A Father's Role, After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, The Importance of Family

7 Ways My Father Supported His Children Following My Mother’s Death

I was eleven. My brother was thirteen. Mam had been sick for several years and when she died in 1988 my father continued to love and care for us, offering the majority of his time and energy to his bereaved children. Dad did so much for us. I am an independent, capable and compassionate being today as a result of my father’s devotion to his family. Here are seven of the ways my dad supported us as we navigated the challenging period following my mother’s death from cancer.

1. My father kept my mother’s memory alive in our home by holding on to keepsakes & other specific physical objects belonging to my mother. Nothing of hers was removed prematurely. Many of her things remain in our lives to this day. In fact yesterday I wore a lovely purple sweater of hers that I pulled from the closet in our sitting room. Over the years I’ve discovered things belonging to her that surprise me. She lives on in our lives through photographs, cards she received or penned to us, items of clothing, her old but functioning button accordion & other things she valued and loved. My father carefully chose photographs of Mam to frame and place around our home following her death. Every room contains memories of my mother.

2. We spoke about my mother regularly after her passing. Though I didn’t talk about Mam to others she was often mentioned in our home. I sometimes asked questions about her past and Dad answered to the best of his ability. Together we recalled her favorite songs, frequently looked through family photo albums and as we got older we acknowledged the absence her death left.

3. Our friends were always welcome in our home. We spent ample time with our peers both at our house and in theirs. Blessed with wonderful friends who cared about me I spent hours on end laughing with them and having fun. I lost myself in childish games and silliness. Such relief! Dad often drove us around to local events, treated us to train rides and parties and invited my pals on various excursions. To this day my friends recall his warmth and kindness.

4. Outings and adventures were planned. My father took us on trips abroad after Mam died. We visited London, The Isle of Man, Jersey and in later years other countries in Europe such as Italy and Switzerland. Dad took us to visit our cousins in Dublin, Galway, Waterford and Limerick. We went on short boat excursions and joined a walking club. Dad made sure to keep us occupied while at the same time allowing us plenty of down time as needed.

5. We were encouraged to speak our truths and our feelings at home. We didn’t get in trouble for sharing how we felt. As a child I wanted to protect my father and my focus after Mam died was on making sure he was okay. So, I wasn’t about to upset him by revealing too many emotions. But, when I did wish to share something with him he was always there, listening carefully, making no judgments. He gently advised or offered compassion if a solution couldn’t be found. To this day my dad is that same kind, gentle listener. He doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but his listening ear is ready.

6. Dad learned how to cook from my mother. After she died he was able to recreate several of her dishes from scratch such as her famous cod with Taytos dish, her shepherd’s pie and her mashed potatoes with gravy. For years my father cooked so many of her delicious meals for us in our kitchen where once four of us sat together. Eating these same meals, meals my mother served us, allowed for a smoother transition after her death. Not everything was different. Not everything had changed. The food we put into our bodies on a daily basis stayed mostly the same and my mother was remembered at meal times.

7. We were given space. My brother and I had our own rooms and when our doors were closed we didn’t interrupt each other without knocking. Fortunately all three of us enjoyed our own company. We often read, drew, wrote and listened to music by ourselves. This private time was crucial for me. I frequently wrote in my diary and journals releasing all of my emotions on to the page. I liked to draw and color as these activities calmed and soothed me. And I created dance routines in front of the mirror to songs by Irish band Something Happens and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

Father’s Day is upon us once again. I extend my deepest sympathies to those who are without a father today. I understand loss and loneliness and I’m so truly sorry for anyone grieving at this time.

I will celebrate this Father’s Day with my dad in Ireland. It has been years since I was able to spend the day with him and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so today.

Father’s Day is hopefully a time when the culture says, ‘This is our moment to look at who our men and boys are.” -Michael Gurian

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

Continue reading

Standard
Being Kind, Being present for those grieving, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, Support groups

11 Ways to be Present for a Grieving Friend

1.Offer specific help & follow through

Do something helpful. Be of service. Doing practical things such as laundry, picking up groceries or washing the dishes for your friend is often what makes a difference.

2. Send a thoughtful card in the mail

There are no expiration dates for sending cards in the mail. Often it comes as a small blessing to receive it later because your friend is still grieving and everyone else has moved on. Make it loving and personal while avoiding useless clichés.

3. Bring them food

Your friend needs nourishment. Let her know that you are dropping food at her door and continue to do it for as long as you are able, after other people have moved on.

