After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Children grieve, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Write to heal, Writing on Grief

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 transcript of my 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 with cancer, and embrace her (little me), talk to her 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 a lot 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 so 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 and you hold any anger you feel inside to protect those you deeply care for. You shouldn’t have to go through all of this. 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, doing activities 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 so much love, compassion, empathy and care onto little children who need support. They will feel your genuine love for them and what you have to give will make a significant impact in the lives of innocent children.

Dear 11 year old me, you love little children and babies and you will work with them for many years. Children will touch your heart and bring you so much joy and love. Because of how much love you have inside you’ll remember each of them, you’ll give extra attention to the ones whose mothers are sick, fathers have died, brothers have abused them and so forth. You understand vulnerability and innocence. You are a very special soul.

Carmel, you will travel through this life fearlessly at times, moving to far away countries, trying out lots of various jobs. You will also feel anxiety, sadness and anger and it is okay to feel sad and angry. 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 okay to laugh. It’s actually very important. Try to release some of that worry. It is a burden and 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. He will be 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.

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After Mother Loss, Anniversary, Being Kind, Childhood grief, Death, Family, Grief, Moments, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, Sad anniversaries

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 raised me.

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

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

I was eleven. My brother was thirteen. Mam had been sick for several years and when she died in 1988 my father continued to love and care for us, offering the majority of his time and energy to his bereaved children. Dad did so much for us. I am an independent, 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

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

11 Ways to be Present for a Grieving Friend

1.Offer specific help & follow through

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

2. Send a thoughtful card in the mail

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

3. Bring them food

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

4. Remember important dates

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

5. Speak the deceased person’s name

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

6. Let them talk. Listen

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

7. Be mindful

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

8. Be patient

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

9. Recall memories

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

10. Make introductions

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

11. Continue to show up

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

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

Carmel X

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

Sit for a While in the Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It isn’t easy.

It is very painful.

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

~Carmel X

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

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