Being present for those grieving, Childhood grief, Grief talk, Mother Loss, National Children's Grief Awareness Day

How to Support Grieving Children at School

November 18, 2021 is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day & I’d like to highlight how destabilizing an experience it is for a child to lose a parent, guardian, sibling or loved one. Those of us who lost a parent in childhood attest to the relentless, long-term nature of grief. It has been almost 34 years since since my mother died and I still miss her. In my youth I worried incessantly about the wellbeing of my devoted & loving father. Having witnessed a heartbreaking loss at a very early age I knew what death meant.

As a young girl whose mother had just died I’d like to point to five things that would have helped me feel safer and cared for at school.

1. Kind, caring, compassionate words from a teacher such as “How are you doing today, Carmel?” “What would make you feel happy/comfortable in class today, Carmel?” “Would you like to sit beside your friend for the day?” “Let me know if you’d like to take a break to read your book/draw a picture or listen to some music during class.”

2. More options for creative, expressive learning such as art classes, physical education, dramatic play and games. I craved artistic outlets and longed for more time to run around with my classmates outdoors. Basically, I wanted to express myself through play and play is key to healing.

3. Flexibility around homework. We were assigned a lot of homework when I was in school. I always completed it, but the amount of time spent on evening schoolwork frustrated me when I could have been playing or spending time with my family.

4. A listening ear or a message of encouragement can go a long way toward comforting a child. Had I been assigned a particular person in school, a concerned, kind teacher perhaps, who checked in with me every day for the first few weeks after Mam’s death, I believe this would have made a huge impact on my experience at school.

5. Introductions to friends who had also experienced a profound loss, or groups set up to support grieving children in the school.

Things have changed since I attended school in 80’s and 90’s Ireland. I know improvements have been made since and yet most teachers do not receive grief training. I was fortunate because I had my dad, but some youths don’t have adults at home who offer them the care they need and deserve. For me home was safe while at school I experienced anxiety and unease. Children deserve to feel safe and kindness goes a long way.

Thankfully today there are many wonderful organizations dedicated to supporting grieving children. Check out this past blog post for more information on grief support groups and helpful organizations.

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.

Carmel Breathnach is a freelance writer and former elementary school teacher, born in Ireland and living in Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.A. degree in English literature and Irish language studies from NUI Maynooth, and a Diploma in Education from St. Patrick’s College, Dublin. Carmel writes on the themes of childhood mother loss, grief and gratitude. Her work has appeared in The Irish Times, Huffington Post, Upworthy, Scary Mommy, Voice Catcher, Modern Loss and Pendemic.ie, as well as in the anthology Hidden Lights published by Golden Dragonfly Press. Carmel is currently working on a memoir about mother loss titled Briefly I Knew My Mother.

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10 Books For Motherless Daughters, Being present for those grieving, Childhood grief, Children grieve, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, National Children's Grief Awareness Day

10 More Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters

Over twenty thousand readers have visited my blog post “10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters” in search of books they might relate to, stories to inspire, guide and/or comfort them as they make their way in the world without their mother. I frequently hear from people who have come upon the blog post, grateful for the book suggestions, mostly memoirs, by authors such as Hope Edelman, Claire Bidwell Smith, Robin Romm, Cheryl Strayed and others. It has been a few years since I wrote that blog post and in the interim more books have been published on the topic of mother loss. A few oldies came to my attention recently too, and I’m excited to share ten of my favorites here in my second blog of recommended books for those whose mothers have died. Some of these books specifically address profound loss in childhood. Some address the loss of either parent or a close family member, but I’m creating this blog post specifically with mother loss in mind.

Visit my Instagram page here or my Goodreads page for more information on each of these gorgeous books, listed below in no particular order.

This month is Children’s Grief Awareness month designed to draw awareness towards the needs of grieving children. Grieving children often go unnoticed. It appears they are thriving and in some instances they are but children who have lost a parent or sibling carry a burden many people have no idea how to address. Check out the book list below and visit these websites here and here for more information on children and grief, and here for an organization which supports girls whose mothers have died. Check out these websites for support and advice on mother loss and the grief journey.

  1. Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder

A unique and relatable graphic novel on mother loss. Tyler was a teenager when her mother fell ill and died. If you don’t already, follow Tyler on Instagram now. Her clever and colorful illustrations are poignant, humorous and brilliant.

2. The Art of Reassembly by Peg Conway

When a young mother dies, leaving behind three little children & a spouse, everything changes in the blink of an eye. Peg was only 7 when her mom died & as I read these pages my heart broke for the author, her nurturing mom and Peg’s family. Losing a mother early in life creates many challenges and Peg shares her challenges with us in an honest, open and direct way. Her vulnerability offers many truths, truths that usually aren’t spoken aloud. The Art of Reassembly will be published on November 9, 2021 just in time for Children’s Grief Awareness day, and look at that gorgeous cover!

3. The AfterGrief by Hope Edelman

The Aftergrief is packed with stories, knowledge, useful new grief terms and insights about the long arc of loss. It is an easy and pleasant read. By quoting many experts in the field of bereavement and conducting extensive interviews with people who experienced grief in the past, the author shows us the various ways grief can surprise us, guide us, upset us and possibly even help us, as we make our way in life following a significant loss. Another gem by Hope Edelman.

4. Never the Same: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Parent by Donna Schuurman, the Senior Director of Advocacy & Training at Dougy Center.

“Many kids following a death experience difficulty concentrating or find themselves disinterested in school as well as other activities they once enjoyed. This makes a lot of sense to me. How interesting can academics be when you’ve just buried your father? How relevant can math feel when your mother just died?” 💔

I SO relate to this & have shared stories on podcast interviews about my frustrated school teachers upset that, only a week after burying my mother, I couldn’t focus on my maths equations!

5. Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

A unique and beautifully written memoir about mother loss, grief, domestic violence, race, misogyny and family. This memoir broke my heart. An important and powerful story.

6. The Loss that is Forever by Maxine Harris

Maxine Harris, an esteemed clinical psychologist, examines the lifelong impact of the early death of a mother or father. Harris explores the impact this loss has on every aspect of adult growth and development. For a child who loses a parent “Love and loss are no longer separate and distinct.” There is often “delayed mourning and a release of feelings that have been locked away for many years.” And this resonates personally for me: “the individual engages in a creative act or a life project that seems directly related to the loss and represents an attempt to master the experience of early trauma.” This might be why I’ve been so compelled to write my memoir BRIEFLY I KNEW MY MOTHER.

7. Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

This beauty really surprised me. I bought it because, well I love everything Kelly Corrigan writes, but I’d no idea how much the stories would resonate. Themes covered beautifully in this book are loss, love, grief, childhood grief, mother loss and ovarian cancer. I cried more reading this book than I have in a long time. It’s full of hard truths, deep insights and gentle reminders.

8. Garden of Grief by Lori Koidahl

Lori wrote this book in memory of her mother whom she was particularly close to and who was killed tragically by a reckless driver while waiting to cross the street. This book reminds us all of the preciousness of life, the tragedies that might suddenly befall us and the ways Lori fought to keep her mother’s memory alive. The chapter related to careless driving was informative, upsetting and eye-opening. We have a lot of work to do to keep our communities safe and responsible driving plays a huge part.

9. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

A different kind of book, with the storyline based on a plane crash resulting in the death of everyone but a young boy who must now forge ahead without his beloved mother, father and brother. This one is fiction.

10. A Kid’s Book About Death by Taryn Schuelke

This one is for children who have experienced loss, are terminally ill themselves or are curious about what death means. Suitable for ages 5+ this book is written by a grief and bereavement specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital and explores what death is and how it makes us feel. We want to avoid such discussions with children but it’s important to be open and honest and Taryn guides readers in a simple, beautiful way. “Remember that life is like a story. Just because the book closes doesn’t mean you forget what the story was or the way it made you feel.”

I’m preparing to query my own memoir on early mother loss, after over six years of writing and editing. The title is Briefly I Knew My Mother and it tells the story of my youth in Ireland, growing up with a terminally ill but determined and loving mother, a supportive, kind father, school teachers who had no idea of how to communicate with an anxious and (at eleven years old) grieving child and my eventual move to Portland, Oregon.

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.

Carmel Breathnach is a freelance writer and former elementary school teacher, born in Ireland and living in Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.A. degree in English literature and Irish language studies from NUI Maynooth, and a Diploma in Education from St. Patrick’s College, Dublin. Carmel writes on the themes of childhood mother loss, grief and gratitude. Her work has appeared in The Irish Times, Huffington Post, Upworthy, Scary Mommy, Voice Catcher, Modern Loss and Pendemic.ie, as well as in the anthology Hidden Lights published by Golden Dragonfly Press. Carmel is currently working on a memoir about mother loss titled Briefly I Knew My Mother.

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Childhood grief, Children grieve, Grief, Grief talk, Long term impacts of grief, Motherloss

Holding Space for Younger Me

How has your summer been? Life for me has continued at its current slow and steady pace. We’re mostly staying home, my husband and I wrapped in our little bubble, attempting to keep ourselves and others safe. Lots of swimming outdoors, time immersed in nature and dedicated morning and evening meditation time has proved to be healing and enjoyable. I’m reading a lot and I received very positive feedback on my memoir-in-progress from an editor a few weeks ago. The work continues, and I’m feeling optimistic and hopeful about my book. I’ve been taking some extended social media breaks and though I’ve enjoyed the sense of freedom away from my phone I’ve missed the online community of friends I cherish and value, so I’m back again, for another while anyway.

