Anniversary, Death, Grief, Love, Motherless Daughter, Mothers and Daughters, sisterhood, Support groups

Twenty Nine Years On

March 2, 1988 my mother, Kathleen, died quietly in her bed as my father sat watching over her. In bedrooms on either side of my parent’s room, my brother and I slept soundly, my aunt asleep in the bed next to mine. Just writing this, recalling the moment Mam took her last breath, has me choking back tears. I imagine my kind father, his heart tortured from years of watching his beloved suffer, realize that my mother has left us, forever.

Right now, this is the hardest thing for me. Knowing the loss my father suffered much too early in his married life. He didn’t deserve this blow. None of us did. Mam was one of the kindest, most thoughtful, nurturing and capable people I’ve ever had the chance to know. And I only knew her for eleven years.

Last August I attended the first ever Motherless Daughters Retreat with Hope Edelman and Claire Bidwell Smith whose books I have cherished. I had just finished reading Claire’s second book After This when I decided to look her up on social media. The timing was immaculate. Her most recent post was in reference to an Ojai Motherless Daughters Retreat and I really wanted to go. It was to be held in August and I was getting married in September. Preparing for our wedding without my mother was proving challenging. I was missing Mam in a whole new way. The prospect of spending a weekend with Hope, Claire and a group of motherless daughters who lost their mothers early in life, was very appealing to me. But the retreat was booked to capacity and I was so disappointed. However, within days of contacting Hope there was a cancellation and after several others on the cancellation list had been contacted I was offered the spot. I literally jumped out of my office chair with joy.

The weekend I spent in Ojai with twenty three beautiful, strong, vibrant, inspiring ladies was truly a gift. Twenty four of us, from diverse backgrounds, arrived in Ojai, from across the USA, Canada and Australia. We sat together and shared our deeply personal stories of mother loss. We nodded in unison on hearing each other’s stories, cried together and laughed. We got vulnerable in that space, because we could. We understood each other’s pain. Our stories were different, but the same. Our mothers were taken from us too soon and we continue to miss them every single day.

What a powerful and comforting experience for me to be in a space with twenty four women who understood my grief, who got why some days were so hard and others so good. Why, after decades, we still long for the mother who loved and cared for us as nobody else can. We worked through things together but most importantly we held space for each other. What was most valuable about this experience, for me personally, is the sisterhood I gained. I found my tribe in Ojai. We continue to connect online regularly and when we’re feeling anxious, down or confused about something we have a safe place to share our thoughts. We celebrate happy times, like weddings and birthdays, and we hold a special place in our hearts for each other.

When I was in Ojai I saw a beautiful grey purse that I thought might be a nice addition on my wedding day. It was a little pricey so I didn’t purchase it. But after I left I was sorry I didn’t buy it. Not only was the purse perfect for my grey wedding gown, but had I bought it I could carry a little piece of Ojai with me on my special day. After a few days deliberation I rang the store and ordered it over the phone. On September 24 when I got married I had my Ojai purse with me throughout the celebrations. The purse reminded me of my newfound supportive community who understood the challenges and delights this important day would bring. Their messages, sent on the morning of our wedding, meant so much.

And so, on the anniversary of my mother’s passing-I’m typing this around the time that she left our world- I feel a strong sense of community now that I have my Ojai sisters. I’ll share with them that today is my mother’s anniversary. They’ll know exactly what that means.

Growing up I didn’t know anyone who lost their mother early in life. I met some very special ladies in Portland, Oregon through the Motherless Daughters group and I remain close to a few of them. It’s life-changing to have these connections. It’s necessary for healing to occur. There are others who will hold us and love us and be there for us, but the connection between motherless daughters is a special one. The heaviness in our hearts is truly shared. At least that is my experience. Sharing builds community and I have experienced this through writing, as other motherless daughters continue to reach out to me with their stories and concerns. We need to build more bridges and connect with each other. It’s important to weave these invisible nets of love. Today I will hold space for Mam’s beautiful memory. I’ll hold space for my dad and my brother and eleven year old me. And grown up me, well, I’ll be okay. I’m surrounded by love and I can feel it.