4. Remember important dates

Take note of those dates that your friend will never forget: anniversaries, birthdays and holidays, and pick up the phone or send a message to let them know you are thinking of them.

5. Speak the deceased person’s name

It is a blessing when a friend refers to a deceased loved one because we keep that person’s memory alive in recollections of their time with us. Your friend has not forgotten them, show him that you haven’t either and say that person’s name.

6. Let them talk. Listen

Bear witness, and allow your friend to be upset, angry, or to say nothing at all. Offer your compassion and presence, not a solution. There is no solution.

7. Be mindful

Sometimes people want to help but they don’t know what to say. Grief is messy. Be sensitive. What would you want to talk about in similar circumstances? What topic might be difficult for your friend to discuss right now? Watch your friend for cues. Pay attention to their body language. Or just ask.

8. Be patient

People often need to sit in the darkness for a while. Be a kind friend and sit with them.

9. Recall memories

If you have a memory of the deceased person, share it with your friend. It helps to recall moments of joy or hilarity. To a grieving person it is a gift.

10. Make introductions

When the time is right suggest some online support groups to your friend, or give him the name of a highly regarded local therapist. If you know someone in similar circumstances introduce them. It can be of great support to a grieving individual to meet new people or other families with similar experiences.

11. Continue to show up

After everyone else is gone be there for your friend. She is still grieving.

You can do this & together we will make the world a more loving, open, caring place! Hugs,

Carmel X

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

Standard
After Mother Loss, Being there for someone who has lost a mother, Childhood grief, Connecting through grief, Death, Fatherless Sons, Grief stories, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss

Motherless Daughter. Fatherless Son.

Several weeks ago following a public reading where I read an essay I had written about childhood mother loss a young woman approached and told me, through tears, how optimistic she felt on seeing me read in front of so many people. It wasn’t just the story I had written, she said, though it really moved her, what she felt most optimistic about was seeing me, apparently doing so well today, following such a traumatic loss in my early life. I thanked her and told her I appreciated her coming to the reading. She nodded, clearly upset and I realized there was more to her interaction with me than I initially thought.

“My best friend just lost her battle with cancer,” she blurted. “Now, there is a little eight year old girl without a mother.”

“Oh I’m so sorry to hear that,” I responded, my palm automatically moving to my heart.

“Yes, it’s very sad. Every day is a struggle. But your reading gave me hope. To see you stand up there, after all these years and to hear you express yourself, what you went through, so articulately…I know she’ll be okay now.”

I thanked the lady and told her how sorry I was for her loss and for the little girl’s loss. I wanted to tell her if she needed anything to let me know, but sometimes it’s difficult to do that with a stranger because people are private and wish to deal with things their own way. Also, there isn’t a lot I can do because I can’t bring a mother back and that is all anybody really wants. I mentioned my blog and my FB page where I post regularly on grief and mother loss. I don’t know if she has visited either but I think of our interaction often. I’m glad my essay moved that lady, and gave her hope. We often have no idea in any given moment who needs our stories the most.

I’m glad the little girl has a caring, nurturing woman to look out for her. I hope they are thriving in this world that manages to break our hearts wide open with sorrow while continuing to gift us with tremendous joy and love. The lady told me that even though the girl is only eight she loves to pen stories about her mother. It was my turn to shed a tear. Her mother will not be forgotten.

Many children draw or create art from pain and sadness, as we adults do. One little boy I had in Kindergarten a few years ago drew his way through his father’s terminal illness. And when the little boy came to visit me after transitioning to first grade he carried with him a picture of his dad, drawn in yellow and brown crayons.

“How is your dad?” I asked him, taking the picture into my hands and admiring the portrait.

“He died,” he said simply.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, reaching out and giving the little boy a hug. “How are you?”

“Okay,” he said, before quickly changing the subject. He told me I could keep the picture. I knew he wanted to tell me about his dad but it was easier for him to show me a drawing than tell me straight out. Art is a way for our hearts to speak when words can’t explain the depth of our grieving.

That little girl will have her own story to live and tell, as will that first grade boy, as I have mine, and you have yours. We carry within us a blend of such sad stories and very beautiful ones.