Like everyone, I have my struggles too. We all do. Nobody knows what another person is carrying. However, with everything going on in the world today, and some countries suffering so terribly, I regularly offer gratitude for the blessings I have. Life can be so very painful at times and brutal for some. Those of us with sensitive hearts can barely take the cruelty across the globe, our heads spinning at the disregard for life, insufferable grief and torment. My daily meditations with a candle lighting and a background of soft music is a must these days. Holding space for others. Holding space for me.

I’ve been practicing an exercise a healer once recommended to me. Above my writing desk, attached to a black polka dot pinboard is one of two photographs I have of me when I was four years old, about to head off to school for the first time. In this photograph I’m holding the strap of a red canvas bag in both of my hands, the bag resting on my brown shoes. My hair, perfectly combed, barely touches my shoulder and I’m wearing a long-sleeved brown dress. The September morning was unusually sunny, my bare legs are visible beneath my frock. Smiling and excited I pose for the camera outside our home, an old window frame in the background. This innocent and happy little girl is the one I picture when I recall the early years of my mother’s illness.

Several years ago a spiritual healer guided me in a healing session. She knew I carried emotional trauma from witnessing my mother’s prolonged illness and the worry I carried as a little one, until my mother died when I was eleven. The healer directed me to close my eyes and picture myself as a little girl, to invite little me into my arms and tell her she is safe. I attempted this comforting act then, and a year ago a therapist recommended the exact same exercise. I’ve since read articles about the benefits of trying this and when I’m in the moment, arms wrapped around little Carmel, explaining to her that I’m here for her, that she (we) (I) will be okay, a sense of peace falls over me, unlike any other. Now I take ten minutes every so often, to travel back in my mind to support that innocent and vulnerable little child.

I worried constantly at the time that something might happen to my father, leaving my brother and I parentless. Today, I know there was no need to worry. Dad has been healthy and content down through the years. I really wish I had known not to burden my little body and mind with anxiety, but some things cannot be changed. However I can revisit younger me when I meditate and share with her what I know now, offering peace, comfort and love.

We often talk about the value and importance of holding space for others. When I give myself time to do this particular exercise, I’m holding space for me and being present emotionally, physically, and mentally. Some days it’s too challenging to sit with my feelings, sensations, and memories, while other days nothing feels better than allowing myself ten or fifteen minutes to be gentle with myself.

There is much to be grateful for, but as I embrace feelings of gratitude and hope, I also hold space for sadness and remembering. I wish to honor all of my experiences, my heartache and my blessings.

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.

Carmel Breathnach is a freelance writer, born in Ireland and living in Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.A. degree in English literature and Irish language studies from NUI Maynooth, and a Diploma in Education from St. Patrick’s College, Dublin. Carmel writes on the themes of childhood mother loss, grief and gratitude. Her work has appeared in The Irish Times, Huffington Post, Upworthy, Scary Mommy, Voice Catcher, Modern Loss and Pendemic.ie, as well as in the anthology Hidden Lights published by Golden Dragonfly Press. Carmel is currently working on a memoir about mother loss titled Briefly I Knew My Mother.

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Childhood grief, Connecting through grief, Grief Podcasts, Grief Writing, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Talking grief

Discussing Early Mother Loss on Got Grief Podcast

I’m honored and excited to share this podcast episode, released March 21, 2021 and titled “Carmel.” Got Grief is hosted by Craig Henry & Holly Sumpton in the UK and is about adults bereaved as children.

This conversation was just that, a conversation with two other adults who experienced mother loss in childhood and the discussion was enjoyable, easy and deep at the same time. The questions put to me by Holly and Craig were insightful and specific and I had the opportunity to share about my move to the US, my experience of working on rollercoasters in Wildwood, NJ and how my husband’s response to my loss has changed and evolved over time. My husband particularly enjoyed this podcast episode and I hope if you get the chance to listen, you will too. I like how it dips into various aspects of my life’s experience, deep questions about a child’s perspective on illness and death, a look at my writing process and how I came to write my memoir Briefly I Knew My Mother, how I met my husband and a little about life in Portland.

I’m getting more used to interviews at this point, and when my friend Liz Scott said to me, two years ago in Powell’s Bookstore “You should do some podcasts!” I thought “Me? What do I have to say that anyone would want to listen to on a podcast?” A few months later Jenny Doman Lisk reached out to me to do an episode on The Widowed Parent’s Podcast and I haven’t looked back since. I’ve also been a guest on The Dougy Center’s Grief Out Loud podcast which came out December of last year.

Thanks to all of you who have supported and encouraged me over the years. I know talking grief is not a joyful, light everyday topic but this episode with Craig & Holly was enjoyable. The three of us laughed together, empathized and shared stories and the recording proved to me, once again, how necessary grief conversations are to those of us who have experienced significant loss. I’m grateful to them for inviting me on as a guest. By doing this work I get to carry my mother, Kathleen, into the present with me and assign some kind of meaning to the loss I experienced at age 11 when she died.

Got Grief has a page on Instagram and you can listen to them on Apple or Spotify. I’ll include a link here if you wish to listen from your device or computer today.

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.

Carmel Breathnach is a freelance writer, born in Ireland and living in Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.A. degree in English literature and Irish language studies from NUI Maynooth, and a Diploma in Education from St. Patrick’s College, Dublin. Carmel writes on the themes of childhood mother loss, grief and gratitude. Her work has appeared in The Irish Times, Huffington Post, Upworthy, Scary Mommy, Voice Catcher, Modern Loss and Pendemic.ie, as well as in the anthology Hidden Lights published by Golden Dragonfly Press. Carmel is currently working on a memoir about mother loss titled Briefly I Knew My Mother.

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Grief, Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Motherless Daughter, Motherless mother's day, Motherloss

15 Ways to Honor Your Deceased Mother on Mother’s Day During the Pandemic

It was really after my mother’s death that Mother’s Day began to impact me more than ever before. While everyone around me was celebrating their mother (online, at home, in restaurants), my mother, Kathleen, was dead. I don’t like Mother’s Day and I’m happy when I can just ignore it. Looks like it will be easy to ignore this year as the pandemic continues to pose real challenges to everyday life. People are scared, anxious, grieving and we are all feeling uncertain about the future. Many of us have lost loved ones during this pandemic and for those who have lost significant others I am truly sorry for your heartache and pain. It’s tough to lose a loved one, and even more devastating during this challenging time when funerals aren’t possible and people are unable to gather. We all need to take care of each other and offer kindness and friendship in whatever ways we can so please reach out to those who are grieving. Healing will take time and kindness goes a long way. So, this year, Mother’s Day won’t be much different to previous Mother’s Days for those of us whose mothers are dead, unless of course this is a first without her.

Three years ago I wrote a blog post sharing ideas on how to honor a mother’s memory on Mother’s Day and it has been viewed by over 56,000 people globally. I share this number to say none of us are alone in our losses. During quarantine while many of us shelter-in-place, some of those suggestions I offer on that particular blog post are now obsolete, such as meeting up with friends for coffee. So, here’s an updated blog with a list of suggestions for this year’s Mother’s Day.

1. Find a time in the day, preferably morning to meditate for at least five minutes. Twenty minutes feels right for me, but do what you can. Light your favorite scented candle. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and invite your mother into your space. Breathe. Hold her in your thoughts. Focus on the gratitude you feel for your mother and the gift of life that she gave you. Reflect on some memories you have of her. Listen. Speak to her. Pray to her if you find comfort in prayer. See what comes into your heart. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone which is free and offers the most wonderful selection of meditations.

2. Display a picture of your mother in a prominent place. Maybe light a candle next to the photo, in remembrance of her. I like to wear a locket pendant containing my mother’s photograph throughout the day.

3. If you can visit the store safely, purchase a beautiful bouquet of flowers for your mother, or order a delivery. Flowers lend cheer and beauty to a space. They can symbolize the love you have for your mother and the love she had for you. Better yet, give someone close to you a hint that you would love to receive flowers in your mother’s honor. My husband offered to buy me flowers in remembrance of my mother a few years ago, and it has now turned into an annual thing. It makes him happy to do this. By coincidence the flowers he selected for me last year were beautiful pink carnations, without knowing this was the flower my mother gave to me as a child.

4. Check out this list of 10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters. Perhaps you can order some of these online, preferably from your local independent bookstore to help support them during these worrying times or from your local library. Maybe you have one of these books on your bookshelf but you haven’t had the time to read it yet. Another option is to purchase these books in audio form. Allow yourself a few quiet reading hours in bed Sunday morning or settle into a cozy chair with a cup of hot tea or coffee and an author’s story. Maybe in her story you will recognize yours.

5. Create a collage using pictures from magazines or inspiring photo journals that you have around your house or apartment. Paste pictures that remind you of your mother onto a large piece of card stock or paperboard, or into an art journal. I did this once with the Portland Motherless Daughter’s group when I was the organizer, several years back. After thirty minutes or so working quietly on our collages we shared them with the others in the group. The collages were beautiful, colorful representations of our mothers. I still have mine.

