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.