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 Dad 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 my mother took her last breath, has me choking back tears. I imagine my kind father, his heart tortured from years of watching my mother suffer and helping her however he could, 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 should have been allowed to live. She 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 devoured and 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. The first post of hers that I saw was in reference to the 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 comforted me. I was terribly disappointed to learn that the retreat was booked to capacity, but 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 four beautiful, strong, vibrant, inspiring ladies was truly a gift. Twenty four of us, from diverse backgrounds, arrived from across the USA, Canada and Australia. We sat together and shared our deeply personal stories of mother loss. We nodded, cried, laughed, sighed. We understood each other’s pain. Our stories were different, but the same. Our mothers were taken from us way 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, why some days were so hard and others so good. Why, after so many years, we still long for the mother who loved and cared for us as nobody else can. We worked through things together. We held space for each other. We talked and we listened. The most valuable piece of 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 get it. Not only was the purse perfect for my gown, but I could carry a little piece of Ojai around with me on my special day. I rang the store and ordered it over the phone. On September 24 when I got married I had my Ojai purse with me all day. This purse was a reminder that out there in the world was a community of ladies 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 some 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. I’ve achieved this in my writing because motherless daughters have reached out to me with their stories. 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.







Anniversary, Death, Grief, Moments, Mother's Day, Motherless Daughter, Offering support to someone who has lost their mother

Five Ways to be Present for Someone Who Has Lost Their Mother

I lost my mother to ovarian cancer when I was 11 years old. I’m 39 now. I’ve lived more years without my mother than with her. And I’ve been through countless experiences without her by my side. When I was little people outside of my family didn’t speak to me about Mam. I’m sure they didn’t want to upset me, or themselves. They figured it was better to ignore the topic and move along. They didn’t know what to say. After so many years as a motherless daughter I’ve come to understand the ways in which we can be there for others who have lost. There are triggers that are upsetting to us, and there are ways in which a person can make a profound difference in our day. Recently somebody wrote to me and asked me how they could support a friend who had lost their mother. I responded immediately. I didn’t need to think about it because I’ve lived it.

1.Someone you know has lost their mother. There is nothing you or anybody can do to bring their mother back. What you can do is ask them how they are doing and be ready to listen. If your friend or loved one has recently lost their mother and isn’t ready to speak about it try again in a few days or a few weeks. It might take months for them to be ready but it makes a world of difference to know that there is someone who genuinely wants to be present for them. And when they are ready to talk give them your full attention, take their hand if you feel inclined, and let them talk or cry. You don’t need to say anything. Just hear them out. Sometimes we think that we need to offer people answers but we don’t. Being heard is the key here.

I’m not suggesting you need to be a therapist for this person, or that you should neglect your own life or your own self-care. In some cases a person might need encouragement to see a therapist. Often all we need is a quick release or just the knowing that we can talk to a close friend when we need to. Some women have never had the chance to talk about losing their mothers. One of the most special things you can do for them is encourage them to talk about their moms. Just watch as their eyes light up!

2.Be aware of what you are saying. Over the years I’ve been reminded time and again what I’m missing out on when I’m with friends and they are talking about going for pedicures with their mothers or taking vacation with their moms. It always sparks a little something, but it’s unavoidable really, because so many women still have their mothers and like to do things with them. Honestly, it brings me joy to witness the blessings of others, even when I feel that twinge of sadness for myself.

And when I’m in the company of strangers, people don’t know my circumstances. Maybe if people stopped assuming we all had mothers, that would be a start. Even my teachers in school would tell us “Bring this note home to your mothers!” and they knew my mother had died! They never seemed to think! When I was a teacher I made a very conscious decision to always say to my children “Give this to your mom or dad or whoever is taking care of you!” According to the children’s personal circumstances I changed how I spoke.

If somebody in your circle has lost their mother, it might not be the best thing to start up a conversation about the blessings of having a mother, in their company. That might sound obvious, but it has happened to me. In college I had two friends discuss the joys of having mothers who cared for them while I bit my lip and looked away. And I know I’m not the only one who has had this experience.

3.Pay attention to dates. That person’s mother had a birthday. When was it? What date did that person’s mother die? This is huge! Mam died on March 2nd. That date is ingrained in my brain. I go to bed the night before in anticipation of the day ahead and I wake up with thoughts of Mam, how she died, how little I was, how uncertain everything was and my mind is just spinning. Some women spend the day in bed, unwilling to get up and face the day because it’s too hard for them. Imagine the difference it would make to receive a text message or a kind phone call letting that person know that you are thinking of them. Send them a bunch of flowers. Flowers brighten everyone’s world. Perhaps ask what their mother’s favorite flowers were and send those.

The same goes for your friend’s mother’s birthday. What should be a celebration is now just a memory of past celebrations. Ask your friend if there is anything they would like to do on that date to help celebrate or remember their mother.