6. If you have a bathtub allow yourself the luxury of some soaking time. There is something so soothing about nestling down into a bathtub, candles lighting, calming music playing in the background. Perhaps listen to a song that reminds you of your mother. Cry if you need to. I love to add a few drops of lavender oil into my tub and often this is where I meditate. Gift yourself this time for nurture and relaxation. For those of us without mothers we need to find gentle ways to take care of ourselves.

7. Read and share blog posts by other motherless daughters. My blog A LOVELY WOMAN has several blog entries about mother loss and many are specifically written for Motherless Mother’s Days. I also have a Facebook page where I post about grief regularly.  Without My Mum is an active private group page where women share their feelings on mother loss and offer up support. Motherloss International is a Facebook page dedicated to maternal loss. Motherless Daughters Facebook community page shares many articles on mother loss including my own. The Aftergrief Community, based on Hope Edelman’s newest book is a place to go for support and connection around the long arc of loss. I share the work of others widely on my social media platforms (always giving the authors credit) because each of us have stories that will touch people in different ways. The goal of writing and sharing for me, is to get this information out there, to those who need it. It helps to know that there are others who understand even as our own unique experiences differ.

8. Write. Write in a journal or on a page, just put your feelings out there. I like putting pen or pencil to paper as it feels cathartic for me. Are you angry? Sad? Lonely? Anxious? Write it all down. Or write something. You can burn this text later if you like, but it’s important to express your deeply held feelings. Writing is the number one thing that has helped me process and come to terms with my loss.

Putting pen to paper at home in my garden

9. Write a letter to your mother. This is therapeutic and can be a valuable exercise while grieving. Let yourself cry or laugh as you write & release whatever needs to pour from you. Is there something you really want to share with your mother today? Put down the words. It may even turn into a book! I’ve written a blog post about this called The Healing Letter where I offer writing prompts to help with your letter.

10. Call a friend who has experienced a similar loss to you. They might have more time to talk now that we are quarantined. Of course, the opposite might be true, but it’s worth checking in with them. Try not to feel rejected if they don’t take you up on a chat. Sometimes we feel like discussing our losses and sometimes we don’t. Hold compassion for your friend and see if they are up for chatting another time.

11. Zoom call with friends or family or a local support group. Perhaps create your own group Zoom call with other motherless daughters you know.

12. If you have a garden or you live close to a local park, take some time to enjoy the outdoors. Mother Nature is incredibly healing. I like to sit beneath the blossoms, inhale the fresh scents of nature, feel the soft breeze against my skin and marvel at this life we are given. I enjoy going for walks because they give me time to sort through my thoughts, figure things out or release any negative emotions not worth holding on to. Maybe plant a few flowers on Mother’s Day to honor your mom. You can watch them grow and think of her. Tending a garden is relaxing, rewarding and healing.

13. Perhaps prepare and cook one of your mom’s favorite dishes for mealtime on Sunday. Crack open a bottle of wine or brew some tea in her honor. If you don’t know how to cook that beloved dish of hers or you don’t remember what it was, cook a favorite of yours, or order a meal from a local restaurant, sit back and enjoy.

14. Do you love podcasts as much as I love podcasts? Because I tend to be a busy, active person, podcasts are a new way for me to slow down a little and relax. I listen to them while preparing lunch or taking a bath and sometimes my husband and I will listen together, snuggled up on our couch at home. Recently I wrote a blog post about some of my favorites pertaining to grief and mother loss. Check these out. (I now have a few new favorites and I will blog about those next month.)

15. COVID-19 is presenting us all with many challenges. Some people are really struggling. A great way to lift your own spirits is by giving what you can to others. There are so many opportunities for giving. Local and global non-profits need help. I suggest donating what you can to local grief support centers, organizations helping women who are fleeing abusive situations, non-profits aiding victims of child abuse, foster care organizations, refugee families, state and national parks, small local businesses, tribal nations…the list goes on. If anyone would like specific suggestions I can offer some in the comments below.

I hope you are able to show yourself kindness this coming Mother’s Day. From one motherless daughter to another, sending love and virtual hugs as Mother’s Day 2021 approaches, first in Ireland and the Uk (March 14) and later in the year, in the US, Australia and other countries (May 9).

Much love,

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.

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Death, Grief, Love, Motherless Daughter, Talking grief, Without my mother, World Cancer Day

A Message on World Cancer Day

Today is World Cancer Day. I wish we didn’t need to have such a day.

My brother and I lost our dear mother to ovarian cancer back in the late 80’s. My father lost his beloved wife. Mam was a special, caring, optimistic, happy and creative woman. She was in her element being a mother. She loved my father. I wonder who might she have become had she been gifted with life beyond fifty? Because of cancer she missed out on seeing her children grow up. She never had the chance to travel the world with my father, or grow into old age by his side. It breaks my heart that cancer took my mother.

Galway, Ireland. Mother & children. 1977/1978

No doubt treatments have improved greatly over the years. Progress has been made and cancer treatments are less invasive, less traumatic, and success rates in treating cancer are higher than ever before. But there is so much more that needs to be done. We need to work for a cleaner, safer, healthier planet and we need to make people’s health a top priority. The health of all people, and our planet needs to take priority over greed, power and pollutants.

Thinking of my mother, Kathleen, as I read through information and posts relating to World Cancer Day. I’m working on a memoir about losing my mother to ovarian cancer when I was only 11, and I hope to have it out in the world before too long. It is titled Briefly I Knew My Mother, because I was in her life but for a brief few years before she died. In order to help raise awareness of this often overlooked experience of childhood grief, I’m speaking publicly and writing frequently about my personal experience of early mother loss.

Mother with baby Carmel

Also in my thoughts is a dear family friend who died last year after a brief struggle with ovarian cancer, a woman who was very good to my mother when she was sick. She is missed and loved. And to all those who have lost their lives to cancer and to people struggling with the disease, my heart goes out to each individual and the families involved. Cancer is not an easy road. Some people beat it, some people don’t. Nobody should have to go through it, but let’s be real, life is not always fair. I’m not going to sugarcoat it here. Cancer is hard.

My mother fought ovarian cancer for six years. She put up a brave fight. The American Cancer Society estimates for ovarian cancer in the United States for 2021 are: About 21,410 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer. About 13,770 women will die from ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 108. These statistics are too high. More needs to be done. Urgently.

“World Cancer Day, organized by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and celebrated each year on 4 February, is an opportunity to rally the international community to end the injustice of preventable suffering from cancer. This year’s theme, “I can, we can” acknowledges that everyone has the capacity to address the cancer burden. We can work together to reduce cancer risk factors. We can overcome barriers to early diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. We can work together to improve cancer control and achieve global targets to reduce premature mortality from cancer and NCDs.” (- World Health Organization) WHO has developed a Guide to cancer early diagnosis, to help policy-makers address barriers to and delays in cancer care.

“There is something about losing a mother that is permanent and inexpressible—a wound that will never quite heal.”– Susan Wiggs

“Today will never come again. Be a blessing. Be a friend. Encourage someone. Take time to care. Let your words heal, and not wound.” – Unknown

For more posts similar to this one LIKE or FOLLOW my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

With love, Carmel

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Being present for those grieving, Childhood grief, Grief, Grief Podcasts, Long term impacts of grief, Motherless Daughter, Podcasts

Talking Early Mother Loss on Grief Out Loud

Recently I had the honor of being interviewed by Jana DeCristofaro of The Dougy Center in Portland, for the podcast Grief Out Loud. The mission of The Dougy Center, as stated on their website, is “to provide support in a safe place where children, teens, young adults and their families grieving a death can share their experiences.” In my interview ep. 177: the relentless nature of grief, I discuss early mother loss, how it was to witness my mother’s illness from such a young age, the challenges I faced at school following her death, how loving and dependable my father was and continues to be, and the lasting impacts of such a profound loss at age eleven.

One of the main topics I wish to highlight as I continue to speak out and write about grief in childhood is the care adults must take with children who have suffered a major loss. Childhood grief often goes unnoticed. We speak of how children are resilient, how they’ll bounce back after trauma and yes, children are resilient but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tend to their emotions, check in with them, offer them a chance to engage with us about their feelings. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. Children need protection, love and guidance. For a child to thrive they need at least one consistent, loving adult in their life.

Before I got my teacher’s degree I worked as a substitute teacher in a small town in Ireland for six weeks. A little five year old girl with long straight brown hair and large sad eyes sat in the front row of our classroom. The principal shared with me that the little girl’s father had died tragically a few months before I arrived at the school. Teachers are not trained in grief counseling though I believe they should be. My own teachers had no idea how to approach me following my mother’s death when I was eleven. As a human being with compassion my approach to teaching this sad child was gentle and empathetic. She was timid and intensely sorrowful and I respected this. She worked on her letters and her reading, sometimes struggling to keep up and I offered her guidance without pressure and praise for trying so hard. I allowed more time for games in the classroom, encouraging the group of thirty three students to play kindly, laugh and have fun. I monitored the situation, observing the little girl as she played and though sometimes skeptical she consistently participated. The principal, a wonderful middle-aged lady supported this approach, visiting the classroom regularly with a luminous, encouraging smile.

