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, capable 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. My father kept my mother’s memory alive in our home by holding on to keepsakes & other specific physical objects belonging to my mother. 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. Our friends were always welcome in our home. We spent ample time with our 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. Outings and adventures were planned. 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 took us to visit 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 speak our truths and 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 given 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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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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After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Motherless Daughter, Support groups, Write to heal

Childhood Grief Honored Through Words

“Is Carmel afraid of death? No. Is Carmel afraid of what may come after death? No. What is Carmel afraid of?
Lucy has her eyes closed as she poses questions to the healers and spirits from alternative dimensions, messengers who connect with Lucy in her healing room when she calls upon them. She must ask the right questions in order to receive the correct answers…”

I’m honored to have a prose piece I wrote, titled Witnessing Carmel, published in VoiceCatcher today. The article is centered on childhood mother loss and it’s lasting effects, the persistent anxiety that follows and a deep down desire to heal.

It’s not an easy thing to spill our hearts onto paper and show our vulnerable side to a world of strangers, but it is through truth telling and sharing our heart stories that we reach and connect with other hearts, and so I keep doing this.

Two years ago, in June 2016, I had the pleasure of working with Hope Edelman and Jennifer Lauck at Blackbird Studio in Portland, Oregon. Back then I was editing my memoir A Lovely Woman and I attended the weekend writer’s course to receive  guidance and encouragement from two spectacular authors of memoir, Hope and Jennifer. Both have written about mother loss and grief. The experience of working with other writers, the majority of whom shared similar themes to my story: grief, mother loss, trauma, hope, love and connection, was a worthwhile, emotional and joyful experience. I formed life-long connections at that workshop, learned a lot and received valuable insights through the sharing of our stories.

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(Photo taken by Blackbird Studios)

I have always been a writer. I’ve kept a daily diary since I was ten years old, months before my mother died. I write every day and though that writing isn’t always in the form of memoir my life-long experiences continue to shape my words. As the late and much respected Portland author Ursula K. Le Guin said:

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

I am grateful to VoiceCatcher for appreciating my voice and publishing my truth story. In Witnessing Carmel I detail a particular occasion when I went in search of healing and discovered something profound that I’d never fully understood. Anxiety around illness and death has followed me into adulthood from a young age, but it’s understandable, as Lucy the healer tells me, it’s completely understandable.

(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, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss

Moving Forward After Mother Loss

We can’t go back in time. We can only move forward. Moment to moment. There is no changing what has happened no matter how much we want the outcome to be different. And in standing still, which we may do for a while, there can be no growth. Our bodies and spirits gravitate towards recovery and healing so eventually we must move in that direction, but it can take a long time, and a lot of effort. How do we activate our healing when all we want to do is cry? When all we want is for the person we have lost to reappear and hold us and tell us everything is okay, just as it was before, but better because we now know what it feels like to lose them and the most amazing feeling ever would be to have them back.

Well, crying is a good step. Crying is a release and it is healing. I didn’t cry all that much in the first decade following my mother’s death. I cried in the second decade, and into the third. So, I know that grieving is a process and that it can present itself throughout our lives depending on circumstances. I’ve lived some of the happiest days of my life in the years since my mother died, but I’ve also lived black days. Days where I couldn’t stop crying, staring at the photo of Mam on my fridge, imploring “Where are you? Are you here? Why did this have to happen to us? I neeeeed you!”

This is the journey of life. The days of cherry blossoms and playful baby goats; warm sunshine kissing bare skin; a comforting hug from someone you love; the fragrance of spring in the violet-blue hyacinths on your coffee table, but also, the sorrow that wells up inside you when the scent of nail polish takes you right back to the days of sitting beside your long-dead mother as she delicately painted your tiny fingernails.

What do we do? We move forward, reaching for the pleasant gifts of life. We must, if we are to survive.

Cheryl Strayed quoted her mother in her stunning book ”Wild when she said:

“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it,’ said my mother. ‘Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

Is it easy? Not always. Is it possible? Yes.