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.



23 thoughts on “Twenty Nine Years On

  1. Jo leatherland says:

    So inspiring I lost my mom to mnd bulbar palsy last April I am heartbroken lost in my own grief I am on medication the loss of ur mom is devastating I’m so glad u found your way xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so sorry to hear of your loss, Jo. Of course you are heartbroken! I hope you can find some comfort in your grief, perhaps through group sharing or therapy or through friendships. Sharing our stories and connecting with others who have experienced a similar devastating loss can help. Take care of yourself, dear! xx


  2. Shirley McNish says:

    I understand your loss. I myself didn’t lose my Mother at a young age, but nevertheless the deep pain is there. I feel the loss every day. So many times I wish I could talk to her. Special occasions feel empty without her. I am happy for you that you found others to share your feelings with and help you cope with the loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Sulzer says:

    Carmel, my deepest sympathy for your loss. What a beautiful essay.
    I am going to look into going to a Motherless Daughters retreat. It’s been 45 years and the loss still resonates constantly for me. Their were no support groups for young people in those days. Thank you for your bravery in relating your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Mary. You might find comfort in attending one of these retreats, and connecting with others who lost their mothers many years ago. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to attend one of these retreats when I was younger, but it’s never too late! Hugs, Carmel


  4. Pam says:

    I lost my dad 2 years ago and my mom 10 months later it has been the hardest thing to try and continue life without them. I have no other family aside from my beautiful daughter and she is the one togive me strength to continue. The pain of losing them doesnt go away or get any easier. I tend to block them out entirely just so i dont break down in tears everyday which i wish i didnt have to do because im forgetting memories we shared and everything from blocking them out. I hope one day it will get easier and i will be able to talk about them and share memories and stories of them with my daughter but as of right now i just block it out like it never happened

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so sorry for your losses Pam! You have been through so much. I am glad that you have your beautiful daughter. I think that in time it will get easier for you to share memories of your parents with your daughter. Give yourself the time you need. Take care of yourself. Hugs.


  5. Maggie Schepman says:

    It was 23 years ago last month that I lost my mom. I was 21 yrs old and in college. I was extremely close to mom and I never thought I could survive without her. Amazingly, you find strength you didn’t know you had! It is comforting when you meet someone who has gone through the same pain and sorrow as you. It is a club I never wanted to be a part of, but unfortunately, God had other plans. I always try to remind myself how lucky I was to have had such a wonderful mother, even though it was for a short time!šŸ’•

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Valerie Douglas says:

    I don’t have one close friend who doesnt have their mother. Would be nice to talk to someone who misses their mother also. It’s a pain and empty feeling you can’t explain to someone. Just as you can’t imagine true childbirth by someone describing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry, Valerie, to hear of your pain and empty feeling. Perhaps in time you will meet some friends who have lost their moms. Maybe there is a motherless daughters group close to where you live? It does help to share how we are feeling with those who understand. I hope that by sharing my story, it will help others in some small way. Hugs.


  7. What a lovely post, thank you for sharing. My mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 16 and she passed away, after a brutal battle, when I was 24 (she was 51). My husband (who never got to meet her) and I actually got married on her birthday/my parent’s wedding anniversary, September 17th. Leading up to the wedding I had so many people ask “don’t you think getting married on that date will make you really sad that’s she’s not there?”, as if on another day I would have been perfectly fine getting married without my mom :).

    I also really loved finding your blog because we recently moved to Portland last Spring and I’m still working on finding my new support system here. I will definitely check out the PDX Motherless Daughters support group you had mentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, Danielle and welcome to Portland, Oregon! I look forward to meeting you at the PDX Motherless Daughters group. I am so sorry for your loss. That must have been so hard on ye. I think it was a lovely idea to get married on that special date. (I got married last September.) It’s true, the particular date won’t make it any more difficult and you chose a very special day to celebrate your wedding. Hugs to you.


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