Every child’s situation is unique, but if we approach them with love and kindness we can show a child we genuinely care. Let them know we see their sadness without embarrassing them or drawing attention to their situation. Quietly, often casually, we can reach out to say we are here for them if they need our support. Children want to blend in and usually dread being singled out, and this is why a casual but genuine approach is important. Most of all we must create a space where a bereft child feels safe and welcome at school.

I still remember the little girl’s name, the warm red winter coat she wore to school every day and the gratitude her mother expressed as I was about to head off to St. Patrick’s College to get my degree in teaching. She was worried about her daughter, as was I, but the school was blessed with a compassionate, loving principal who I’m sure watched out for that child over the years. My hope is that she is thriving and happy today. There are many compassionate and skilled teachers in our schools, but not all of them have experienced profound grief, and certainly not in childhood. Training in this area would be of huge benefit to them and to the children in their classrooms.

I’ve only begun to speak out publicly about early mother loss though I’ve been writing on this topic for over five years now. The responses I receive as I share my experiences, the friendships I’ve forged and significant connections made encourage me to move forward with a variety of projects. In time I’ll grow more comfortable with public speaking but for now it remains daunting. Anyhow, the work continues.

Please check out The Dougy Center’s website and the amazing work they do for local families and also nationwide. They offer a wealth of information, interviews with grief experts, school and community toolkits and various trainings. Friends of mine have volunteered as group facilitators at The Dougy Center down through the years and I considered volunteering there myself, but I travel frequently (when there isn’t a pandemic) and for at least five weeks out of the year I’m not in Portland. For this type of volunteer work The Dougy Center likes to have a commitment of at least one year, which is understandable. If you are interested in volunteering at the Dougy Center information can be found here.

I invite you to share any links or helpful information regarding grief support in schools in the comments section. I would also love to hear about your own personal experiences of grief in school if you have anything to share on this topic. Again here is a link to my thirty minute interview ep. 177: the relentless nature of grief if you are interested in listening. I write about early mother loss to help bring awareness to this often overlooked experience and to connect with others who know what it’s like to lose someone we love. For more posts similar to this one LIKE or FOLLOW my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

With love, Carmel

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National Children’s Grief Awareness Day 2020

November 19, 2020 is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day & in this month’s blog I’d like to highlight how destabilizing an experience it is for a child to lose a parent, guardian, sibling or loved one. Losing a parent in childhood is far more common than people think. “One out of every 20 children aged fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. These statistics don’t account for the number of children who lose a “parental figure,” such as a grandparent or other relative that provides care.” (Owens, D. “Recognizing the Needs of Bereaved Children in Palliative Care” Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing. 2008) Unfortunately these numbers will surely increase as Covid-19 continues to spread around the globe.

Those of us who lost a parent in childhood attest to the relentless, long-term nature of grief. More than thirty years have passed since my mother died and I still miss her. In my youth I worried incessantly about the wellbeing of my devoted & loving father. Having witnessed a heartbreaking loss at a very early age I knew what death meant. Not a day went by when I didn’t worry about my dad’s health. Nothing was certain in life; this was a lesson I learned early. Anxiety, I’ve come to realize, never left me. It showed up in various ways down through the years and as Claire Bidwell Smith explains in her book Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief there is an intimate connection between death and grief and how they specifically cause anxiety.

School was challenging for me in the years leading up to my mother’s death and also in the years that followed. There was a lot going on at home; my mother was sick, she was in and out of hospital and I was frightened for her well-being. A creative child from my earliest years I enjoyed many aspects of learning and I relished my friendships, but I was the only one in my class whose mother was terminally ill, and after she died I knew no other child without their mother. The father of a girl in my class died when she was very young and the year following my mother’s death a classmate’s brother was killed in a tragic accident. Each of us was experiencing loss in deep and profound ways but of course we kept our feelings to ourselves, interested only in playing with friends and blending in with the other children. No adult at school ever approached me to see how I was coping at the time. In fact the opposite was the case. I experienced anxiety in school because my teachers frequently called on me for day-dreaming, being disruptive and speaking out of turn.

As a young girl whose mother had just died I’d like to point to three things that would have helped me feel safer and cared for at school.

  1. Kind, caring, compassionate words from a teacher such as “How are you doing today, Carmel?” “What would make you feel happy/comfortable in class today, Carmel?” “Would you like to sit beside your friend for the day?” “Let me know if you’d like to take a break to read your book/draw a picture or listen to some music during class.”
  2. More options for creative, expressive learning such as art classes, physical education, dramatic play and games. I craved artistic outlets and longed for more time to run around with my classmates outdoors. Basically, I wanted to express myself through play.
  3. Flexibility around homework. We were assigned a lot of homework when I was in school. I always completed it, but the amount of time spent on evening schoolwork frustrated me when I could have been playing or spending time with my family.

My teachers had no idea how to help me. I did my best to be brave and often I was very happy, but I was also deeply angry. Every child I knew had a mother. Why didn’t I? Life wasn’t fair and that became clear to me early on. On reflection I recognize the anger, anxiety & buried sadness I was experiencing in school. Of course, I didn’t know how to sift through & process my feelings at the time. That awareness would come many years later.

I’d like to ask people to please keep your eyes & hearts open for grieving children. Children are resilient, yes, but often they are simply just braving it because what other option do they have? I found deep comfort in the care my father offered my brother and me. Love filled our home and carried me forward in life. But, I still experienced anxiety and sadness. Often there are valid reasons for a child’s anger & pain. When I was angry my teachers raged back at me. Children often don’t know how to safely express their emotions. A listening ear or a message of encouragement can go a long way toward comforting a child. I was fortunate because I had my dad, but some youths don’t have an adult who cares for them. For me home was safe & school was not. Children deserve to feel safe. Kindness is everything. 

Around the world organizations are working to support children as they navigate a traumatic loss which will most likely impact them for the rest of their lives. I’d like to highlight some of my favorite US organizations where you can go for information and guidance. Many of these offer volunteer opportunities if you are interested and of course you can always donate to them if that feels right to you.

1.The Dougy Center here in Portland, Oregon where I live, provides support for grieving children, young adults, and their families.

2. empowerHER aims to empower, support and connect girls and young women who have experienced the loss of their mothers.

3. (NAGC) The National Alliance for Grieving Children raises awareness about the needs of children and teens who are grieving a death and provides education and resources for anyone who supports them.

4. Ele’s Place creates awareness of and support for grieving children and their families.

I write about early mother loss to help bring awareness to this often overlooked lifelong process and to connect with others who know what it’s like to experience the death of someone we love. For more posts similar to this one LIKE or FOLLOW my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

(Extract from The Beauty of Mothers, one of my first blog posts from 2016)

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The Ache of Mother Loss Softens

Those familiar with my story of early mother loss ask me if it will get easier over time, if they will ever stop missing the person they loved and lost. My mother died thirty two years ago, when I was only 11 and I can say this about navigating life without her: things do get easier in time, the weight of the loss lightens and the ache softens but the void will always be there. I’ve never stopped missing my mother down through the years. Some days are more challenging than others, years vary as to how much joy they bring or what growth they offer. For me, love and happiness have lived alongside trauma and hurt down through the decades.

When I mention my wedding day in groups or in writing, motherless women often ask me how I did it, without the presence of my mother. I get it. I understand their anxieties. And that particular experience is a perfect example of living both the blissful joy and the deep sadness.

My wedding day was a wonderful, special occasion but the lead up posed many challenges, both emotional and physical. I found myself missing my mother as I planned for the event, long distance. Were she alive, she would share my excitement for the wedding plans, the cake and my gown search. My mother was a warm, generous individual with the biggest smile and the best of intentions. She loved style, baking, design and flowers. As I worked from my home office in Portland, calling Ireland to make arrangements, I imagined how much she would have enjoyed helping me plan while at the same time respecting my wishes and the wishes of my husband.

There were times during the lead-up that I broke down in tears, feeling unsupported by certain individuals in my life while also noticing the motherless void all the more. I’ve written about this in other posts here. At the same time, I experienced a tremendous outpouring of love and support in other ways. My father, incredibly happy for me and excited for our day, offered to help in whatever ways he could, from a distance, without interfering with our plans. When I flew to Ireland to look at wedding venues, Dad accompanied me, the ever-pleasant, easy-going companion he always is. As the big day approached the outpouring of love, excitement and enthusiasm for our marriage ceremony was beyond beautiful. We got through a hectic final few days, a couple of big let-downs and a lot of rain and found ourselves surrounded by our nearest and dearest who showed up for us on September 24th, 2016.

It is clear from the photographs how happy I was on our wedding day. Throughout the planning I paid particular attention to the inclusion of my mother and her memory. It was vitally important to me that she not be forgotten and she wasn’t. Her presence was felt throughout the ceremony, from my initial entrance into the beautiful space, through the service and the thoughtful, heartfelt speeches. Yes, indeed, my mother was present. Behind those closed doors as I waited with my father, taking in the moment as the music for “At Last” began to play, I felt so grateful for the man who raised me. And for the love that awaited us in the room beyond, I felt extremely fortunate. Joy filled me up, right alongside the lingering void of not having my mother there. When the door opened to all of our family and friends and I stepped onto the white carpet, my father beside me, my incredible husband-to-be waiting excitedly at the top of the room, I thought I might burst with happiness. There was so much love and happiness in that space it was almost tangible. People knew our story. They knew us and they were there to buoy us on that special, memorable day.