Following tragedy we will never be the same person we were beforehand. Gathering all of the shredded pieces of ourselves together we gradually become who we need to be as we take our next steps. We learn as we go along, figuring out what works for us, facing adversity head on and sometimes crying. Moment to moment.

Throughout my life many of the universe’s gifts have inspired me to step from one moment into the next. After my mother died it was my father’s love and devotion towards my brother and me that kept me afloat. His love for us gave me something to hold on to. I didn’t lose all hope in the world, though my innocence was shattered at an early age. One caring and devoted adult in a child’s life can make all the difference. My brother and I were blessed with a wonderful dad.

I had close friends in school who cared about me and the laughter we shared, even on the toughest days, allowed a lightness to enter my being when otherwise it could not. Laughter is an instant release from those thoughts that cause pain. One of my closest friends, Tara, could always make me laugh. I needed her compassionate spirit close to me in school following my mother’s death, and we gravitated towards one another no matter how much our teachers tried to pry us apart. I will never understand why it was more important to my teachers that I concentrate on my math or my writing than it was that I laugh with my pal in the aftermath of such tragedy. My work was exemplary. I loved to write and read and my teachers had no reason to worry about that side of things. School granted me a chance to interact with my friends and I needed those interactions. I was only eleven. Plenty of time for austerity. Laughter is one of the best prescriptions for wellness. As a teacher of young children I laughed a lot when I was in the classroom with them. I encouraged laughter and joy more than anything. What a gift little ones are! They remind us to pay attention to the simplest of life’s blessings.

Making art, creating, writing, dancing, singing; all of these things can save a person. Find that which your soul is drawn to and give yourself the time and space to dive right in. Art lifts you out of the analytical thinking left brain and drops you into the expressive, imaginative right brain where you can let go of the pain for a while. Writing has always been my go-to and when I gave myself the time and permission to write about Mam’s illness and death in A LOVELY WOMAN a weight so heavy and burdensome lifted. My mother loved to dance and sing so these activities not only bring me joy they bring me closer to her.

I know that sometimes none of this will seem to matter. We are too heartbroken and devastated to consider stepping towards anything that removes us from thinking of the person we have lost. There are times when all we want is that person back. I understand. I so completely understand. The void we experience following a loss often feels like too much to bear.

It takes time. That’s why we must be kind to ourselves and listen to what our soul is trying to tell us. Our inner voice knows what we need. Laughter is an instant release. It creates space. Friends give us comfort. Take everything moment to moment. But we must do the work. When we are ready it is ultimately up to us.

Nature offers us many gifts. I am always calmer following a walk in the forest. Regularly I crave a warm lake in which to float, releasing myself to the water as it carries me along. Our universe is rich with beauty. When we give ourselves to it our souls respond to the sweet magnificence of the hummingbird, the soft comforting warmth of a furry family pet and the immense strength of the redwood tree.

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In March of this year my mother will be dead thirty years. It’s an astonishing amount of time. Life threw my family a tremendous burden and a whole lot of heartbreak when we were all just starting off together as a little family. It’s not fair. But what in life is?

In those thirty years since I have lived sad times, bewildering times and happy joyful times. Some years propose questions and other years offer answers.

Moment to moment we can allow the answers to filter through, be it in stillness or art, writing or friendship. Look for that door, the one that appeals to you, the one that draws you over, and then when you’re ready to step on through, open it. Take all that you need with you on your next journey: your memories, the love you’ll always carry for the person you’ve lost, and breathe deeply as you go. Joy and beauty will greet you on the other side, showing up in your art, your words and your song, in the garden, on a hike, in another person’s smile. We are part of all that is. It is a great mystery but one that we are in together. The grief journey is gut-wrenching at the worst of times, but our lives are richer for the love we have experienced. Take it moment to moment, that’s all we can do. Then reach for that door handle. And visualize what you want to find on the other side!

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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“May my heart be kind, my mind fierce, and my spirit brave.” – Kath Forsyth, The Witches of Eileanan
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