20190116_151618.jpg

We are all tremendously resilient. Spread your wings and fly loves! Or crawl at first, if that is what you can manage. Take a deep, deep inhale and let go. Drop those shoulders. Pick up a pencil. We inspire others by being brave and sharing our creations. I’ve learned, and continue to learn so much from humans of all ages and walks of life. I’ve always believed in my inner strength and knowing. I have known heartbreaking sadness and I’ve experienced life’s most precious joys. Don’t give up story-makers, dream-creators, resilient beautiful beings! We’re all on this Mother Earth together and we can help each other. Now fly!

Carmel X

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

Standard
Childhood grief, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Support groups

Sit for a While in the Darkness

Every day I am inspired by the kindness and sincerity of individuals wishing to offer support and compassion to those hurting and grieving online. Yes, I am referring to the internet, where there appears to be no end to the cruel mean rants of trolls and other nasty, insensitive folk. But when I take time to visit inspiring online support groups and individual pages where trolls are blocked and safe spaces abide I witness offerings of empathy, compassion and reassurance. This is encouraging.

When somebody close to us dies and our lives are in turmoil we aren’t looking for people to make things better. What we need is people who are willing to admit that life is hard, to sit with us in the dark, to call and check in, to let us know we are in their thoughts. Sometimes people don’t have friends in their lives who understand the grieving process and here is where the specific support groups online allow for connections and understanding between folk who ‘get it’.

Spending time with our grief and allowing for all types of feelings is a key part of the healing journey. You don’t need to know how you are feeling when somebody asks. You don’t need to have any answers. Your answers will change from moment to moment and day to day. There is nothing linear about the grieving process. Some days will whisper beauty while others will overwhelm and send floods of tears. Your heart is broken; it is okay to take as much time as you need, and it’s okay to not have things figured out.

People who are capable of offering empathy, kindness and understanding are a gift to those who carry a weight so heavy they cannot fathom how to get through the darkest hours. Phone-calls and check-ins, plans to get together and letting a friend know you are there for her if she needs to call are all ways to make a difference to someone who is sad and mourning. It helps a grieving person to know that she is being thought of, especially months down the line when most people have forgotten or think she has forgotten the loss.

Screenshot_20181029-235522_Facebook

My mother died when I was eleven years old and I continually revisit things I thought I understood about death and grief. There are so many layers to loss and grieving and I am still peeling back those layers more than thirty years on. I think of my mother every day and I still miss her though the floods of tears are rare now. I went through a period of crying a lot. It came years after my loss. It came upon me completely unexpectedly. I cried through the confusion and anger and wrote grief onto the page. The darkness of losing my mother to ovarian cancer when I was so young continually pushes me into the light and through writing I work to reach others who have lost someone they love. I want to let them know they are not alone and they too will get through the heartache.

“Where we’re broken…that’s where the light comes in and the love leaks out.” – Anthony Martignetti

The process of grieving takes time and nobody should feel under pressure to move through it quickly. It just doesn’t work that way. Grief therapy can be very helpful for some people and a number of online support groups exist allowing people to voice their heartbreak to a network of people who understand loss. It is heartwarming to read the sincere, encouraging messages from others who can empathize. Strangers can reach out across oceans to offer words of comfort to those in need. What a beautiful thing!

Much of the deep grieving we must undertake alone. We need to sit with the darkness and pain, to allow it, to sob it and scream it and feel the deep down aches in every cell of our body.

It isn’t easy.

It is very painful.

But the light that is you will find its way to the surface when you are ready.

~Carmel X

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

Standard
In honor of my mother, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Wedding Day Without My Mother, Without my mother

15 Ways to Honor Your Deceased Mother on Your Wedding Day

Many of us imagine that our wedding day will be one of the best days of our lives. But for women whose mothers have died, navigating the wedding planning and the big day can be difficult and painful. My mother died when I was eleven years old, obviously several years before I was ready to even consider getting married, but her absence from my wedding preparations at thirty nine years of age was felt throughout the process, and on the beautiful day itself. I know there are many motherless women excited for their wedding day while at the same time experiencing a range of emotions from anxiety and dread to sorrow and anger. Women have asked my advice on how best to honor their mothers during the ceremony. Here are fifteen ideas:

1.Place a favorite photograph of your mother in a pretty frame and place it on the ceremony table facing you and the guests throughout the celebration. You can glance at that photograph, see her face, and know she is with you in spirit.

Dublin Ireland

2. My father and I picked flowers from our garden at home, including two beautiful red roses that came from my maternal grandfather’s rose bush – a gift to my parents many moons before. My husband and I held these roses during the Rose Ceremony and the flowers were displayed in an old pottery jug of my mother’s which was placed on the table next to her photograph. Did your mother have a garden? Or something special of hers that you can incorporate into the ceremony?