Jefferies Photo

I’ve cried some days in my thirties and forties for my mother, and I cried when I was eleven. I’ll always miss her and what could’ve been for us as a family. What happened was not fair, it was hard and devastating. But every family goes through pain and every person faces challenges. Life is both miraculous and cruel. We need to seek out those aspects of living that create joy for us, focus on the softness, work towards true connections and anchor ourselves in real and genuine love. Beauty and bliss come round over and over, be ready for those moments. We can experience wonders every day, but we live these alongside our losses.

It has been thirty two years since my mother died and I don’t think I’ll ever be OK with having lost her so early in life. My journey has been impacted in a myriad ways because of her death, but I have lived a lot of beautiful moments and I know she would want that for me. She was a happy, optimistic, creative woman. My mother would want me to live my best life. Sometimes I wonder how she was able to be so optimistic, especially on her more challenging days. I don’t believe I inherited her faith, but I did inherit her desire to connect with others, to share our stories in order to help people feel less alone and to offer love in place of fear. You can do this. You can.

My journey so far has been informed by beauty and love, in company with devastation and loss. This is all of us, in unique and universal ways.

Photo by Mike Yang

Much love,

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.

From an earlier blog post. Click here.
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Power of Collective Grieving

I wrote an essay about mother loss and collective grieving in February of 2020. A prominent publication here in the U.S. thought it was an important piece and was set to publish it in March when the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. As the weeks passed they pulled back, telling me their focus was now on COVID-19 stories and they no longer wished to purchase my essay. In honor of National Grief Awareness Day (August 30,2020) I’ve decided to share it to my personal blog because I think we should all encourage one another to talk more openly about grief, not less, especially during a global pandemic. With a few updates and edits, here is my piece.

In January 2020 I attended a Motherless Daughters’ luncheon in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, hosted by Hope Edelman, author of the bestselling book Motherless Daughters and upcoming book The Aftergrief. The occasion brought together twenty motherless women from several states including California, Oregon, Minnesota and New York. While gathered together for photographs on the beautiful grounds of Aldersgate Retreat Center we learned of an horrific helicopter crash in Calabasas, not far from where we were gathering. Several people lost their lives in the tragic accident including Kobe Bryant, a celebrity basketball player and his daughter, Gianna. Christina Mauser, a basketball coach and mother of three, also lost her life in the crash. Her bereaved husband, Matt, who was interviewed shortly after the accident, spoke of the comfort his eleven-year-old daughter gained from knowing that so many others were mourning along with them.

Every day people lose loved ones to illness, tragic accidents and age-related diseases. Now more than ever families are worried about COVID-19 and the health and well-being of people closest to them. When someone we love dies our lives are forever changed, trajectories once assumed and imagined thrown into chaos.  As a young child, born and raised in Ireland, I became acquainted with uncertainty and death too early in life. My mother died from ovarian cancer when I was eleven years old, following a lengthy illness and suffering. How I responded to such an impactful loss has changed over the years, depending on various chapters and stages of my life, but grief and anxiety have followed me into adulthood, a relentless cautioning to remain alert to both the opportunities and the dangers.

I sat in a brightly lit, spacious room that particular Sunday in January, a mile from the Pacific Ocean, with women whose mothers are no longer alive. Gathered together to network and share our hopes and fears as we move forward collectively and individually, we discussed future projects, meaningful accomplishments and past challenges, all stemming from having lost our mothers prematurely. Seated on comfortable rustic chairs and couches, we sought solace, companionship and validation from others in our tribe. The Los Angeles sunshine streamed in through large windows, warming us as we cried together and laughed. It took several of us years to get to this place but we all recognize how incredibly lonely the grief journey can be and how helpful it is to discuss loss with those who share a similar experience. Loss can leave one feeling as though no one could possibly understand your anguish but the process of expressing grief outwardly with others can be transformative.

I live in Portland, Oregon where I write on the topic of maternal loss and for me, the deepest healing began in my thirties after I started writing and sharing openly about my mother’s death. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to connect with women of all ages whose moms have died and I’ve come to understand the power of collective grieving. As we wrapped up our Motherless Daughter’s gathering at Aldersgate Retreat Center, twenty women stood side by side in a circle. We had permission to honor our mothers in that room, to say their names out loud. Glancing around at the other women, I recognized their expressions of hope, relief and gratitude. Tears were shed when the group session came to a close and we promised to stay in touch with one another moving forward.

As I edit this piece on the eve of National Grief Awareness Day, my thoughts return to Matt and Christina Mauser’s eleven-year-old daughter, who sought comfort in her father’s arms and expressed reassurance in knowing they were not grieving alone. That little girl’s stunning articulation gave me pause. Unable to verbalize my grief feelings for a large chunk of my life, I gradually came to understand the healing nature of grief expressed. Whether it is shared on the page, with a friend or in a support group, grief expressed in safe places and acknowledged by others can be exceptionally validating. US actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for playing Black Panther in the hit Marvel superhero franchise, died of cancer on August 28, 2020. Fans of the actor and people who knew him personally are expressing their grief on social media. Collective grieving offers us a unique sense of comfort. People dive in, expressing their sadness while feeling buoyed by the empathy and compassion of those who understand.

Every day during this pandemic humans around the world are collectively grieving. There is comfort in knowing we are not going through this alone. People can reach out to each other, across social media platforms, in an email or a handwritten letter, or by picking up the phone. We can do this today on National Grief Awareness Day because speaking openly about our grief can create powerful human connections. Our honesty and vulnerability leads not only to our own healing, but the healing of others.

~by Carmel Breathnach

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

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Striking Acts of Decency

“Our house began flooding with constant visitors. We had night nurses on rotation who helped my father look after my mother but weekdays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. others stepped in. Not every friend or neighbor was able to dedicate several hours a day on a weekly basis to my mother’s care but in their own ways they showed up. Showering us with kindness during my mother’s illness people stopped by with flowers, home baked brown soda bread, apple tarts and biscuits. They dropped off cards, well wishes, mass bouquets and cake. One lady patched up my jeans on a few occasions because my mother no longer could. A friend took home our ironing. My father’s cousin, a nurse, spent days at a time away from her husband in Dublin to help look after my mother. She taught me how to fold my clothes and how to bake chocolate eclairs. Relatives from all over Ireland visited every weekend. My mother, cocooned in love, slipped away from us gradually.”

An essay of mine combining the story of my mother’s death when I was 11, with the outpouring of kindness towards my father that I’m witnessing-long distance-from the US, during the pandemic, was published in Pendemic.ie yesterday. The above paragraph is an extract from the piece. Read the entire essay “Reports of Striking Acts of Decency” here. All writing submitted to the site since March 2020 will be preserved by Irish Poetry Reading Archive at UCD Library.

We are all going through a tough, challenging time at the moment, grieving a life we used to live and freedoms we took for granted. Far too many lives have been lost and continue to be lost. My essay was written to show readers that there is hope, we can inspire and lift one another, we can offer love instead of hatred and fear. Each one of us has our limitations but we can reach out in small ways to make a difference. I remember kindnesses shown to my family over thirty years ago. No kindness or act of love is too small.

Be well. Stay safe. Stay aware. Spread the love.

“No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”

― Amelia Earhart

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

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20 Mother’s Day Ideas for the Motherless During COVID-19

This year, 2020, Mother’s Day looks very different from previous Mother’s Days. Many people won’t be able to spend time with their moms, take her out to dinner, spoil her with flowers and chocolate, because we are all quarantined during COVID-19. This is sad for families. The pandemic is posing real challenges to everyday life. People are scared, anxious, grieving and we are all feeling uncertain about the future. Nobody knows how long this new way of experiencing life will go on. Personally, I’m living moment to moment and day by day, focusing on positive things and trying not to worry too much while taking the necessary precautions and checking in with the most vulnerable in our family and our community. For people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic, I am truly sorry for your heartache. It’s tough to lose a loved one, and even more devastating during this challenging time. We all need to take care of each other and offer kindness and friendship along the way. Healing will take time.

For those of us whose mothers have died, especially if we don’t have children of our own, this Mother’s Day won’t be much different to previous Mother’s Days, unless of course this is your first without her. We can’t take her out to dinner or spoil her with flowers and we don’t make plans to be with her on these occasions because she is no longer alive. I haven’t celebrated Mother’s Day with my mam, Kathleen, since I was a young child. Actually, Mam didn’t think much of the holiday, labeling it a ‘Hallmark Holiday’ and something made up by greeting card companies to make money. It was really after her death that Mother’s Day began to impact me more and more. My beautiful mother was missing in my life and everyone around me was celebrating theirs. I don’t like Mother’s Day and I’m happy when I can just ignore it. I think it will be much easier for me to do that this year.