Mother’s Day is very tough. Please understand that while you might be celebrating your mother (and this is a wonderful thing) she is mourning hers. And if you are very close to that person, please don’t remain silent on the day, hoping nobody will remember. A motherless daughter never forgets those dates. Help her know that she is not alone.

4.Introduce her to other friends who have lost their mothers. This is another huge one! I wish I had known other motherless daughters growing up. I didn’t know any. I felt very alone in this. I felt different from everybody else. I was very fortunate to have a fantastic father and I got on very well with my older brother but if I had been introduced to another little girl like me it would have made a tremendous difference in my life.

Recently, through my author’s page  I heard from a lady of similar age to me, who lost her mother around the same time as I did and lived in the same town. I remember the girl though I didn’t know her at the time and had no idea that she was motherless too. When she reached out to me I wanted to do a time travel back into my past and throw my arms around that little girl. We could’ve been a team, the two of us, without our mothers but together, hand in hand.

It wasn’t until I moved to Portland, Oregon and discovered the Motherless Daughters group here, at the same time as I discovered Hope Edelman’s book, that I began to meet and form connections with other women who had lost their mothers. What a gift it has been!

5.Don’t compare having a bad relationship with your mother to someone whose mother has died. Certainly this is traumatic in its own way. I have friends who are estranged from their mothers and I listen to them speak about the rejection they felt growing up or the abuse they suffered. In some ways I feel that what they’ve been through may even be worse than what I went through because I had a very caring, devoted and nurturing mother. At the same time it’s not the same thing. One friend of mine would say “I may as well go with you to the Motherless Daughters group because all I do is fight with my mom. She may as well be dead!” This was very upsetting to hear. All I wanted was my mother and even though my friend wasn’t on good terms with hers she still had her at the other end of the phone line.

Everyone’s circumstances are different and some situations are so bad that the person’s mother is as good as dead to them. My point is acknowledging the differences. Death means gone forever and no opportunity whatsoever to change that, no chance of ever seeing that person in the flesh again and no possibility to alter the past.

We have the potential to lift others in times of sadness. Often we want to help but we don’t know how.

The round sky goes on minding its business.
Your absence is inconspicuous;
Nobody can tell what I lack.

Parliament Hill Fields –  by Sylvia Plath

Anniversary, Grief, Motherless Daughter

The anniversary of my mother’s death

I haven’t blogged anything on this page yet, though I’ve had it blank and ready for almost a year. Today, March 2nd, is the anniversary of Mam’s death. She died 28 years ago. 28 years is a lifetime for some, a short-life, but a life nonetheless. And for me, being only a child of barely 11 when she died it seems like a lifetime to me. So today is a good day to begin this blog. Though it’s hard to know what to say and where to begin. I’ve said so much in my memoir, A Lovely Woman, which I’ve almost finished editing. And I post to my Facebook Author’s page comments on life without my mother. I share poignant quotes and photos while discussing the healing process of writing this book.

I’ve heard women say that they don’t like using the word ‘anniversary’ when it comes to death. They don’t feel like it’s an ‘anniversary’ which has connotations of something good and happy, something to be celebrated. I understand this but haven’t come up with any better term for the day.

Since leaving Ireland several years ago I haven’t marked the anniversary in any particular way apart from thinking of Mam from the moment I wake up on the morning of her anniversary, until the moment before I drop off to sleep. I talk to my dad on the phone though the conversation is a general one. He goes to a mass that he has booked for Mam and tells me how the priest mentioned her name a few times during prayers. It’s a nice ritual and a good way to have her remembered. The important thing is that she is remembered.

I’ve just finished reading the memoir The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke. I can identify with her grief in several ways, and she is an exquisite writer. One passage of hers that really struck me is as follows ‘It is human to want our friends and family to recover from pain, to look for a silver lining – or so I reminded myself. But when people stop mentioning the dead person’s name to you, the silence can seem worse than the pain of hearing those familiar, beloved syllables. Henry James, after the death of his sister, Alice, and his friend James Russell Lowell, wrote in his journal: “The waves sweep dreadfully over the dead-they drop out and their names are unuttered.”

On the anniversary of Mam’s death, even after 28 years of living without her, I want her to be remembered. I don’t have a special ritual that I do on this day like an activity or a special meal that I like to cook, and I live too far away to be able to visit her grave. A close friend who knew Mam as a child contacted me late last night. It was morning in Ireland. This friend sent me a photo of the candle she is burning for Mam today in her home. Hearing this meant a lot to me. Knowing that Mam is being thought about. Knowing that she hasn’t been forgotten. Allowing for some dialogue.

Writing my book, A Lovely Woman, has been extremely healing for me. And it has brought Mam back into the conversation, when often times it was very difficult to bring her up. Even though she was a private woman I believe that she is okay with my writing this story; she may even like the fact that I’m writing it. So on this, her 28th anniversary, I’m starting this blog page. This is a new skill I’ll need to learn; blogging doesn’t come as naturally to me as journal writing and memoir writing. But I’ll get there and I hope that some of you will join me on the journey.

“There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.”

Isabel Allende, Eva Luna