Dublin Ireland

3. My husband and I displayed photographs of our parents on their wedding days and these were moved throughout the day depending on the celebration, for example, they were next to our wedding cake later in the evening.

Dublin Ireland

4. My mother’s name was included in our wedding booklet where we mentioned the parents of the bride and groom. My mother was not going to be at my wedding but she is still one of my parents and there was no question about having her name on the booklet. (Many people choose to omit the names of the deceased and focus only on those in attendance.)

5. A month before our wedding I attended a Motherless Daughter’s Retreat with Hope Edelman, Claire Bidwell Smith and twenty one other motherless daughters in beautiful Ojai, California. I attended the retreat in order to bond with other women who understood the pain of early mother loss. The timing was right for me as the build-up to our wedding had sent a flood of fresh grievances my way. In a little shop in Ojai I came across a gorgeous handbag, perfect for my wedding outfit. I purchased it some days later and on my special day I carried the handbag with me along with the love, understanding and best wishes of my new tribe of motherless sisters. Are you a member of a motherless daughters’ group? There are many of these groups now, all over the USA and internationally. Or perhaps you have a friend whose mother died? She may be able to offer you comfort that nobody else can offer on the day. Keep her close.

6. Months before our wedding I ordered a gorgeous Candle of Remembrance from an Irish company and chose the image and the wording (from a selection) that best suited my mother. I lit the candle in my mother’s honor when the celebrant mentioned her name and her absence at the beginning of the ceremony. Many companies offer Remembrance Candles.

Dublin Ireland

7. A few years after my mother died I found a stunning ring of hers that fit me perfectly. I’ve worn it every day since then and I wore it on my wedding day. Do you wear something that once belonged to your mother? I find it very comforting to wear her ring daily.

8. I wanted to incorporate another piece of my mother’s jewelry into my outfit and with the help of local designer Holly Stalder we came up with the idea of creating a pretty hairpiece using my mother’s costume jewelry brooch and some fabric pieces similar to my wedding dress. This was a fun endeavor and I love the result so much!

20180814_171050

9. My father mentioned my mother in his speech and it proved to be a special, important moment for me; honoring Mam by speaking of her in front of family and friends. My bridesmaid who is one of my best friends since our earliest years also spoke of Mam and honored her memory with beautiful, touching words of remembrance. I spoke of Mam briefly during my speech and it felt good to bring her memory into the space.

10. Having my father present on my wedding day, being there to walk me up the aisle and offer his joy, love and best wishes to my husband and me, our guests and our friends, meant the world to me. My mother chose a wonderful husband, a man who would look after their two children with a kind heart and who would honor their love by being the best dad he could be. My mother would have been proud, and very grateful. Not everyone will have the presence of a father on their wedding day, but perhaps you have a brother, a sister, a grandparent or someone else who loves you and can support you on the day.

14458892_10154138655127968_1859234802_n

These are some of my favorite ways other women have honored their mothers on their wedding day:

11. Re-stage one of your mother’s wedding pictures. I love this idea and if I had thought of it prior to my wedding I would have attempted it.

12. Sew a heart from a piece of your mother’s fabric onto the inside of your wedding gown. That way you can hold a piece of your mother very close.

13. Wear a locket containing her photograph or attach it to your bouquet.

14. Hold a moment of silence in her memory.

15. Lace your mother’s wedding band into your gown. This one can look really beautiful.

Our wedding day proved to be one of my favorite days ever. I know my mother would want that for me. I hope this post can give other motherless daughters ideas but I also want to offer encouragement and support. Love is a blessing and our special unions in life are gifts. The day passes so quickly. Focus on all the positive, love-filled aspects of the day if you can.

Sending love and best wishes for your special day,

~Carmel X

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

Photo credits to Jefferies photography, Ireland and Annie Bracken (last image)

Standard
Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Motherless Daughter

Connecting Through Grief

Recently an article I wrote about a moving grief connection I had with my L.A. Lyft driver was published in Modern Loss. I wrote and shared that story “Mother Loss and My Lyft Driver” because the powerful, albeit brief, conversation the Lyft driver and I had has stayed with me since, and the interaction occurred two years ago. Hesitant to talk about my writing career when the Lyft driver asked me what it is I do, I mentioned only that I am a writer, hoping he would move on from that and ask no more questions. For those of us who have experienced the death of someone close to us, we understand the feeling of awkwardness and discomfort that comes with relating a loss. We don’t want to make anybody feel bad as we explain how we’ve lost one of the most important people in our lives. We don’t want to ruin anyone’s day, or be a Debbie Downer.