At home in Ireland in my mother Kathleen’s arms

If you, a motherless daughter, are looking for ideas on how to celebrate your mom on Mother’s Day I wrote a blog post on this topic three years ago that has been viewed by over 55,000 people globally. This goes to prove just how many of us around the world are missing our mother’s presence from our lives. During quarantine while many of us shelter-in-place, a few of the 12 suggestions I offer on that blog post are obsolete, like meeting up with friends for coffee for example, though of course the ideas are still helpful and we can work with them. This year, due to the current situation, there are more virtual opportunities out there for us to explore.

I set to work on a new list today, researching and piecing together what I hope might be helpful for my readers. People will need help and support with their grief this weekend. I know there are broken hearts right now reaching for answers, wishing their moms were here in the world again. I hope this list offers some comfort. Another option of course is to seek out a good grief therapist and to discuss your situation with her. Grief is complicated and the journey takes a while. For now, here is my updated list of 20 ideas for this year’s Mother’s Day for the motherless.

1. empowerHER, a nonprofit for girls and young women who have experienced the loss of their mothers is hosting a virtual Mother’s Day Retreat May 9th + 10th and registration is free. The Retreat is geared towards girls up to age 24, but women of all ages are encouraged to join.

2. Reimagine is offering a worldwide virtual festival on embracing life, facing death, and loving fully in the face of COVID-19. There are several events throughout the weekend and beyond and I will list a couple of them below. Do check out the event’s schedule page as there is something for everyone here.

3. Find a time in the day, preferably morning to meditate for at least five minutes. Ideally about twenty minutes feels right for me, but do what you can. Light your favorite scented candle. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and invite your mother into your space. Breathe. Hold her in your thoughts. Focus on the gratitude you feel for your mother and the gift of life that she gave you. Reflect on some memories you have of her. Let the tears flow if they come. Grief is love, remember. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone which is free and offers the most wonderful selection of meditations.

4. Display a picture of your mother in a prominent place. Wear a pendant containing her photograph throughout the day if you have one or carry a memory of her in your heart. Speak to her. Pray to her if you find comfort in prayer.

5. If you can go outside safely, purchase a beautiful bouquet of flowers for your mother and place them in your home. Or order them over the phone to be delivered. Flowers lend cheer and beauty to a space. They can remind you of the love you have for your mother and the love she had for you. Perhaps see if you can order your mother’s favorite flowers, if you know what those were.

6. As part of Reimagine’s Life, Loss and Love event, Portland author and all-round wonderful human, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things (among other works), will be interviewed by Shelby Forsythia on Sunday MAY 10 at 11:00am-12:00pm PDT. Click on this link for more information. The event is free with a suggested donation.

7. Hosted By Alica Forneret of Dead Moms Club, as part of Reimagine’s event, is a conversation about being a motherless daughter while raising children. Guests Claire Bidwell Smith, Hope Edelman, Susan Lieu, and Megan Carmichael will share stories and memories on May 10 at 2:00-3:00pm PDT.

8. Check out this list of 10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters. Perhaps you can order some of these online, preferably from your local independent bookstore to help support them during these worrying times for small businesses. Or maybe you have one of these books on your bookshelf but you haven’t had the time to read it yet. Another option is to purchase these books in audio form. I love a good audio book to enjoy while driving or cooking. Allow yourself a few quiet reading hours in bed Sunday morning or settle into a cozy chair with a cup of hot tea or coffee and an author’s story. Maybe in her story you will recognize yours.

9. Create a collage using pictures from magazines or inspiring photo journals that you have around your house or apartment. Paste pictures that remind you of your mother onto a large piece of card stock or paperboard, or into an art journal. I did this once with the Portland Motherless Daughter’s group when I was the organizer, several years back. After thirty minutes or so working quietly on our collages we shared them with the others in the group. The collages were beautiful, colorful representations of our mothers. I still have mine.

10. If you have a bathtub allow yourself the luxury of some soaking time. Isn’t there something so soothing about nestling down into a bathtub, candles lit, maybe some calming music playing close by? Perhaps listen to a song that reminds you of your mother. It might make you cry and that’s okay because you are alone, taking care of your needs. Crying is often such a good release. I love to add a few drops of pure essential lavender oil into my tub and often this is where I meditate. Give yourself this time for nurture and relaxation. For those of us without mothers we need to find kind and gentle ways to take care of ourselves.

11. Read and share blog posts by other motherless daughters. My blog A LOVELY WOMAN has several blog entries about mother loss and many are specifically written for Motherless Mother’s Days. I also have a Facebook page where I post about grief regularly. Project Brave birds, hosted by my friend in Australia, is an inspiring page dedicated to celebrating the journeys and achievements of brave girls and women who have lost their mothers around the world. Without My Mum is an active private group page hosted by Leigh Van Der Horst where women share their feelings on mother loss and offer up support. Motherloss International is a Facebook page dedicated to maternal loss. Motherless Daughters Facebook community page shares many articles on mother loss including my own. These are valuable and loving places to go for comfort and support. My purpose in writing is to connect with others around the world who are experiencing a similar loss, in particular women and girls. I share the work of others widely on my social media platforms, always giving the authors credit, because each of us has stories that will touch people in different ways. The goal of writing and sharing for me, is to get this information out there, to those who need it. There is no reason for people to think they are alone in their grief process, or their experience of deep loss. Of course our individual experiences are unique but it helps to know that there are people out there who understand. Sharing our stories helps others. Sharing the work of others also helps.

12. Write. Write in a journal or on a page, just put your feelings out there. I like putting pen or pencil to paper. It feels more cathartic for me. Are you angry? Devastated? Lonely? Anxious? Write it all down. Or write something. You can burn this text later if you like, but it’s important to express your deeply held feelings. Writing is the number one thing that has helped me process and come to terms with my loss.

Putting pen to paper at home in my garden

13. Write a letter to your mother. This is therapeutic and can be a valuable exercise while grieving. Let yourself cry or laugh as you write & release whatever needs to pour from you. Is there something you really want to share with your mother today? Put down the words. It may even turn into a book! I’ve written a blog post about this called The Healing Letter where I offer writing prompts to help with your letter.

14. Call a friend who has experienced a similar loss to you. They might have more time to talk now that we are quarantined. Of course, the opposite might be true, but it’s worth checking in with them. Try not to feel rejected if they don’t take you up on a chat. Sometimes we feel like discussing our losses and sometimes we don’t. Hold compassion for your friend and try calling another person..

15. Zoom call with friends or family or a local support group. Perhaps create your own group Zoom call with other motherless daughters you know.

16. If you have a garden or a local park is currently open to visitors, take some time to enjoy the outdoors. Mother Nature is incredibly healing. I like to sit beneath the blossoms, inhale the fresh scents of nature, feel the soft breeze against my skin and marvel at this life we are given. I enjoy going for walks because they give me time to sort through my thoughts, figure things out or just let stuff go that I no longer need to hold onto. If you are a gardener, maybe planting some new flowers on Mother’s Day might be a way to honor your mom. You can watch them grow and think of her. Tending a garden is relaxing, rewarding and healing.

17. Perhaps prepare and cook one of your mom’s favorite dishes for mealtime on Sunday. Crack open a bottle of wine or brew some tea in her honor. If you don’t know how to cook that beloved dish of hers or you don’t remember what it was, cook a favorite of yours, or order a meal from a local restaurant, sit back and enjoy.

18. Do you love podcasts as much as I love podcasts? Because I tend to be a busy, active person, podcasts are a new way for me to slow down a little and relax. I listen to them while preparing lunch or taking a bath and sometimes my husband and I will listen together, snuggled up on our couch at home. Recently I wrote a blog post about some of my favorites pertaining to grief and mother loss. Check these out.

19. COVID-19 is presenting us all with many challenges. Some people are really struggling. A great way to lift your own spirits is by giving to others, if you can, what you can. There are so many opportunities for giving. Local and global non-profits need help. I suggest donating what you can to local grief support centers, organizations helping women who are fleeing abusive situations, non-profits aiding victims of child abuse, foster care organizations, refugee families, state and national parks, small local businesses, tribal nations…the list goes on. If anyone would like specific suggestions I can offer some in the comments below.

20. No matter what Mother’s Day holds for you this year, and for many I know it holds heartbreak, I hope you are able to show yourself kindness. From one motherless daughter to another, sending love and virtual hugs as Mother’s Day 2020 approaches. Take care of yourselves, and each other!

Much love,

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.

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Connecting through grief, Death, Gratitude, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, Podcasts

5 Podcasts I Recommend for Motherless Daughters

One of my new favorite things are podcasts. I love that I can select a topic I’m particularly interested in, search for online discussions on that topic, say, the craft of writing, inspirational women’s stories or conversations around grief, and several podcasts will pop up for me to choose from with an entire thirty minutes to an hour dedicated to my chosen topic. During this pandemic when people are advised to stay home it is a perfect time to explore our podcast options, most of which we can access on our phones or laptops. We don’t have a television in our house and these days I’m avoiding the news and radio stations apart from those dedicated to music, because I need a break from overwhelming, unsettling broadcasts about the global pandemic. I stay informed but I’m selective, in order to keep anxiety and fear at bay. While we look out for the most vulnerable in our communities and make extra efforts to stay in touch with our loved ones, we must also practice kindness for ourselves.

