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Save the Children: Julianne Moore on U.S. Poverty, Being 50, and Losing Her Mom

Actress/author Julianne Moore puts her heart into family, career, and improving children's lives this Valentine's Day.

A Daughter's Loss: Moore's Mother Dies

Always close to her family, Moore has turned to them even more since the sudden death of her mother, Anne Love Smith, in April 2009. "It was horrible, completely out of the blue," Moore says. "She collapsed at work, went into the hospital, and died the next day. I'm still not over the shock of her being there one day and the next day gone. My dad called me that night at midnight, and she was fine at the hospital. The next morning she couldn't get on the phone because she was short of breath, but then later I was able to talk to her. She said, 'Hi, Julie,' and that was the last time I talked to her."

Moore was devastated. "I stopped sleeping. I didn't sleep at all. I didn't know what to do about it," she says. Eventually, a combination of acupuncture, therapy, and yoga -- accompanied by time spent with friends and some good wine -- helped her through the loss. "When you go through big life stuff like that, you have to throw everything you can at it." Ashtanga yoga is her favorite de-stressor. "It's a place where I can be quiet in my head, but I also have to concentrate so hard, it's like a form of meditation. If you let your mind wander, you fall over."

Moore's choice of several support sources was a wise approach, says Robert Hedaya, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "The death of her mother is one of the most vulnerable times in a woman's life. That's the hardest time to take care of yourself, but it's also the most important time. That means finding a support system and setting time aside for relationships that matter."

For Moore, one of those relationships is with her younger sister, Valerie. Remember that crazy schedule Moore is juggling? She just learned she has to sandwich one more commitment in between wrapping up the film on Wednesday and starting her book tour on Monday: a lightning-fast jaunt to Paris with Valerie. "It's not making any sense for me to go, I should really not go, but I feel like, ‘Why not?’ You could be dead, so just do it. That's my attitude now. Jam those things in. Just do it."

Missing Mom: Coping With the Loss of a Mother

For many women, the death of a mother is a unique and devastating loss they continue struggling with as the years go by. If you're a "motherless mother," like Julianne Moore, how can you cope?

Take time to heal. Don't put pressure on yourself to "get over it." "The acute phase of grief may take from three to six months, but when a mother is lost, that grieving process can continue for years," says Elisabeth Kunkel, MD, a professor of psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. That's OK -- as long as extended grieving isn't keeping you from functioning in your life.

Set the date. Be especially gentle with yourself around birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays -- times when the loss of Mom can be particularly acute.

Seek out role models. Reach out to female mentors -- older women who can never replace mom but can provide some of the same life experience, support, and guidance. "Women seem to find 'other mothers' when they lose their own," says Hedaya. "It might be at church, at work, or in a support group. You want someone who's from a different generation, whom you respect and trust."

Reviewed on December 27, 2011

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