself aged 30 was the greatest antidote to her own childhood. When she held her daughter she just couldn't understand how her parents could have been so uncaring.

"I cherished everything, especially the little things such as reading fairy stories to my daughter and watching a family movie or children's TV, because nobody had ever done those things with me," she adds.

"I have friends who've grieved hard when their parent has died. In a way I feel lucky that I don't have to experience that intensity of grief and loss. But at the same time they are the lucky ones to have known such love from a parent."

Consultant practitioner psychologist Ingrid Collins says that for many of us the idea of not being loved as a child, or of not giving love as a parent, is incomprehensible.

"It's tragic that there are parents who choose to miss out on the privilege of giving and receiving love from their children, for whatever reasons.

"If there is a strong bond between parent and child, when the parent dies it's going to hurt like hell once the initial numbness and disbelief passes.

"Without that bond, though, the likelihood is that the adult child has probably grieved all their lives for the love that they never had from their parent."

Retired curtain-maker Lula Carr, 63, felt indifferent when her mother died in 2006 after a loveless upbringing.

I felt nothing for this woman who had been so unpleasant

"Although I was well-fed and clothed as a child, essentially my mother didn't love me," says Lula, who lives in Twickenham, South-West London with her second husband Barry, 61, a painter and decorator.

They have four children between them, aged 32 to 40.

"One of my earliest memories is of having mumps and whooping cough at the same time when I was three years old. I called out in pain for my mother but she simply shouted: 'Sleep, because I'm busy now!' then shut the bedroom door.

"I remember thinking: 'That's it, I really am on my own. There's no point calling out for her as she's not going to come.'

"She was jealous of any attention my father gave me and would tell me I was useless and that I had a big nose and heavy thighs. She questioned what man would ever want me. I did gymnastics competitions but she never once came to watch."

"When I was ten my parents split up for a few weeks and Dad went to stay with a friend. He took me out one day and, to my astonishment, held my hand as we walked through a park and even bought me two doughnuts. After that I longed to be with him.

"When I was older, with a family of my own, Dad would come and stay with us every summer. After my mother died in 2006 I finally felt free to explore my relationship with him away from her jealous glare.

"One day I was pottering in the garden when I got a text from him to say my mother had died. I just thought, 'Oh, that's it then', and got on with my life.

I didn't go to my father's funeral or shed any tears

'We had a small family funeral, but I felt nothing for this woman who had been so terribly unpleasant to me.'

Like Maxine, it was when Lula became a mum herself that she realised the extent of her own mother's unkindness.

'When I had my first baby I looked at her in my arms and told her I was going to be the mummy that I wished I'd had,' she recalls.

'I'm close to my two daughters and raised them to believe they have the world at their feet, while encouraging them to have the confidence to deal with any blows life throws at them — all the things I deserved from my own parents as a child.'

It was a different story for Alyson Reay, 53, who conversely was bereft when her mother died suddenly in 1999, but felt nothing for her father when he died almost three years ago.

Alyson had always deeply missed her father since he left her mum for a colleague when she was five years old, after which she didn't see him for more than 25 years.

"The day my father left was the only time I ever saw Mum cry. I remember standing behind the curtains and crying as he walked away."

Her father kept in touch with birthday and Christmas presents and occasional letters. His absence caused Alyson great angst and, at 30, she decided she wanted to build a relationship with him.

Eventually, after writing to one another and speaking on the phone, they met at a restaurant in Bristol near where she lived at the time.

By then her father was remarried with two more children and lived in Jersey.

"I wanted to like him and for it to be a warm, residual love, like you see in reunions on TV, but it wasn't there," she says.

"He brought photos of his new family and talked a lot about them but didn't ask much about my life."