One way to take a break is to schedule in an hour for yourself, some time in the day, where you can listen to a podcast episode. There are so many amazing podcasts out there, with talented, empathic hosts and I just love to tune in when I’m preparing lunch in the kitchen, settling down with a mug of hot tea in the evening or when I allow myself the time to take a warm Epsom salt bath. Sometimes I’ll play an episode while I’m outside tending to the garden or sitting on the deck as our spring blossoms burst forth. I welcome the soothing voices of these hosts and their guests and am eager to learn from their experiences. In this blog I’m delighted to share a few of my favorites. Although these particular podcasts aren’t specifically tailored towards motherless women, I think many will gain some level of comfort and wisdom from the episodes. I believe that anybody grieving the loss of a significant other will draw reassurance from these shared stories, and for people wishing to support grieving loved ones, many helpful suggestions are offered.

Here are five of my current favorites, in no particular order.

  1. Widowed Parent Podcast hosted by Jenny Lisk

Host, Jenny Lisk, is doing a fabulous job interviewing widowed parents, experts in the field of grief and people who lost a parent when they were young, for her podcast. Jenny’s webpage is clear and accessible. She has a wonderful ‘Start Here‘ page where episodes of the show are clearly divided into sections, with guests’ names listed alongside numbered episodes. Episode 35 is a discussion with Allison Gilbert on keeping memories of our loved ones alive. In episode 54 we listen as Brennan Wood, Executive Director at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families speaks about her own personal loss. And in episode 48 I tell my story of losing my mother when I was eleven and how her death has continued to impact my life to this day. There is something for everyone in this podcast including short “pandemic special” episodes like this one with Buffy Peters of Hamilton’s Academy of Grief and Loss.

2. Moving Beyond hosted by Psychic Medium Fleur and Grief Therapist Claire Bidwell Smith

This is a relatively new podcast and I love it. I attended a motherless daughter’s retreat with Claire a few years ago in Ojai and I’ve read and love all of her books. I’ve also seen Medium Fleur here in Portland, Oregon when she came to town for an event, the results of which blew my mind. In this podcast Claire offers tools to assist a person during their grief and then we experience a psychic mediumship session as Fleur connects each person with a loved one in the spirit world. I have not had a reading with Fleur but someday in the future I hope to. Check out this podcast if you’re curious about the after life. It’s both comforting and mind-blowing.

3. Grief Gratitude and Greatness hosted by Sarah Shaoul

Sarah Shaoul has a beautiful, gentle voice and I could listen to her interview guests for hours at a time, and I have. I’ve listened to a few of these episodes back to back as Sarah thoughtfully raises questions about lessons associated with guest’s experiences. Each episode is varied as this podcast explores the different ways people grieve with a focus on the gratitude that allows us to keep going following a loss. In this episode Frances Badalamenti discusses becoming a mother as she loses hers.

4. Unlocking Us hosted by Brene Brown

I know most of you already know who Brene Brown is. Professor, lecturer and author of several best-selling books, Brene has spent her career studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. But did you know she has a podcast? And it’s so good! This particular episode with grief expert David Kessler, reveals what he has learned about love, loss, and finding meaning in his grief. An enlightening, comforting episode, I intend to listen to this one again and again.

5. Grief Out Loud hosted by Jana DeCristofaro and produced by The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Oregon

The Dougy Center provides support for children, teens, young adults, and their families grieving a death. They offer support and training locally, nationally, and internationally to individuals and organizations seeking to assist children in grief. This illuminating podcast offers a wide mix of personal stories, tips for supporting anybody grieving a loss and interviews with bereavement professionals. There are so many episodes worth listening to here, but if you are looking for one that addresses mother’s day, as it fast approaches, try episode 13 titled Grieving Through Mother’s Day. Edit update: Since writing this blog post I’ve been a guest on this wonderful podcast. Episode 177 is where I talk about The Relentless Nature of Grief.

I hope you find these interesting and helpful! Let me know in the comments below what you think and please feel free to share some of your favorite podcasts on the topic of mother loss and grief. Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

Take care, Carmel X

“The most basic of all human needs is to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph Nichols

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After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Talking grief

My Mother Is Dead but I Still Want to Talk About Her

Dear readers, let me be clear here. My mother is dead and I still want to talk about her, but that doesn’t mean I always want to talk about her. I don’t want my friends who read this thinking they should bring up Mam’s name during every conversation just because I’ve written this blog. Obviously, there is no need to bring her into every discussion, so, before you decide to run in the other direction when next we meet, for fear of not knowing whether or not to bring up my mother, please read on.

Before I began writing about my experiences of early mother loss I didn’t have many opportunities to talk about Mam. At home, with my father and brother, I could talk about her all I wanted. They were always open to sharing memories, answering questions and thumbing through photographs with me, and this helped a lot as I navigated my grief journey. But I wanted to talk about Mam out in the world too. For several years I didn’t speak about her, because it’s hard to bring your dead mother into casual everyday conversations. People feel awkward when the subject of death comes up. They don’t know what to say or how to respond. Discussions fall flat, people stare at their cuticles as if never having seen them before. The floor is suddenly incredibly interesting, or someone has to dash off somewhere very fast.

All those times in my life when my companions or classmates got to celebrate their mothers or complain about them, casually call them on the phone, praise and adore them, in my presence, I too, longed to talk about Mam, but couldn’t. And it hurt to the core, over and over again. So, now I’m writing about my mother on Facebook; in my memoir (in-progress), Briefly I Knew My Mother; on this blog, and through the stories I’ve shared people have gotten to know Kathleen a little.

I write to connect with others who know what it’s like to lose someone very special. It’s important for me to build community with motherless daughters and especially with women whose mothers died when they were children. And I write to keep my mother’s memory alive. As long as we say their names, the people who have died live on.

On March 2, 2020, thirty two years after Mam’s death, I posted one of my favorite black and white photographs of my mother on social media. In the picture she is glowing, offering the photographer her radiant smile. Beneath the photo I wrote a few lines about it being her death anniversary and to my delight I received some kind comments about my mother and the anniversary of her death. My friend, Steve, posted “Through you Carmel, we love mam too” and his words touched me deeply, because if I have given others an idea of the woman my mother was, so many years after she died, I have accomplished something beautiful, something significant and worthwhile. Writing about her and sharing special stories from my memories of growing up as her daughter, allows me to feel connected to my mother in ways that nobody else can. As Kathleen’s daughter I carry her with me in this world everyday.

I wish my mother didn’t get sick and die when I was only 11, and though I want to talk about her and tell stories with her in them, because she died when I was so young, I don’t have an abundance of stories. I remember a lot, more than most of my friends remember, and yet it’s not enough. I know little to nothing about her childhood or her teenage years or the time before she met my father and I never got to know her from any perspective other than a child’s. This is one of the heartbreaking things I hear frequently from women who lost their mothers early in life. We want to hear stories of our mothers from those who have them. Shared stories are a gift to both the teller, and to the person listening.

My friend, Mari, posted a comment beneath the photograph on March 2. She offered simply and with such heart “I’m so sorry that she died – and so grateful for the life she gave you.” How beautiful to receive a direct, love-filled message like this! As one of two founding members of the Grief Rites Foundation, Mari is not afraid to use the word “died”. My mother died and we can say the word. In all the years since Mam’s death less than a handful of people have actually said the words “I’m so sorry that your mother died.” I didn’t realize this (and I write about grief and death regularly) until I read Mari’s comment and it made a powerful impact on me. I knew she got it. She understood.

As with every blog I write I hope something on this page resonates with my readers, those of you who have lost a loved one and people looking to know how to support a grieving friend. Often a listening ear is all that is needed, a few minutes to talk, a chance to process something out loud. When you speak from a place of love and acknowledge a person’s situation honestly, you are doing it right. Thank you all for being in my life. We are here, but for a fleeting moment in time.

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot

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

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Dear 11 Year Old Me (a letter)

Today, November 21, 2019, in honor of Children’s Grief Awareness Day, I penned and recorded a letter to eleven year old me, the age I was when my mother, Kathleen, died. I share my recorded version at this link on my public Facebook page if you would like to take a listen. Below is a similar transcript of the letter.

The Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families, created Children’s Grief Awareness Day to raise awareness of the distress and impact that the death of a loved one has in the life of a child. It “seeks to bring attention to the fact that often support can make all the difference in the life of a grieving child.” Children’s Grief Awareness Day is observed every year on the third Thursday in November and is now recognized by organizations around the world.

To be honest it is not easy for me to put this personal letter into cyberspace. However, I sense that my words might touch others who need them, making it worth my hesitation to share. Also, I came across this quote by Brene Brown providing me with the encouraging little shove I needed.

“People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Advice I’ve received from both professionals in the field of grief and psychic mediums over the past few years has been to visualize myself as a child, the age I was when my mother was ill and embrace her (little me) and console her with comforting words. Although I don’t do this very often, I’ve found it to be a worthwhile endeavor.

So here is my letter:

Dear 11 year old me,

I’m writing this to you when I’m 42 years old. I know at your age 42 seems so mature, grown up and far into the future and in some ways it is but I’m still the same Carmel with many of the same values, dreams and aspirations.

