On March 2nd, 1988 my dear mother, Kathleen, passed away. I was eleven and my brother was a couple of years my senior. My family stuck together through everything. In this way I feel fortunate. Dad, heartbroken but always kind and present, guided us through the tough times with a gentle, open heart. We didn’t see therapists or read about grief, we just plowed forward with determination and love. I don’t know if there were therapists around in Ireland in those days. Nobody spoke about therapists. Things are probably different now, although I’m not sure about that, but even as I got older if a person saw a therapist they were seen as weak, or weird. That isn’t the reason we didn’t seek one out. The thought just didn’t cross anyone’s minds. I didn’t know of any books about grief or mother loss either, though I was curious to find one. I secretly longed to read a book about a little girl my own age whose mother was sick and died. I wanted to know what another eleven year old girl would do in similar circumstances. Concerns about my impending years of puberty and how I’d tackle female issues without my mother took up space in my mind and I wanted to feel like I had a friend, even if that friend was a character in a book whose story was similar to mine.
I never did find that book. It wasn’t until many years later, as an adult, that I came across a book on the subject of mother loss. I’ve seen a therapist on a couple of occasions but honestly I never felt that I needed grief counseling. For certain, grief counseling can help people. It just wasn’t what I needed. Or perhaps I didn’t find the right person. Maybe the timing was off. I’m not sure.
Growing up I could talk to my father about anything and I relied on him for love and consistent care. He never let me down. We often spoke about Mam, and still do. I was always permitted to look through her things, wear her clothes if I wished and explore her belongings. It brought Dad happiness to see me enjoy what she had. I wear one of her rings every day, a ring that my father bought for her. On my wedding day in 2016, along with her ring, I wore a beautiful brooch of hers embedded in a gorgeous hair set made locally for the occasion. In our household we keep the memory of my much-loved mother alive to this day by keeping photos of us as a family around our home. We were able to move on with our lives, creating new experiences and memories, while treasuring openly the woman at the center of our lives.
It’s hard to imagine that Mam is gone from us three decades now. She was a vibrant, beautiful spirit in her healthy days, and a courageous, kind human-being during those tough years. There have been several stages of getting through the loss of my mother these past thirty years. For the first few I focused on being strong and happy, for my family’s sake, for Dad’s sake and for my own sake. And I was genuinely happy many of those days. Dad kept us occupied and busy, we had friends and a comfortable home, albeit without Mam. Although I didn’t admit it at the time, or understand it then, I know I experienced some sense of relief following my mother’s death because we had watched her suffer for such a long time. It was really hard on all of us to watch her illness progress. For many years we hoped, we believed, we prayed, but it went on too long and there was too much pain. After Mam died I was broken-hearted, but there was a feeling of lightness too. This is a difficult thing to explain to anybody who hasn’t watched someone they love suffer for a long period of time and it’s even harder to admit to ourselves. And of course now I long for even one more minute with her. What a miracle that would be!
Going through puberty posed challenges for sure. There were good days and there were hard days. I wanted to ask Mam so many questions. My friends and I surmised together but I longed to ask my mother about stuff. I wanted to know what her responses would be. My friends told me I wouldn’t ask Mam private things even if she were alive, but I knew that I would.
In my mid to late twenties I experienced deep sadness and regret over not having the adult woman to woman relationship I saw other women my age enjoying with their moms. I craved having a mother to love me in the particular way only a mother can and I knew my mother, a nurturing, loving person, would have given me that unconditional love. I missed her and I felt terribly hard done by. It was during this phase that I saw some psychic healers. The caring female healers, who appeared to have the ability to connect with my mother’s spirit, offered much comfort. What each one told me about Mam soothed me and I felt certain her spirit was close by at all times. Shortly after this time I began writing about my loss and connecting with other motherless daughters.
There are times when I feel deep pangs of sorrow and I dearly wish Mam had been granted a much longer life than what she was given. She would be eighty years old had she lived. But I allow myself to think and talk about her every day. Writing about her over the years has really helped me. I started this blog two years ago on this date and am happy to have connected with so many motherless daughters who have read and related to what I have shared. We all have our own stories, but we find pieces of our stories in other’s experiences and that connection with other motherless daughters and grieving individuals creates comfort and community. I am currently writing my memoir Briefly I Knew My Mother and I hope it might help others understand the journey of grief, in particular from the viewpoint of a young girl who is acquainted with suffering and loss from an early age. All grief journeys are different but those of us who have lost a loved one experience similar emotions. We are constantly riding the waves of emotions.
People ask if it will get better or easier over time, if they will ever stop missing the person they loved and lost. I lost my mother thirty years ago and I can say this; things do get easier eventually, the weight of the loss does lighten, but the void will always be there. I never stopped missing Mam and some years were harder than others. Why particular years were harder depended on phases and experiences in my life. The grief journey isn’t linear. Some moments are heavy and sad, while others are filled with beauty and joy. Life is but a collection of moments. We must find ways to move through these. Don’t take on too much at a time. Getting through a moment is easier than getting through a day or a week or a year. Find something beautiful in a moment and go with that into the next. Hold that person in your heart, keep them in your thoughts, but live as best you can in each precious moment.
The sadness we experience in grief is borne out of the love that grew within us for that particular person. Love is a tremendous gift. My mother and father showed me the true meaning of love by loving each other deeply and in their unconditional love for their children. I keep a photograph of my mother in a beautiful vintage style frame on a table in our hallway along with several items of beauty; candles, plants, fresh flowers and a bowl of lavender. I pass this pretty table frequently, glancing at Mam’s smiling happy face as I carry on with my day. Her spirit is with with me, I can feel it. No, it’s not the same as having her here in person; chatting together over a cup of tea, offering each other suggestions, my mother singing in her sweet voice, but it’s a comfort to me nonetheless. Mam has a prominent place in my heart, to this day, thirty years following her death, and a prominent place in our home.