But as more of us write about our grief experiences and talk about death more openly we are seeing that the majority of people do really want to talk about a loss they have suffered. Since writing the story “Mother Loss and My Lyft Driver” I have experienced another grief conversation in a Lyft, also in L.A. with a young lady who brought up the topic herself. When I asked how her day was going she told me she was in a lot of pain. Her back was giving her trouble. I asked if it was related to work but she said it was mostly a result of stress and grief. I listened as she opened her heart to me on the drive to LAX. Her beloved father had died a couple of years before and her mother died when she was a child. This young lady moved to the USA from Syria when she was seventeen and was now trying to make a new life for herself. She was struggling. Before I got out of the car at LAX I told her that my mother died when I was eleven and so I understood her sorrow and pain, although it was different to mine. She put a hand to her heart and started to sob. I offered my card explaining that I write about mother loss and grief and I encouraged her to contact me if she needed to talk more. I said I knew people; grief therapists and councilors who may be able to help her. She thanked me and placed my card in her purse. I never did hear from her but I still think of her and I hope she is doing okay. Perhaps by allowing her the time to talk, by listening to her story when she needed to release so much helped in some way.

The Lyft driver I wrote about in my published piece wanted to talk about his loss also. Words of nostalgia and love for his dead mother poured from him as he drove me to my hotel that sunny day in L.A. I believe we both felt better after our grief chat.

Sometimes people don’t feel like talking about a loss. That’s understandable. There are times when I want to talk about my mother’s death and times when I don’t. But I now believe more folks than we think long for a safe space to grieve, to share memories of their loved ones passed and to be granted the opportunity to revisit these memories whether they bring tears, comfort or laughter.

And if you are a listener all you need to do is that; listen. You really can’t get that wrong. By listening you are acknowledging another human being’s pain. That in itself is a true gift to give somebody.

As Cheryl Strayed once said “Compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love that you got.”

Listening is one way to give love.

And as my friend Emily, who also understands loss and the sidestepping of grief conversations said “It’s refreshing and builds connection when we lean into these conversations.”

So let’s refresh and lean in to grief conversations together.

Carmel X

(Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.)

Standard
After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Motherless Daughter, Support groups, Write to heal

Childhood Grief Honored Through Words

“Is Carmel afraid of death? No. Is Carmel afraid of what may come after death? No. What is Carmel afraid of?
Lucy has her eyes closed as she poses questions to the healers and spirits from alternative dimensions, messengers who connect with Lucy in her healing room when she calls upon them. She must ask the right questions in order to receive the correct answers…”

I’m honored to have a prose piece I wrote, titled Witnessing Carmel, published in VoiceCatcher today. The article is centered on childhood mother loss and it’s lasting effects, the persistent anxiety that follows and a deep down desire to heal.

It’s not an easy thing to spill our hearts onto paper and show our vulnerable side to a world of strangers, but it is through truth telling and sharing our heart stories that we reach and connect with other hearts, and so I keep doing this.

Two years ago, in June 2016, I had the pleasure of working with Hope Edelman and Jennifer Lauck at Blackbird Studio in Portland, Oregon. Back then I was editing my memoir A Lovely Woman and I attended the weekend writer’s course to receive  guidance and encouragement from two spectacular authors of memoir, Hope and Jennifer. Both have written about mother loss and grief. The experience of working with other writers, the majority of whom shared similar themes to my story: grief, mother loss, trauma, hope, love and connection, was a worthwhile, emotional and joyful experience. I formed life-long connections at that workshop, learned a lot and received valuable insights through the sharing of our stories.

Hope at Blackbird studios.jpg

(Photo taken by Blackbird Studios)

I have always been a writer. I’ve kept a daily diary since I was ten years old, months before my mother died. I write every day and though that writing isn’t always in the form of memoir my life-long experiences continue to shape my words. As the late and much respected Portland author Ursula K. Le Guin said:

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

I am grateful to VoiceCatcher for appreciating my voice and publishing my truth story. In Witnessing Carmel I detail a particular occasion when I went in search of healing and discovered something profound that I’d never fully understood. Anxiety around illness and death has followed me into adulthood from a young age, but it’s understandable, as Lucy the healer tells me, it’s completely understandable.

(Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.)

Standard