My dear 11 year old Carmel I see you clearly to this day. I feel your unwavering love for family, your love for those close friends you hold so dear and I feel your pain. You are being so brave now that Mam has passed on. You watched her suffer for too many years. You witnessed the pain, anxiety and sorrow of those you love the most.

Dear little 11 year old me, you bear too much fear and sadness for such a little girl. Not only did you worry deeply about the mother you loved so much, but you also worry for your kind, devoted, loving father and your older brother. You hold your anger inside to protect others. You shouldn’t have to go through this. It’s not fair.

You allow your anger to show at school sometimes and you regularly get into trouble for it. Teachers get annoyed with you. They become frustrated when you lose concentration during school time. They don’t understand your pain. They never ask you how you are doing. You don’t have many opportunities during class to express yourself verbally or creatively and this is very difficult for you. I still feel this inside. Sometimes division and multiplication just don’t seem that important because you have other things on your mind. But you are diligent and always do your work, along with all of the extra work you are given for talking back to a teacher or laughing with a friend when you aren’t supposed to be laughing. It is good to laugh, little one, and you do love having fun. You love playing with your friends and spending time with Dad and your brother. Life holds many beautiful experiences for you. Savor those moments of delight.

I’m proud of you, Carmel, for consistently doing your best in school when it is truly a challenging environment for you. Your friends can’t relate to your personal experiences and no trusted adult is available for you at school. You will take those difficult experiences and turn them into love. You will become the kind of early childhood educator you need today and, Carmel, when you get older you will shower compassion, empathy and care onto little children who need support. They will feel your genuine love for them and you will positively impact their lives. You sincerely love little children and babies and you’ll work with them for many years. They will touch your heart and bring you joy and love. Because of how much love you have inside you’ll give extra attention to the ones who know pain and trauma. And you’ll always remember these children.

You’re a very special soul. Remember this please.

Carmel, you’ll travel through life fearlessly at times, moving to far away countries, exploring many jobs. You will also experience anxiety, sadness and anger and it is okay to feel all the emotions. Express these in safe places when you can. Keep journaling and writing. Your beautiful, considerate words and insight will touch a lot of people’s hearts someday. Your story is important. What you have to say is valid. Believe in yourself. Keep playing and having fun. It’s important to laugh. Try to release the burden of worry as worrying won’t change anything. I want you to know that you don’t need to worry about Dad as he will be with you in your life for many, many wonderful years, as a close, loyal confidante and dear friend to you always. So, don’t worry anymore.

You are a brave, bright, giving soul and you are loved. Keep shining that light.

I love you.

(In the featured image above I am sitting in our back garden on a bench, displaying the medals I won in Irish dancing competitions and a trophy my mother presented to me for doing well in school. The trophy was not a usual occurrence. Given the tough time we were all going through she wanted to offer me encouragement. I was thrilled with it and have the trophy to this day.)

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After Mother Loss, Being present for those grieving, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Mother Loss, Writing on Grief

To My Readers Across the Globe

In the past three days alone, several people from countries spanning the globe visited my blog pages to read stories of mother loss & grief. In search of books by women/girls whose mothers have died (always the most popular search), gathering ideas for honoring mom at their upcoming wedding & reading of how others have lived beyond a mother’s death, these individuals are grieving a loss while simultaneously moving towards thriving. My blog stats offer (minimal) information about the diversity of readers, the searches entered into Google & the questions posed by people all over the world (obviously no specific details are given, just age demographics, country of search etc.) & while it blows my mind to see readers from across the globe it also reminds me of how connected in love we humans are.

In the past three days women & men from Afghanistan, the UK, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Ireland, Malaysia and the USA have clicked on my blog page. What powerful message does this bring? Grief is ubiquitous. Not one person alive won’t experience it. Anyone who comes to this blog is feeling a deep sense of loss & longing, a need for connection and advice on how to get through the challenging journey following a loved one’s passing. People want uplifting stories that might help encourage them and allow them to feel less alone in their journey. Love (& grief which is love with no place to go) is the common thread connecting each one of us, obliterating our differences.

Our stories are powerful. Vulnerability births connection.

Everyone here is going through something. Every human being across this planet loves, & everybody knows the pain of grief, or will, someday.

Mother loss is traumatic at any age & throughout our lives most people will experience it. For a child to experience mother loss (as I did when eleven years young) the trauma lingers & weaves its way in & out of our everydays. It’s necessary to talk about this stuff. Otherwise it lodges in our cells & causes debilitating pain. It is not a secret that we grieve & it is not something to be ashamed of.

Our sisters & brothers across this earth are reaching out to gather encouraging stories as they navigate loss. In just the past three days I see how many of you are here, reading my words, possibly in search of a piece of your story in mine. Our stories are unique and personal to us, as our healing journey will be, but the common thread is love and those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one can truly empathize.

I am honored & humbled to have the opportunity to share my story with people who need to read what I have to say. I’m grateful to have an online platform that somehow reaches individuals in these countries & the far corners of this incredible planet. We are all in this beautiful, painful, challenging, joyous place together. Experiencing the death of a loved one is excruciatingly painful and healing from this loss takes time and work. In my experience there’s no closure. The wound heals in time but reopens depending on circumstance. Life carries us forward, however, and we learn to live our fullest lives. Take your time with healing. Seek comfort in nature, words, stories, people’s kindnesses and know that you are not alone in feeling this type of pain. All over the world we are witnesses to heartache. I see you & because of this my heart is full this morning as I wish you all peace in your grief, love and safety and the strength to carry on as you navigate the rocky and meandering road ahead.

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

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When Anniversaries Are Sad

Today (August 11th) is significant for two reasons.

Mam & Dad married on this date at home in Ireland in ’73. I have a photo of them on their special day enlarged and framed in our home. The picture represents happiness, genuine love & beautiful promise. Coincidentally Dad & I were the same age (39) when each of us got married. (We both waited patiently until we found ‘the one’.) In 1988 my mother died. Sometimes I glance through my parent’s wedding album. The photos, mostly in black and white, reflect so much joy and hope. My parent’s union was built on mutual respect and a devotion which saw Mam through her illness, my father by her side.

This next photograph is of me and my Granny on our birthday in Galway. I think I might have been 7 years of age in that picture. We shared the same birth date, January 3, and always celebrated together. This is the second reason for today’s significance: on this day (August 11th) 30 years ago Granny (Dad’s mother) died suddenly. I was only 12 when she was taken from us, the year after Mam lost her battle with cancer.

So, in my early years I came face to face with happy, celebratory occasions & brutal, devastating days. I knew what was possible. Life was often terribly sad. Honestly, I feel hard done by having lost so many significant people at such a young age. It’s not easy to admit that but it’s true. Often people go through life surrounded by close family & a tight community of loved ones who share a history. Those of us who learn trauma in our youth carry it inside of us even as it appears we are thriving. In fact loneliness, anxiety and fear are part of our everyday lives. Loneliness specifically for our loved ones who have died. We also tend to be sensitive, compassionate and alert and appreciative of people and moments. But we always crave our people. My mother is irreplaceable because she was my mother & she loved me in a way only a mother can.

Life is complicated & so are our emotions & our reactions to our experiences. We get on with things but we never get over major losses. We simply do our best to be our best. In honor of my parents, my beloved mother and Granny Walshe, I try hard to live my best life. Granny & Mam faced several challenges of their own but they were both strong, capable and happy women. They are an inspiration to me & I am grateful to them for everything. I just wish they were still here because I’ve been craving some maternal hugs from those women whose lineage I descend from. It has been over thirty years…

This is all to say let’s look out for each other and try to be patient in the face of trauma and grief. Keep an eye on those little sweethearts who lose a significant person early on in life. Please be there for them if you can. Create a space for them to talk or just be themselves. They are scared and in shock and they will need a lot of support. Also, if you do still have your folks and/or grandparents and you love them, let them know, or go spend some quality time with them. And, if you know someone who has grieved and lost try not to assume that their people are replaceable. They are not. And they won’t ever get over the loss. They’ll get on, but they’ll be sad about it, forever. Some days or occasions will be more challenging than others. Their reactions to certain things might stem from their early losses. You might see no connection but the connection is obvious to the bereaved (or sometimes it isn’t).They are angry but the anger might look like something else. It’s complicated.

You never know what’s going on in another person’s life. Let’s be gentle with each other and ourselves. Our hearts continue to love every day but this powerful organ is also fragile and often bruised. Kindness goes a long way.

Some of us hold a store of sad anniversaries in our hearts, significant dates that circle around year after year. We don’t know what to do with these dates or how to acknowledge them. Today I’m honoring the memories by writing about it. I’m remembering my parents and their beautiful, happy day. I’m thinking of Granny and how in the photo we wore the exact same colors though it wasn’t planned, and how thrilled she was when I was born on January 3. These days of interesting coincidences carry sadness for me, but also joy and gratitude. Captured in these pictures are moments filled with delight, hope and surprise. Each one of us lives for moments such as these, every moment creating a unique life and offering us precious memories. I reflect on the memories and each is rich with love. For that, and for so much else, I am grateful.

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.

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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, resilient 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. By holding on to keepsakes & other specific physical objects belonging to my mother, my father kept my mother’s memory alive in our home. 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. My father made sure to welcome our friends into our home. I spent ample time with my 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. 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 planned visits to 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 share 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 permitted 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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